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Plan to arm prison guards with tasers is shelved Add to ...

A plan to introduce stun guns into Canada's prisons has been shelved indefinitely amid intense public scrutiny of the powerful weapons.

"We're constantly evaluating the equipment we use," said Guy Campeau, a spokesman for the Correctional Service of Canada. "The use of that technology is still being considered but is under review."

Guards who serve as emergency responders were trained in taser use at two maximum-security prisons: Millhaven Institution near Kingston, and Kent Institution at Agassiz, B.C., about 140 kilometres east of Vancouver.

Inmate advocates such as the John Howard Society warned at the time against potential abuse of the weapons in the high-stress prison system.

But Mr. Campeau said eight tasers the correctional service purchased last year are now off limits until the department assesses studies by the B.C. government and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.

In a major report to the government in June, complaints commission chairman Paul Kennedy urged the Mounties to limit taser use to situations in which people are combative or are at risk of seriously harming themselves, the police or the public.

The RCMP agreed the force must "properly instruct" officers "and account for our use of the weapon."

Mr. Campeau said the correctional service had initially planned to begin the pilot project in the fall of 2007. But on Nov. 20, the provincial government and the Mounties launched reviews of taser policies.

That was one week after devastating amateur video footage of Robert Dziekanski's death was released to the news media and beamed around the world.

The agitated newly arrived Polish immigrant tossed furniture after spending hours in limbo at Vancouver International Airport. He died Oct. 14, 2007, after being tasered and pinned to the floor by four Mounties who had waited less than 30 seconds before jolting him.

The footage of Mr. Dziekanski howling in agony in his last moments unleashed international outrage over what appeared to have been the swift use of a painful weapon with little effort to talk him down.

It is no coincidence the correctional service's pilot project fell off the list of priorities in the onslaught of publicity that followed, said inmate advocate and researcher Craig Jones.

"The taser has come under exceptionally critical scrutiny, particularly since the death of Robert Dziekanski," said the executive director of the John Howard Society. "And they would be reluctant to introduce something that was drawing that kind of negative attention."

There is also the delicate matter of the dynamics between prison staff and inmates, Mr. Jones said.

"It's in the interest of both to maintain an equilibrium on the calm end of the spectrum. When you introduce a new device like the taser, you automatically amp up the anxiety on one side and, in so doing, you amp up the anxiety on the other side."

Jason Godin, regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said staff learned from a memo that the stun guns were on hold. "They didn't really give any rationale. They just basically put the project on ice."

Mr. Godin has worked as a maximum-security guard at Ontario's Kingston Penitentiary and nearby Millhaven.

"I guess it's still up in the air," he said. " We believe the organization obviously got a little bit of cold feet on this one because of the controversy in the public."

Officers want to explore the possibility of adding tasers to their arsenal of batons, tear gas and pepper spray to rein in the most unruly and often dangerous prisoners, Mr. Godin said.

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