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OMBUDSMAN SAYS GOVERNMENT HAS WORK TO DO IF IT PLANS TO INTRODUCE ELECTRONIC CONTROL DEVICES INTO ADULT MALE CORRECTIONAL CENTRE

2008-07-29

News Release

Saskatchewan Ombudsman Kevin Fenwick says that the Ministry of Corrections and Public Safety and Policing still has work to do before making a decision about introducing Electronic Control Devices (ECDs), commonly known as TASERs®, into the province’s adult male correctional centres. In My Brother’s Keeper – a report tabled today in the Legislative Assembly, the Ombudsman makes twenty-one recommendations aimed at ensuring the Ministry does that work.

The Ministry was in the final stages of introducing ECDs in the fall of 2007, when the use of a TASER sparked an internal investigation by the Ministry. Following that, the Ombudsman reviewed not only the single use, but the broader process of implementation. Fenwick says, “Given the controversies surrounding ECDs we wanted to know why they were considered for correctional centres, when was that decision made, on what basis was that decision made, what process was used by the Ministry to support the decision, and was that process sufficient to support the use of ECDs?”

Overall, Fenwick found that the Ministry’s process did not adequately support the ntroduction of the ECDs into its correctional centres housing male inmates.

While recognizing that the Ministry did take a number of important steps when considering the introduction of ECDs, Fenwick raised several concerns:

  • The Ministry lacked objective data to support claims of increased violence (which was citedas a reason ECDs were being considered).
  • The Ministry thought that the technology was “medically safe to use” in the inmate population but did not complete a health assessment on its inmate population. The Ombudsman’s review of the available research revealed that there are many unknowns about the potentialadverse effects of the technology on humans - particularly vulnerable groups who mayhave higher risk factors such as cardio-vascular and cardio-respiratory illnesses, or who are experiencing symptoms of a condition referred to as excited delirium.
  • The Ministry did not consult with stakeholders such as such as health regions, community hospitals, the John Howard Society, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, or inmates themselves.
  • The Ministry did not provide training for its medical staff who would be expected to respond after incidents when ECDs have been used.
  • The Ministry’s policies did not define how many cycles of electricity could be given and for how long, which could lead to situations where individuals would potentially be exposed to prolonged and multiple shocks.
  • The Ministry’s policies were not clear about whether the ECD could be displayed but not fired in order to get cooperation; current policy could be interpreted to mean that, once drawn, the weapon must be fired.
  • The Ministry considered the ECD as an intermediate weapon instead of an impact weapon,which means it could be used when someone is pulling away, pushing or not following instructions, rather than as a weapon of last resort where there is active and overt violent resistance and immediate control is required to avoid physical harm.

Fenwick also says that he recognizes that management and staff in the correctional centres
often deal with difficult and violent situations. “I am not naïve about the realities of the correctional environment. I recognize that this is a complex issue. It is my hope that this report will act as a catalyst for public debate about whether ECDs have a place in our provincial correctional system.”

As for the single incident, it occurred during a cell extraction. A short time afterward, the Ministry put the introduction of this technology on hold.

Immediately following the incident, the Ministry conducted its own internal investigation and the Ombudsman independently reviewed those findings. While the Ombudsman cannot reveal details of that review in order to protect the confidentiality of the inmate, Fenwick agreed with the Ministry’s report that though the TASER X26 was used in accordance with policy, the policy was not yet in effect. As a result, authorization to use the TASER X26 should not have been given. All recommendations related to the incident and the broader review are published in the Ombudsman’s report.

The report and a fact sheet are both available online. To view these, go to www.ombudsman.sk.ca and click on News/What’s New. Paper copies are available in Regina at the Ombudsman Saskatchewan office, Suite 150 – 2401 Saskatchewan Drive or in Saskatoon at the Ombudsman Saskatchewan office, 315 – 25th Street East.

The Ombudsman is an Officer of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan with the authority to take complaints from members of the public who believe the government administration has not dealt fairly with them, and also to issue public reports when appropriate. The office provides a range of services, including investigation, negotiation and mediation. Government administration includes any ministry, branch, board, agency or commission responsible to the Crown. The Ombudsman was established by The Ombudsman and Children's Advocate Act.

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Media contact:
Leila Dueck
Director of Communications
Ombudsman Saskatchewan
Phone: 787-7369
Fax: 787-9090

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