Taser misused at WCC

Guards have access to Tasers at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. The weapons were introduced in 2004.

Guards have access to Tasers at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

The weapons were introduced in 2004.

They’ve been used once — inappropriately.

Last November, an inmate in segregation was Tasered after acting up, said jail superintendent Phil Perrin.

“This wasn’t a time when the Taser should have been used,” he said on Tuesday.

“Subsequent to the use of the Taser, an investigation was held and staff were disciplined because it was not felt that the specific incident warranted the use of a Taser.”

Perrin would not say how many times the inmate was Tasered.

Perrin would also not comment on whether Tasers had a place at the jail.

It’s a tool, he said.

Perrin used to work at federal penitentiaries.

“Correctional Service of Canada, when I worked for them, did not have Tasers,” he said.

Perrin wasn’t sure if things had changed. “We have never used Tasers in federal penitentiaries,” said Corrections Canada spokesperson Melanie Carkner, from Ottawa on Wednesday.

Last week, Justice Minister Marian Horne was questioned about Taser use in the territory.

“It does not fall under the minister of Justice to lay out the regulations for the use of Tasers,” she said in the legislature.

“That is why we have experts who work in the department — to keep up to date on these issues.”

There has only been one Taser incident at the jail, said Horne.

But she cited a different date.

“The Taser was used on one occasion only and that was in June 2004,” she said on Monday.

On Tuesday, she repeated the date during question period.

“I reported yesterday that the only time a Taser has been used was in the year 2004,” she said.

Tasers were brought into the jail in June 2004, said Perrin on Tuesday.

“They were used once in November of last year (2006).”

The jail has a specific policy that outlines when Tasers can and can’t be used.

Tasers can be used to: “prevent an act that may result in death; defend oneself from assault; prevent or quell disturbances and/or riot,” states the jail’s three-page Taser policy.

“The use of conducted energy weapons (Tasers) for punishment or reprisal is strictly prohibited,” it states.

Tasers can be used for the protection of the inmates and staff when there’s a risk of serious injury and death, said Perrin.

“Tasers can’t be used for compliance,” he said.

Before they can use a Taser, guards require specific training and certification.

The training takes one day, said Perrin.

It teaches guards how to fire the weapon and identifies potential target areas on the body.

“Quite a number of guards (at the jail) have that training,” said Perrin.

One day of Taser training is enough, he added.

Corrections officers are already trained in security procedures — “what level of force is used in what situation. The idea is not to escalate force, and to use the minimum amount of force necessary to deal with the situation.

“Tasers are another tool to add to the other training that they have.”

But the best tool is communication, said Perrin.

“And the fact that we’ve only used the Taser once suggests that staff here use communication appropriately — most of the time they are able to talk to the inmate.”

Before using a Taser, certified staff must get authorization from management, states the jail’s Taser policy.

“The bottom line is, when there is management available to be contacted they have to make an effort to contact us unless time doesn’t allow for it,” said Perrin.

After the recent Taser death at the Vancouver airport, the Whitehorse jail’s Taser policy is undergoing a review.

“It’s necessary to look internally at current policies to make sure everything that’s there is appropriate and to make sure the reasons you brought something in are still there,” said Perrin.

“The review will look at why we have Tasers, how often we use them, why we use them and the need.”

It should be completed in the next few weeks, he said.

The jail is a multi-level security facility, and its guards are not armed with deadly weapons.

“The Taser is the most extreme tool we have here — pepper spray is the other item we have,” said Perrin.

Tasers propel two probes (which travel at 50 metres per second) attached to insulated wire with a maximum range of six metres.

When contact is made with an individual the Taser zaps 50,000 volts at 26 watts for a full cycle, lasting up to five seconds. The electrical output seizes the body’s nervous system.

The weapons are designed to interrupt the central nervous system with no long-term effects, briefly incapacitating the victim.

Critics say that there hasn’t been enough research into the safety of the weapons.

Across Canada, three out of four suspects Tasered by police were unarmed, according to a Canadian Press analysis of 563 Taser incidents reported by the RCMP.

“There has recently been work done in policing sectors in a number of jurisdictions on the use of Tasers,” Horne told the legislature.

“Ministers requested officials to have this brought forward together, to share information and best practices on the use of Tasers in Canada.

“I have just said we will follow the recommendations of the ministers across Canada from their investigations that will take place in January.”