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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Widow of Paul Saulnier to sue RCMP

October 20, 2007
BRIAN MEDEL, The Chronicle Herald

DIGBY— The wife of a man who died outside the Digby RCMP detachment in 2005 after he was Tasered has hired a lawyer to sue the RCMP. Paul Sheldon Saulnier, 42, of Waldec died July 15, 2005. Officers had used pepper spray and their batons as well as a Taser to keep Mr. Saulnier from leaving the police station. He had apparently dropped in to talk, but it’s not clear why.

His wife, Helen, has retained lawyer Jamie MacGillivray. "We intend to claim against the RCMP for negligence in the use of the Taser," Mr. MacGillivray said. The lawsuit is still being prepared, he said Friday. He said the suit will not allege the police used excessive force. "But we are saying they didn’t use the Taser appropriately," Mr. MacGillivray said. "With the use of a powerful weapon like the Taser comes responsibility," he said.

The lawyer said two settings, or modes, are available for use on a Taser. One mode fires probes at a target to immobilize the person. The Digby RCMP officers used their Taser in what’s known as the drive stun mode, said Mr. MacGillivray. He said the medical examiner’s report said officers kept the Taser in drive stun mode.

Nova Scotia’s chief medical examiner found that Mr. Saulnier died of cardiac arrest due to excited delirium due to paranoid schizophrenia. The term excited delirium is controversial, Mr. MacGillivray said. "We intend to claim . . . negligence . . . using drive stun mode, where the Taser is applied directly to the skin," said Mr. MacGillivray. A Taser used in this fashion inflicts pain but does not immobilize, he said. And people in a state of excited delirium cannot be immobilized by pain, he said. "They repeatedly used the Taser in drive stun mode and attempted to use a hog-tie restraint," Mr. MacGillivray said of the three Digby RCMP officers involved in the incident.

Mr. MacGillivray also filed suit recently on behalf of Ms. Saulnier against the Manufacturers Life Insurance Co. The insurance company has denied a claim for payment of life insurance on the grounds that Mr. Saulnier died not from accident but from illness: paranoid schizophrenia, said Mr. MacGillivray. He said the claim was also denied because the insurance company said Mr. Saulnier was committing a criminal offence at the time of his death.

An RCMP spokesman said shortly after Mr. Saulnier’s death that police had been planning to charge the man with criminal harassment but charges had not yet been finalized. The insurance company’s position has only a thin veneer of legitimacy, argues Mr. MacGillivray. He said Mr. Saulnier was not committing a crime and was unable to appreciate the nature and quality of his acts. "We are very confident the courts will find Mrs. Saulnier is entitled to this benefit," said Mr. MacGillivray.

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