Tasers used on suicidal, mentally ill in Ottawa

By Neco Cockburn | More than half the people shocked with a Taser by Ottawa city police over the last eight years have been suicidal, mentally ill or emotionally disturbed, reports obtained by the Ottawa Citizen say.

The newspaper obtained use-of-force reports for 115 Taser-related incidents between Oct. 15, 2000, and March of this year through a freedom of information request.

That time period begins just a few months after the Taser was introduced in the city as part of a pilot project.

Although most incidents occurred in houses or apartments, at least three people were hit with a Taser in hospitals and four others in police cellblocks, the reports said.

In one incident, Ottawa police officers arrived at an apartment one night about five years ago to find a suicidal male with four steak knives embedded in his stomach.

He did not follow their commands, so officers drew a gun, but used a Taser instead, and took him into custody within about 20 minutes.

The reports are regulated by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and are to be filled out and reviewed by the police service.

In another recorded incident, a man armed with a Taser was found in a public bathroom and was struck with a Taser by police after allegedly being unco-operative.

Several cases involved people who were allegedly actively resisting arrest or threatening and assaulting police officers or other people at a scene.

In 2000, a male threatened to shoot a paramedic crew that arrived at an apartment. Last year, a “very aggressive, very large six-foot-four, 250 pound male” was “not interested in verbal communications” and threatened three officers at the scene with “I’m going to punch your f—ing lights out.”

Sixty-five males and 13 females were involved in Taser incidents. The person’s sex was not indicated in 37 reports.

The high-profile deaths of several people in Canada who had been shocked by Taser have made the use of the device highly controversial. Some say the stun-guns should be banned pending further investigation into their safety, while others argue they save lives.

Much of the debate was prompted by the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died in October after RCMP officers used a Taser on him at Vancouver International Airport.

Last month, the RCMP’s watchdog agency issued a report probing the force’s use of Tasers, and recommended that no officer with less than five years experience be allowed to use the device.

The RCMP public complaints commission also recommended the force instruct its members to immediately seek medical attention for the target of a Taser and make changes to its reporting form in order to include more information.