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Thursday, November 22, 2007

A call for ban on taser guns

November 21, 2007
Ray Yurkowski, The Independent (Brighton, Ontario)

A former resident of Brighton has taken aim at the use of Tasers by police in Canada. Kathleen Armstrong has started an online petition demanding the government realize the dangers connected with the use of the weapon and wants a ban effective immediately.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on the issue for a long time,” says Ms. Armstrong. After seeing the video shot by a bystander of events leading to the death of Robert Dziekanski last month at Vancouver International Airport on television, Ms. Armstrong was galvanized. “The Taser gun does not kill immediately but what happens is it stirs up the heart so much that a person with an arrhythmia would be more likely to die,” says Ms. Armstrong, who now lives in Napanee.

As well as the ban on Tasers, the petition demands action on suspending the RCMP officers involved in the incident without pay and a full public apology from the Prime Minister to the family of Robert Dziekanski. While the RCMP have acknowledged public concern about the role four officers at the scene may have played in the death, Staff Sgt. John Ward said in a statement the force is confident the investigations underway will be able to address those worries.

RCMP said the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team looking into the incident includes an independent observer from the Commission for Public Complaints against the force.

Mr. Ward said the observer has full access to files and investigators and will monitor whether the investigation is conducted in a fair and unbiased manner. If evidence supports criminal action, a report will be forwarded to the Crown for consideration.

Last week, police chiefs in Canada announced they are commissioning a review and further research on the use of Tasers.

The Taser, or electric stun gun, is a controversial “less than lethal” weapon that is designed to inflict excruciating pain and incapacitate subjects with 50,000 volts of electricity. Despite the number of Taser-related deaths, as well as the deaths of a number of animals, the manufacturer and law enforcement officials maintain the weapon is safe.

According to an Amnesty International report, at least 17 people have died in Canada because of Tasers.

The Taser was quietly introduced into Canada in 2000 without any public debate or prior independent safety testing. “I’ve been watching this ever since they said they were putting them on the police forces in Canada,” said Ms. Armstrong. “That, to me, was the first warning bell. Someone has to do something,” she said. “This has to stop or it will happen again."

Ms. Armstrong says the police should instead be concentrating their efforts on reducing gun violence. “I understand the police saying they need something other than guns but to me that is completely contradictory because they’re trying to get guns off the street.” “Now what they’ve done instead of focusing on the gun issue is they have now brought in another weapon.

The petition can be found HERE.

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