Jail locks up Tasers

On Thursday, a moratorium was placed on Tasers at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. “No one wants to be responsible for deploying a tool…

On Thursday, a moratorium was placed on Tasers at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

“No one wants to be responsible for deploying a tool that could potentially result in the death of someone,” said jail superintendent Phil Perrin on Friday.

Early Thursday morning, Perrin set up a meeting with the jail’s occupational health and safety committee.

After an hour-long discussion, the committee voted unanimously for the moratorium.

“The last thing you want is to put a tool in someone’s hands — they use it appropriately — and the result could be that someone dies,” said Perrin.

 “You don’t really want that hanging over someone’s head.”

On Wednesday, a Nova Scotia inmate died a day after he was Tasered.

That death quickly followed the death of a Polish immigrant who was Tasered in Vancouver International Airport last month.

 “Because of what’s gone on lately, it’s natural to be introspective just to make sure that whatever you have for policies and procedures is in line with current thinking nationally,” said Perrin.

“They haven’t reached any conclusions with the recent cases, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.”

There was only one instance when a Taser was used at the Whitehorse jail, said Perrin earlier this week.

It was misused, he said.

And guards were disciplined accordingly.

Before they can use a Taser, Whitehorse jail guards get one day of training.

RCMP officers require two days of training before they can wield Tasers.

The RCMP has very in-depth Taser training, said Sgt. Roger Lockwood on Thursday.

“It’s probably the most in-depth training of all police forces in Canada,” he said. “I heard on the news, Victoria police training (for Tasers) is only five hours.”

The RCMP has a national policy on the use of Tasers, or conducted energy weapons.

“In terms of when or how Tasers are used, basically each officer would do a risk assessment in every situation and would rely on their training to determine the best intervention option,” said Lockwood.

 Often officers are required to make quick decisions, he said.

“Using verbal intervention or using deadly force, like a firearm, can all happen in a split second.”

Officers don’t have to give suspects any verbal warning before Tasering them, said Lockwood.

And there are no policies on weight, age or health when it comes to Tasering, he said.

“It’s a call that would be made by an officer,” said Lockwood.

“A 10-year-old kid with a knife or a firearm is as deadly as a 40-year-old or an 85-year-old.

“That’s when it comes back to the police officer making a split-second decision on what use-of-force option they’re going to use.”

The national use-of-force framework, compiled by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, helps officers make these decisions.

The 13-page framework lists “potential attack signs — physical behaviours displayed by a subject that have been known to precede an attack on a police officer.”

The list includes: ignoring the officer, repetitious questioning, invasion of personal space, ceasing all movement and hiding.

“The RCMP has all kinds of policy on use of force,” said Lockwood.

During his certification, Lockwood opted to get Tasered.

Officers don’t have to get zapped if they don’t want to, he said.

Lockwood was shot twice in a row.

“It’s very hard to explain how it feels,” he said.

“It affects your nerves and basically you tense up and can’t move — it’s painful, there’s no doubt about it.

“The big thing is, once it’s turned off there’s no residual pain to it — it’s all back to normal.”

There’s a misconception that Tasers are non-lethal, said Lockwood.

“In fact, they are less lethal.”

There’s no documented evidence Tasers have ever killed anyone, he said.

“But there’s always a possibility. It’s the same as pepper spray, if someone’s Tasered they may fall down and hit their head, or something to that affect.”

There’s this ongoing debate surrounding Tasers, said NDP leader Todd Hardy on Thursday.

“They say Tasers do not cause deaths,” he said.

“But then why are there deaths in many cases where Tasers are used?

 “At some point, especially when the deaths really start to mount, you’ve got to realize Tasers are part of the death — they may not be the whole part, but definitely they are part of it.”

Hardy wants to see a moratorium on Taser use in the territory until “the inquiries and commissions have taken a good look at the weapon’s application.”

“Tasers could be banned indefinitely if there are other alternatives that are less damaging,” he said.

The issue is bigger than just Taser use, said Hardy.

“We need to take a look at what kind of training is required to become an RCMP officer — maybe we need to do better training and psychological analysis on the people that are put in positions of power with weapons.”

Taser use is a department of Justice issue, said Perrin.

 “Justice has to be comfortable with the fact that what we’re using is safe for everybody and not putting someone in an awkward position.”

“The RCMP are in the midst of their own investigation into the use of Tasers, and I rely on their expertise in this matter,” said Justice Minister Marian Horne in the legislature on Thursday.

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