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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Second death following taser use sparks call for moratorium

October 18, 2007
Phil Couvrette , CanWest News Service

The death in Montreal Thursday of a second man stunned by a Taser gun in Canada this week is prompting concerns about the use of the weapon, but a recent U.S. study says the weapon inflicts very few serious injuries.

Quilem Registre, 39, was Tasered Sunday, the same day as Robert Dziekanski, 40, who was restrained at Vancouver International Airport. Dziekanski died minutes after being shot with the electro-shock weapon while Registre passed away four days later.

While the actual causes of death have yet to be determined, the incidents are reviving debate on the use Taser guns.

The two recent deaths bring to 17 the number of victims to have died in Canada shortly after being hit with a Taser. In many cases the men also had illegal drugs in their system and often pepper spray or other restraints were used as well as the Taser.

Amnesty International is calling for a moratorium on the use of the weapon.

"The events this week really show a necessity for a comprehensive understanding of this weapon," said John Tackaberry, a spokesman with Amnesty. It wants use of the weapon suspended "until there are adequate comprehensive studies that deal with all of the aspects of the physical and medical impacts."

On Thursday Quebec's Public Security Department asked a working group studying the use of the weapon to move up the presentation of its report, originally due in December.

"In light of recent events the minister has asked that the (committee's) work be accelerated," said spokeswoman Genevieve Guilbault.

She said two suspicious deaths are being investigated in Quebec. Claudio Castagnetta was arrested on Sept. 18 and died after being transferred to a detention centre by police. At one point he resisted arrest and police used a stun gun to restrain him.

The head of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission asked in 2006 for a comprehensive report on police use of Tasers, citing concerns over how the 50,000-volt device is being used.

"In our annual report we reported about the use of Tasers and our concerns about its appropriate use," said Nelson Kalil, a spokesman for the Commission. Among them he cited concerns Taser may be used to prod people along rather than when officers were at risk. "Other interventions could have been more appropriate."

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day on Thursday said the RCMP and the Canadian Police Association were reviewing the use of Tasers as the issue was being raised during question period in the House of Commons. He said that since their introduction in 2001, Tasers have been used by the RCMP about 4,000 times and at least as many times by other police associations. He said that officers have received intensive training on Tasers.

But in a recent study funded by the U.S. Justice Department, researchers tracking police Taser use on 962 people from July 2005 to June 2007 found very few suffered serious injury.

Three people sustained moderate or severe non-fatal injuries. Two had head injuries when they fell to the ground after being stunned. Another had a type of muscle breakdown, the researchers said. Another 216 people sustained minor injuries like cuts, and 743 suffered no injury, the study found.

Dr. Christine Hall, an in-custody death expert from Victoria, said "99.7 per cent of field applications resulted in no or minimal injury. In that series there were two deaths and in each of those cases the technology was found to be unrelated to the death."

"In the 100,000s of Taser applications in North America... you're going to encounter adverse outcome, it has to happen statistically. That doesn't mean it's a causal relationship."

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