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The Canadian Press

RCMP Still Uses Tasers Too Often, Watchdog Finds

Jim Bronskill

Hilary Homes, a human rights campaigner with Amnesty International Canada, says there is a lack of clarity about RCMP policy on Taser use. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

OTTAWA - The RCMP complaints commissioner says the Mounties should be more careful about using stun guns on young people and the mentally ill.

In a final report on RCMP Taser use last year, Paul Kennedy also says the force's tracking and analysis of incidents still needs improvement.

The findings come 10 months after Kennedy, chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, called on the police force to rein in Taser use and better monitor how officers use the potent device.

In his report Monday, the RCMP watchdog said there has been commendable progress on his 22 recommendations to the force, ``however, more needs to be done in order to alleviate many of the concerns repeatedly expressed by the commission."

To that end, the commission is working with the RCMP on member training, reporting and policy development "with the view to providing a more in-depth analysis of the RCMP's progress on all of the recommendations."

Some of the commission's figures, released in a preliminary report last week, show the Mounties were far less likely to fire their Tasers last year. Use dropped 30 per cent from a peak of 1,583 incidents in 2007.

The statistics suggest police officers were more cautious about firing the stun guns following a public furor.

A B.C. inquiry is probing the case of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died in October 2007 after he was stunned five times with an RCMP Taser at the Vancouver airport.

The RCMP says it has limited Taser use to situations involving a threat to officer or public safety.

The new Mountie policy warns officers that Taser use carries a risk of death, particularly for agitated people.

But Kennedy says it's too early to tell whether the changes will address the issues he's outlined. "While the revised policy is a positive step forward, the commission remains concerned."

The report flags two specific groups - young people and the mentally ill.

"It is not that (Tasers) should never be used with these groups, but rather, that there should be a higher threshold for usage where these subjects are concerned. This higher threshold is not always observed."

It says the RCMP still appears to define "at-risk populations" as acutely agitated and delirious people and, before using the Taser, the force needs to consider those experiencing mental health crises or people who've taken large quantities of drugs or alcohol.

"This is problematic as there is a higher statistical likelihood that these persons will die in police custody and therefore any effort made to mitigate this outcome should be adopted by the RCMP."

The report also notes that while members reported that use of the Taser avoided the use of lethal force - that is, a conventional gun - in over half of the reports, "there is reason to be suspicious of this figure."

In many cases, the summaries of these Taser incidents "did not support the members' statement" that lethal force would have been used if not for the Taser.

Finally, Kennedy said the RCMP has not fully addressed how it will tackle the issue of under-reporting by members who use stun guns - a problem identified in his previous report. And while the force has begun to share Taser usage reports with more people inside the force, it is not clear how the information is being incorporated into training.

The RCMP had no immediate comment on the report.

Hilary Homes, a human rights campaigner with Amnesty International Canada, says there is a lack of clarity about RCMP policy on Taser use.

"Until there is clear policy, and a demonstration that that clear policy is followed, there simply won't be the confidence that the police would like to see in their own work."


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