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Taser use draws Amnesty’s ire

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OTTAWA – An international human rights report fingers the RCMP use of Tasers, noting that the controversial stun guns are the subject of a public inquiry in Canada and that six people died last year after being stunned by police.

The Amnesty International report, assessing the state of the world’s human rights in 2008, also cites Canadian foreign policy on several fronts, including a failure to protect Afghan detainees from being transferred to local authorities at a risk of torture, refusing to repatriate Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr, and declining to seek clemency for a Canadian killer on death row in Montana.

The two-page section on Canada’s failures was part of a broader 387-page critique of 157 countries, which accuses the international community of relegating human rights “to the back seat” as countries focus on the economic recession and national security.

It was the second straight year that Amnesty, which has called in the past for a moratorium on Taser use pending further study of the safety risks, has cited Canada’s national police force in its annual review.

Amnesty mentioned the ongoing public inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died in October 2007 after he was repeatedly Tasered at the Vancouver airport – including shots after he fell to the floor.

The national force has suffered a public bruising over the affair – which was captured on amateur video and viewed worldwide.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said that police were cited for Taser use because debate over the weapons has become a significant issue.

“It’s still a weapon that is not used extensively by a lot of governments around the world,” said Neve.

“In our view it has become quite a human rights issue within Canadian policing and justice and I think this past year has become so reflective of that, the degree to which Canadians have been engaged and deeply concerned.”

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The RCMP were also blamed Wednesday in another report, which concluded that the force botched an investigation into a B.C. officer’s shooting of an unarmed robbery suspect five years ago.

The report from Paul Kennedy, head of the RCMP public complaints commission, concluded that Const. Ryan Sheremetta was acting in self-defence when he shot and killed Kevin St. Arnaud.

But Kennedy found that the force’s probe of the death lacked impartiality and failed to follow standard procedure.

Amnesty’s report also singled out the Harper government’s treatment of Omar Khadr, who has been held at the U.S. military camp in Cuba for almost seven years.

“The government continued to refuse to intervene with U.S. officials regarding the case of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, arrested in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old,” said the report.

The federal government is currently appealing a judicial order that officials seek Khadr’s repatriation.

Canada’s anti-terrorism laws also came under scrutiny, including 2008 legislation that rewrote the rules governing the use of immigration security certificates, which permit federal officials to detain foreign terror suspects indefinitely, without charges.

Amnesty said the revamped process “remained unfair,” and the report noted that five suspects, released on bail, are subject to “very restrictive” conditions.

The report listed several other human rights black marks in Canada, such as provincial approval given to TransCanada pipelines to run a gas pipeline through Lubicon Cree territory in northern Alberta, and a refusal to seek clemency for Albertan Ronald Smith, who sits on death row in Montana.

The Federal Court recently ordered the government to intervene on his behalf and the ruling was not appealed.

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