On Monday morning Chris Amyotte, a 42-year-old father of seven from Winnipeg and member of the Rolling River First Nation, was visiting family in Vancouver, when he was shot multiple times with a bean bag gun by Vancouver police and died. The reports coming out surrounding his death are disturbing. Witnesses say that Amyotte had been accidentally sprayed by bear mace and was frantically trying to ease the pain by first pouring water and then milk on himself, when police showed up. There have been media reports that he was seeking medical attention, was unarmed, and not a threat when police shot him. An independent investigation is ongoing.
Over the years the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and many others have spoken out – repeatedly – about disproportionate police use of force on Black, Indigenous, and other racialized and marginalized communities. CCLA has also collaborated on a joint report on use of – and dangers associated with – “less lethal” weapons.
When most people hear “bean bag rounds” they might think about soft cloth bags filled with dried beans or other light objects. In a weapons context, however, a “bean bag round” – also called a flexible baton round – is a cloth and Kevlar bag filled with metal pellets. These bags are fit into a plastic cartridge and fired out of a shotgun, and, if fired from a sufficient distance, are supposed to expand as they travel creating a wider surface area impact.
In 2016 the CCLA, as part of the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations, collaborated with Physicians for Human Rights to produce a report highlighting the dangers of “less lethal” weapons. As outlined in the report, a systematic review of the medical literature on kinetic impact projectiles over the past 25 years found that kinetic energy projectiles – a category which includes bean bag projectiles – had resulted in significant morbidity and mortality:
- Systemic review of medical literature identified 1,925 people who suffered injuries, 53 of whom died, and 294 people who suffered permanent disabilities.
- 49% of deaths resulted from direct strikes to the head and neck and 23% resulted from blunt injury to the brain, spine, or chest.
- Permanent vision loss was the most common permanent disability. Some 84% of eye injuries resulted in permanent vision loss.
- 70% of all those who were injured had severe injuries that required professional medical assistance.
When looking at bean bag projectiles specifically, the report notes that bean bag rounds are intended to be fired only at the legs, and that deployment from close range can prevent the bag from expanding properly leading to injuries.
The Independent Investigations Office, B.C.’s civilian-led police oversight agency, is conducting an investigation into the death; CCLA will be following their investigation.
You can read the full report, Lethal in Disguise, here.
A fact sheet specifically about kinetic energy projectiles, including bean bag rounds, is available here.
About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association
The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.
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