VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canada’s national police force was urged on Wednesday to reduce its use of Taser electric stun guns and get more information on the weapon’s dangers and benefits.
A report, prepared in the wake of the death of a Polish immigrant at Vancouver’s airport, chastised the Royal Canadian Mounted Police but stopped short of calling for a moratorium on the weapon’s use.
The Mounties have increasingly used Tasers, or so-called conducted energy weapons (CEW), to subdue people, but lack the empirical data on whether they should be used or not, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP said.
“Current RCMP policy for CEW use has evolved without adequate, if any, reference to the realities of the weapon’s use by the RCMP,” commission Chairman Paul Kennedy said in an report for Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day.
Day, who had ordered the review in November, said he wanted to examine the interim report before commenting. The commission’s final report is expected early next summer.
The Taser stun gun incapacitates people through a 50,000-volt jolt of electricity. Police say they are a needed non-lethal alternative to firearms.
Controversy over the use of Tasers erupted after the October death of Robert Dziekanski, following a struggle with police at Vancouver International Airport. A video of Dziekanski howling in agony received international publicity.
He died on the ground while being physically restrained by police officers.
The exact cause of Dziekanski’s death has not been determined, but critics of the weapon say it has been linked to more than a 280 fatalities in North America since 2001.
Taser International Inc., the maker of the weapon, says there is no scientific proof the gun has caused any deaths and that it has won and had dismissed more than 60 wrongful death and injury lawsuits filed against it.
Wednesday’s government report said the RCMP have classified Tasers as no more dangerous than pepper spray, allowing them to be used on people who are resisting officers but do not pose a risk of grievous bodily harm.
Among the report’s nine recommendations was that Tasers be reclassified as an “impact weapon” that would allow its use only when the target is an immediate threat to police and the general public.
The Mounties were also urged to study “the medical, legal and social aspects of the weapon’s use.”
“The question to be addressed then is in what situations are CEW’s not appropriate for use,” the report said.
A report prepared by British Columbia’s police complaints commissioner on Taser use in 2005 also called for restrictions, and warned it was misleading to describe the weapons as “non-deadly” or “less than lethal.”
Editing by Rob Wilson