Chairperson's Final Report after Commissioner's Response Regarding the Use of a Conducted Energy Weapon on an 11 Year-old Boy in Prince George, B.C.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act Subsection 45.72(2)

File No.: PC-2011-1194

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The Chair-Initiated Complaint

On April 7, 2011, an 11-year-old youth was subject to the use of a conducted energy weapon (CEW) during a police response to a stabbing incident by members of the Prince George Detachment, in British Columbia.

On April 14, 2011, following public concerns about police use of force, in particular the use of a CEW in such circumstances, the Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (now the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, hereinafter "the Commission")Footnote 1 initiated a complaint pursuant to former subsection 45.37(1) of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act ("the RCMP Act"). The complaint outlined three issues:

  1. Whether the RCMP members or other persons appointed or employed under the authority of the RCMP Act involved in the events surrounding the apprehension of the unidentified 11-year-old youth on April 7, 2011, complied with all appropriate training, policies, procedures, guidelines and statutory requirements relating to police use of force;
  2. Whether the RCMP's national-, divisional- and detachment-level policies, procedures and guidelines relating to the use of CEWs are adequate;
  3. Whether the actions taken by the RCMP in response to the incident were taken in accordance with all applicable policies, procedures, guidelines and statutory requirements for the conduct of such an investigation, and whether such policies, procedures and guidelines are adequate. 

The RCMP's Report

Following its investigation, the RCMP provided its report, dated May 8, 2013, which found that the RCMP's actions in response to the incident were taken in accordance with all applicable policies, procedures, guidelines and statutory requirements for the conduct of such an investigation, and that the policies, procedures and guidelines are adequate. The report also identified that an ambulance was not dispatched to the scene: the RCMP's national operational policy states that whenever possible, in medically high-risk situations (which include deployment in respect of children), members should request medical assistance before using the CEW. As a remedy, the report stated that the Officer in Charge of the Prince George Detachment was directed to ensure that this national policy requirement be brought to the attention of all members under his command, including those involved in the incident.

The Commission's Review and Interim Report

On September 11, 2014, the Commission concluded in its Interim Report that difficult circumstances restricted the scope of the intervention options available to the members that would enable them to take control of the quickly evolving situation without further endangering the safety of the youth, bystanders, or the members themselves. The use of the CEW was reasonable given the imminent risk of grievous bodily harm presented by the youth's behaviour; however, the age of the young subject prompted the public to critically examine the incident. It is important to note that age is but one variable to be assessed when considering the risk presented by a given situation. In this case, given the behaviour exhibited by the youth and the high degree of inherent risk, the members acted reasonably and in accordance with the training, statutory requirements and policies in place. While it is clear that the RCMP's national operational policy in respect of the CEW does not restrict the use of the intermediate device based on age of the subject, this is not the first public complaint that engaged this factor of concern.Footnote 2

The Commission found that there exists an opportunity to add clarity and raise awareness in the policy about medically high‑risk situations, which also serves to mitigate concerns about the use of the CEW in respect of children, as addressed by the relevant policy. It recommended that the RCMP update its policy to reflect the manufacturer's most recent warnings about high-risk populations, including reference to the language more specific to children and other vulnerable persons. Doing so would complement the current state of the policy, which already incorporates a substantial part of the manufacturer's information.

The Commission noted that even if the facts of the incident were to be considered in light of these recent warnings from the manufacturer, the deployment of the CEW would still have been within the recommended guidelines, given that the CEW was only used because the situation justified the increased risk, and the preferred target areas were properly engaged.  

The Commissioner's Response

Pursuant to subsection 45.72(1) of the RCMP Act, the Commissioner is required to provide a written response indicating any further action that has been or will be taken in light of the findings and recommendations contained in the Commission's Interim Report. 

On March 30, 2016, the Commission received the Commissioner's response, dated March 22, 2016.

The Commissioner agreed with the findings that all of the members involved complied with the training requirements, that the members' use of force was reasonable and consistent with the applicable legislation and RCMP policy, and that it was reasonable for Constable Chad Fitzpatrick not to issue a warning of the CEW deployment.

  1. The Commissioner supported the Commission's recommendations that the RCMP incorporate into its CEW policy the specific language found in the CEW manufacturer's warnings, including the following:
  2. Medically high-risk populations (namely, pregnant, elderly, or low body-mass index person or small child) may be at higher risk of death or serious injury.

The CEW should only be used on medically high-risk persons if the situation justifies an increased risk.

The Commissioner indicated that the RCMP is currently in the process of amending the policy to incorporate the above-noted recommendations, and that the current policy generally reflects the third recommendation from the Commission that, where tactically feasible, members should avoid targeting the chest area or any areas higher than the bottom of a subject's rib cage.

The Commissioner added that new changes were made by Taser International to its warning, which will be reviewed and could result in further modifications to the RCMP policy.

The Commission's Findings and Recommendations

The Commission notes that the RCMP Commissioner is generally in agreement with the Commission's findings.

With respect to the third recommendation, the Commission maintains its finding, as it is tied to its first two recommendations in incorporating children-specific language into the policy. The policy applicable at the time of the incident included some general reflection of the preferred targeted areas on any person; however, this general reflection did not specifically warn about the increased risk to children, or other high-risk populations, of having the CEW-delivered discharge closer to the heart as warned by the manufacturer.

The Commission is mindful that the Commissioner has indicated that new changes made by the CEW manufacturer to its warnings will be reviewed and could result in further modifications to the RCMP policy.

In light of the foregoing, the Commission reiterates its findings and recommendations.

Finding: All of the members involved complied with the training requirements.

Finding: The members' use of force was reasonable and consistent with the applicable legislation and RCMP policy.

Finding: It was reasonable for Constable Fitzpatrick not to issue a warning of the CEW deployment.

Finding: I am satisfied that the direction given by the RCMP to the Officer in Charge of the Prince George RCMP Detachment reasonably addresses the requirement to ensure that medical assistance is requested in medically high‑risk situations, where possible.  

Findings:

  1. The actions taken by the RCMP in response to the incident were reasonable.
  2. I am satisfied that the drafting of a policy to handle highly sensitive issues is a reasonable response to the concerns raised over the internal communications following the incident.

Recommendations: That the RCMP incorporates into its CEW policy the specific language found in the CEW manufacturer's warnings, including the following:

  1. Medically high-risk populations (namely, pregnant, elderly, or low body‑mass index person or small child) may be at a higher risk of death or serious injury.
  2. The CEW should only be used on medically high-risk persons if the situation justifies an increased risk.
  3. Where the situation justifies the risk, whenever possible, avoid sensitive areas and target preferred target areas, given the increased risk of having the CEW-delivered discharge closer to the heart.

[17] Pursuant to subsection 45.72(2) of the RCMP Act, the Commission respectfully submits its Final Report and, accordingly, the Commission's mandate in this matter is ended.

____________________________________
Ian McPhail, Q.C.
Chairperson

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