Canadian Police Powers

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which falls under the Constitution Act of 1982, was developed to guarantee the rights and freedoms of all Canadian citizens. The Canadian Charters deals with all human rights aspects and issues such as freedom of speech, worship and communication by stating that everyone has the freedom of belief, freedom of thought, opinion and expression. The General Assembly in Canada proclaims the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all Canadian citizens. It requires every member of the society to respect these rights and freedoms which are equality rights, legal rights and mobility rights (Orend, 2002).

The legal rights aspect of the Charter deals with the legal rights Canadian citizens are entitled especially when they are dealing with the justice and legal systems such as courts, law enforcement agencies. The legal right that has been highlighted in the charter that Canadian citizens are entitled to includes the right to life, liberty and security from unreasonable searches or seizures by law enforcement agencies. They are also entitled to freedom from slavery and servitude, and freedom from any forms of torture, cruel and inhuman treatment or punishment. Under the legal rights provision, citizens are entitled to freedom from unfair detention and imprisonment. In the event they were arrested, they had the right to be informed of the reasons of their arrest as well as request for legal representation (Orend, 2002).

The legal rights under the Charter of Freedoms also stipulate that citizens should not be subjected to any cruel or unfair punishment while they are under police custody. They should also not be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

They have the right to be informed of their offence and tried within a reasonable time frame. Citizens who are under arrest should not be denied any bail without just cause and they should not be found guilty on the basis of any act of omission unless the offence at the time of the omission constituted an offence that was deemed criminal by the Canadian or International law. Citizens have the right to receive an effective remedy by the national tribunals that are competent for any acts that have violated the fundamental rights granted to the individual citizen in the constitution (Jacob, 2007).

The powers that have been allocated to Canadian police to ensure the legal and freedom rights in the Charter are maintained are usually allocated by state and government authorities in Canada. These powers however face certain limitations which come in the form of formal provisions such as the freedom charter, statutes, constitutions or codes and traditional common law provisions. The powers that these authoritative states allocate to the police include the use of physical force when seizing criminal offenders by using tasers, batons or the use of restraints such as handcuffs to handle offenders caught on the wrong side of the law (Griffiths, 2008).

Police officers in the recent past have however used excessive force when dealing criminal offenders as evidenced by media reports and publications that have highlighted such incidents. According to Hall (2009), 28 Canadian men had died as of November 2008 as a result of being tasered by Canadian police authorities. One of these men died in Ontario after being tasered by police in the Ontario Provincial Police Department. The man had been arrested for public disturbance in Norfolk County which is based 130km southwest of Toronto. Police officers used a stun gun to subdue the man so that he could be taken into custody. As a result, he collapsed on arrival at the Ontario Provincial Police Department after which he was rushed to the Norfolk General Hospital where he died.

Tasers are hand held weapons that are commonly used by law enforcers to deliver a jolt of electricity to the target. The electrical shock is meant to stun the target and render them immobile. Tasers have mostly been used on targets that have proved hostile or difficult to apprehend. In the wrong or untrained hands, tasers can be very dangerous weapons. For example a polish immigrant died in 2007 after being repeatedly zapped with a RCMP taser by Vancouver police officers at the Vancouver International Airport. This death sparked a debate across Canadian states on the use of police brutality in arresting or subduing criminal offenders (Slosiarek, 2010).

The immigrant, Robert Dziekanski, was stunned five times by police officers from the Canadian Mounted Police who were unable to subdue him. He was arrested for pounding on windows, throwing chairs and other furniture which was a sign of protest for waiting for nine hours in the airport. The police officers stunned him twice to calm him down, the consequences of which led to his death. The Canadian Mounties involved in the incident speculated his death was caused by a rare condition known as excited delirium that occurs in patients with irregular heart palpitations or drug users who abuse cocaine. Investigations conducted by a coroner however showed that Dziekanski’s death had been caused by stress from being shocked by the taser gun and also from struggling with the police officers (Slosiarek, 2010).

This incident led to media and public scrutiny of the use of tasers by police in Canada which had increased within four years. Estimations by Amnesty International have shown that police stations and departments have been allocated between 2,000 and 3,000 taser or stun gun weapons in one year. The use of tasers has been approved in the Police policies in Canada bearing in mind the fact that these weapons allow police officers to subdue violent offenders without having to use firearms.

Their use however has continued to be questioned especially after the Vancouver Airport incident which saw Amnesty International calling for the suspension of the officers involved in the incident. The Amnesty International report produced in 2007 showed that the number of people of who had died in Canada as a result of being stunned by a taser gun had amounted to 17 (Amnesty International, 2007).

A case study conducted by Amnesty International in 2004 into the use of tasers showed that police officers preferred to use tasers instead of firearms when subduing violent criminals. The 2004 study highlighted the organization’s growing concern on the use of tasers by police in Canada. The results showed that the continued use of tasers violated the acceptable levels of force or power that Canadian police officers were entitled to use on violent criminal offenders. Amnesty International suggested the use of tasers by police officers should be done after they had undergone extensive training on how to use these guns.

The study also called for stricter controls on when to use the taser guns and also when to use physical force when apprehending criminal suspects. This would ensure that there would be no unnecessary deaths caused by tasers. The Amnesty International report also called for the suspended use of electro shock weapons such as the taser guns and stun guns after rigorous investigations had been conducted to determine their effects on the health or safety of the intended target (Amnesty International, 2007).


Amnesty International (2007). Canada: Inappropriate and excessive use of tasers, London: International Secretariat.

Griffiths, C. T., (2008). Canadian police work, 2nd Edition. Vancouver: Nelson Education Limited.

Hall, C.A., (2009). Public risk from tasers: unacceptably high or low enough to accept? Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine, Vol.11, No.1, pp 84-86.

Jacob, J.W., (2007). Canadian charter of freedoms and rights: democracy for the people and for each person. Ontario: Trafford Publishing.

Orend, B., (2002). Human rights: concept and context. Mississauga, Canada: Broadview Press Limited.

Slosiarek, J., (2010). Facts about stun guns and their use in Canada, CBC News, Canadian Press. Web.

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