Police in Nova Scotia will be able to use stun guns in certain situations dealing with mentally ill people under new guidelines released Thursday by the province's justice minister.
Ross Landry said officers would be allowed to use stun guns if they believe that other techniques including de-escalation and crisis intervention would not work.
"The officer must first protect the public, themselves and the individual that is under distress and take action and make a judgment at that time that meets that criteria," said Mr. Landry.
The rules don't go as far as what a recent inquiry report recommended. That report, released in December by provincial court Judge Anne Derrick, said stun guns should only be used as "a last resort" on emotionally disturbed people after it has been determined that de-escalation and crisis intervention have not worked.
"There's no way that you can have a perfect system here," Mr. Landry said.
The inquiry was launched after the death of Howard Hyde, who died in November 2007 at a Halifax jail, 30 hours after police had Tasered him multiple times during a psychotic episode.
The 11-month long inquiry concluded the Tasering did not cause his death. But Ms. Derrick said that Hyde was already in a psychotic state when he was stunned, and the jolts only worsened his mental state.
The new guidelines call for increased training in the use of stun guns for all law enforcement agencies including police and correctional officers.
As well, supervisors who train officers will also have to successfully complete training and re-certification programs.
Mr. Landry said the rules also require paramedics to be dispatched to scenes where it has been determined through computer record checks that police are dealing with a person with a history of mental illness, or with other high risk medical situations.
"We've implemented it into our training," Mr. Landry said. "And we're educating not only the officers involved but the health care services that when an incident occurs what the response should be."
Stephen Ayer, executive director of Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, said he was pleased with changes that would see increased training that would allow officers to recognize when they are dealing with people with a mental illness.
"It raises the profile of mental illness as being an important factor that officers have to take into consideration when they arrive on a scene," said Mr. Ayer.
Mr. Landry said the province was the first in Canada to add mental illness provisions to federal standards.
But he said they are mainly meant to upgrade the education and awareness of police officers and are not a major departure from what happens on the street.
In other respects, Nova Scotia's guidelines follow federal standards set for stun gun use.
The federal rules say the weapons should be avoided where possible on women known to be pregnant, the elderly, young children and visibly frail people.
They also say the weapons should not be used on a restrained subject or on a person in control of a moving vehicle.