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Tasers for Mom and Dad

November 21, 2007 permalink

Those deadly tasers are not just for armed robbers, murderers and people who get stuck in airports. The family is one of their main targets.



November 19, 2007

Tasers often used by RCMP to quell family disputes, reports show

By Sue Bailey And Jim Bronskill, THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA - When family disputes turn nasty and the RCMP show up at the door, a Taser stun frequently becomes part of the volatile mix.

Reports filed by the Mounties show officers fired their electronic guns 72 times over a three-year period after being called to a domestic disturbance.

It's a statistical window into how police respond to explosive spousal and child-custody fights that play out in the kitchens and living rooms across the country.

It was just before 11 p.m. when seven officers turned up to quell a spousal dispute in The Pas, Man., in April 2004.

An unarmed man was zapped with a Taser three times, resisting police until he was eventually handcuffed.

It was just one of 563 times the RCMP resorted to stunning suspects with a Taser between March 2002 and March 2005, according to an analysis by The Canadian Press.

The heavily censored reports, obtained under the Access to Information Act, say the RCMP fired Tasers during two other domestic fights in Manitoba during the period, 21 in British Columbia, 18 in Saskatchewan and 12 in Alberta.

RCMP used Tasers in eight domestic incidents in Newfoundland, six in Nunavut, and one each in New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories.

Electronic guns have come under heavy scrutiny since Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant, died at the Vancouver airport last month after being hit twice with a Taser and subdued by the RCMP.

In three-quarters of incidents examined by The Canadian Press in which RCMP fired a Taser, the suspects were unarmed.

But for domestic disputes it was a different story: in more than 60 per cent of cases, at least one of the family members had a weapon.

A Taser was fired in Cole Harbour, N.S., in the wee hours of May 22, 2004, in a bid to defuse a household dispute in which one party had picked up a knife and large piece of wood in addition to tossing furniture around.

Domestic arguments are among the most difficult scenarios for police, said Eileen Morrow, co-ordinator of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses.

"It's one of the most dangerous calls a police officer makes," Morrow said.

"There's potential for very dangerous behaviour, and unless you know what's going on, you have to assume the person could be lethal."

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has ordered the RCMP to review its policy on Taser use.

But he played down the notion the Mounties frequently use the stun guns as a convenient means to make unarmed people - including prisoners and drunks - obey officers.

"Of some three million people in a year that are stopped by RCMP, the vast majority of them, of course, would not be armed," he said Monday.

"So it's not surprising that the majority of people who would encounter an incident like this would in fact not be armed."

Opposition critics urged the government to take tougher action.

NDP Leader Jack Layton called for holstering of the stun guns during the RCMP review "because clearly we don't have a uniform standard across the country for how and when Tasers are to be used."

Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh said Day should order a comprehensive, national, independent and public review of Taser use.

Dosanjh, attorney general of British Columbia when the electronic guns were being introduced across Canada, suggested Tasers are not being used the way they were originally intended.

"I was always told that Tasers are an alternative to the use of lethal force," he said.

"Therefore I would have assumed that they would be used where otherwise a gun would have been necessary.

And I think that's the question we need to ask in (the Dziekanski) case and in other cases."

In the Commons, Prime Minister Stephen Harper described Dziekanski's death, captured on video by a fellow traveller at the airport, as "deeply disturbing" and noted inquiries are underway.

"We will be following those inquiries and also looking at what other options and what other actions may be necessary in this case."