Ottawa police sue manufacturer of pepper spray Lawsuit in response to legal action taken against force
Glen McGregor Ottawa Citizen
In the first case of its kind in Canada, a police force is suing a manufacturer of pepper spray, claiming the weapon may not be as harmless as advertised.
The legal action taken by the Ottawa-Carleton Police Services Board against Defense Technology Corporation of America marks the first time a Canadian police force has suggested there may be possible safety problems with the weapon, which causes painful burning sensation on the skin and in the eyes.
The legal action against Defense Technology comes in response to a lawsuit filed by an Ottawa man who was pepper sprayed by police in July, 1995.
Jean-Paul Gravelle is suing the force and two police constables over an incident in which police entered his apartment in search of a suspect who had left a nearby restaurant without paying. Mr. Gravelle, who was not the man police were looking for, was sprayed by one of the constables.
According to his lawsuit, he continues to suffer from bronchial asthma and reactive airways dysfunction syndrome as a result of the spraying.
The police have drawn Defense Technology into the suit, alleging that any injuries sustained by Mr. Gravelle are the responsibility of the manufacturer.
They contend that the spray was supposed to be harmless, and if Mr. Gravelle’s injuries are legitimate, the legal responsibility lies with Defense Technology.
“We were told that it has been tested and it is safe for use and won’t have any side effects,” said Mark Charron, who represents the Police Services Board and the two policemen named in the suit. “If Mr. Gravelle is saying he suffered these side effects from the use of the pepper spray, were saying we didn’t know that would occur,” Mr. Charron said. “Basically, we were sold something we didn’t think we were buying.”
The lawsuit claims Defense Technology failed to advise the police about “the risk of injury to those persons being subjected to the use of pepper spray under all foreseeable circumstance.”
Company officials at Defense Technology’s offices in Casper, Wyo., said they had not been served with the lawsuit yet, but denied there is any safety problem with the product. “We know of tens of thousands of times that these have been deployed without any incident,” said Dave Dubay, the company’s director of research.
Mr. Dubay said that the active ingredient, oleoresin capsicum, is also used in food products and pharmaceuticals.
Defense Technology is one of the largest suppliers of pepper spray to law enforcement agencies in North America. The company manufactured the spray used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to quash a demonstration at the 1997 APEC summit in Vancouver.