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Restraining devices used by VPD harm detainees: Pivot

Pivot Legal Society is filing a complaint against the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) for using modified restraining devices alleged to torture detainees.

The group is targeting devices such as the body cuff and the hobble, which prevent individuals from moving their arms or legs. These restraints can be used when police think a detainee may damage property or cause a disturbance, according to VPD policy.

Pivot wants the VPD to develop tougher guidelines for using these devices. The exisiting framework “has led to situations where non-violent prisoners have been placed in restraining devices as a means of punishment,” reads the complaint.

Pivot was contacted by three people who claimed they suffered on both mental and physical levels after being detained in the devices.

Douglas King, lawyer and head of the policing campaign at Pivot, said: “The three people who came to me about being put in this device seemed to be affected a little bit more than other people who have had experience with the police, even people with physical injuries—it seemed to have a mental affect on them."

“That is probably the main reason it caught my attention—in simplest terms, it seems like it scarred them pretty bad,” King said.

Bobbi O’ Shea, a homeless woman who was detained by Vancouver police last spring, was placed in a modified restraint device for behaviour she feels was not harmful to anyone.

O’ Shea placed a tissue over her cell window because she said she felt uncomfortable having a officer peek into her cell while she was trying to use the washroom.

She said the officers asked her to remove the tissue, but she refused. The police then moved her into a different cell where she was handcuffed and left alone, O' Shea recalled.

Officers placed her in a modified restraint device after she tried to move her handcuffed hands from behind her back to the front of her body, she said.

“I believe they used it unfairly,” O’ Shea told the Tyee.

According to the Police Act, “When a member believes that a person is using or is about use their legs/feet to injure themselves or others, damage property, cause a disturbance, or escape, the member may, where appropriate and reasonable to do so, restrain the person by using a modified restraint device (Hobble), Body cuff or other approved device.”

O’ Shea cried as she described the situation. “At the time, I could not move…I thought they were going to pull my feet off my legs, I have been through some things but I have never been through something like that…I still cry about it, I cannot believe they did that to me and got away with it.”

She explained that since the event, she has had a huge fear of jail.

“The next time the police grab me I am going to fight because they are not going to do that to me again,” O’ Shea said.

Shona McGlaschan, executive director of the Vancouver police board, said the complaint submitted by Pivot will be reviewed by members of the board at the next meeting on March 18.

She said the board won’t be discussing any individual cases involving modified restraint devices, but the general policy concerning the apparatus.

Morgan J. Modjeski is a staff reporter for The Hook.

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