Canada

RCMP fire Tasers multiple times despite health hazards: probe

RCMP officers are likely to fire their electronic stun guns multiple times during an altercation, despite being warned that this may pose health risks, according to a joint investigation by the CBC and CP.

RCMP officers are likely to fire their electronic stun guns multiple times during an altercation, despite a policy that warns it may pose health risks, according to a joint investigation by CBC News/Radio Canada and the Canadian Press.

The media outlets, which analyzed the Taser-use forms RCMP officers are required to fill out if they draw a stun gun, also found multiple use of Tasers is increasing.

The data from 2002 to 2007 is heavily censored, but reveals that Mounties used their Tasers more than 3,000 times nationwide during the period. In more than 1,300 of those cases, officers fired their stun guns more than once.

The analysis also revealed that in nearly 18 per cent of the incidents, officers had fired three or more times.

The RCMP policy, in place since 2005, states that "multiple deployment or continuous cycling of the CEW [conducted energy weapon] may be hazardous to a subject. Unless situational factors dictate otherwise, do not cycle the CEW repeatedly, for more than 15-20 seconds at a time against a subject."

In a letter dated Nov. 27, 2007, RCMP Commissioner William Elliot reaffirmed this policy to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day:

"Multiple applications of the CEW have been permitted from the beginning," he wrote. "But on July 12, 2005, an operational bulletin placed restrictions on the multiple applications of the CEW."

But despite the new rules, the percentage of Taser incidents in which the weapon was fired multiple times crept up from 42 per cent in 2005 to 45 per cent in 2007.

The investigation also revealed that in 2,200 of the 3,000 RCMP Taser incidents between 2002 and 2007, the person the Mounties were dealing with was unarmed.

Zapped as he cried out

B.C. resident Curtis Wasylenko said he was hit multiple times with a Taser when the RCMP showed up for a dispute he was having with a Kelowna cab driver in 2004. He said he was astounded that within moments he was zapped with a stun gun, which is designed to incapacitate a person by delivering a high-voltage electric shock. 

Wasylenko said the first hit knocked him off his feet and that the officer continued to zap him as he cried out in pain. Wasylenko said a second officer fired his stun gun at him as he lay on the ground.

"I can’t really remember how many times they got me but I know it was a lot. I felt my heart – boom, boom, you know, all I could feel was my heart," he said.

"It felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. I couldn’t breathe."

The RCMP rejected a request for an interview about the analysis of the data. An interview with one of the Mounties' use-of-force experts was scheduled and then cancelled at the last minute.

But the RCMP has defended the use of multiple stuns by suggesting that there are instances where it is necessary. In the letter to Day, Elliott spelled out reasons for permitting so-called "multiple applications," though the details of his arguments were blacked out when the letter was released.

Elliott noted that it is "common, in some of our contract jurisdictions, to be a considerable distance from other members when encountering offenders and the unpredictability of these events makes them dangerous.

"The use of the CEW … warrants the ability to apply more than one application of the CEW." 

If you have more information on this or any other investigative story, send an e-mail to the journalist, david_mckie@cbc.ca.

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