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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Taser manufacturer wants role in review process

November 21, 2007
CTV News

An executive with Taser International says his company wants to participate in any Canadian review of the stun gun and is confident the product would be found safe. "We do need answers to what happened," Taser co-founder and chairman Tom Smith told CTV's Canada AM on Wednesday. "Obviously we manufacture the device. We have a lot of knowledge that we can share, so we need to be part of this inquiry so we can try and provide some answers."

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day announced Tuesday that he had asked Paul Kennedy, who heads the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, to conduct the review. "I have asked the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to review all RCMP protocols on the use of CEDs (conducted electrical devices) and to assess the compliance of the RCMP with these protocols," the minister said in a news release. "This builds on the work currently underway by the Commission on the use of CEDs, as referred in its June 2007 Annual Report."

The review comes following the Oct. 14 death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish man, at Vancouver International Airport following a confrontation that ended with RCMP officers using a Taser on him.

Kennedy -- who will only look at the RCMP -- is to make an initial report by December 12. His work is in addition to Day's earlier decision to have the RCMP conduct an internal review of its Taser procedures. The Liberals have called for a broad national review that would include the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency, Immigration, Transport Canada and the Vancouver Airport Authority.

The NDP and Amnesty International want police to suspend Taser use, citing 17 deaths in Canada and more than 280 in the United States. The B.C. government has also ordered a public inquiry into the Dziekanski case.

Meanwhile in Chilliwack, B.C., a man is in extremely critical condition in hospital following a Tuesday incident with police, who used pepper spray, batons and a Taser to subdue him.

Critic welcomes review

A critic -- and competitor -- of Tasers is welcoming the review of how RCMP officers use the stun guns. "If you don't know what the threshold of safety and effectiveness is, then how do you prevent these devices from being abused in the field and in real world scenarios, when there's no supervision?" Ken Stethem asked in an interview with CTV British Columbia on Tuesday. Stethem -- founder of Omega Science, a company that develops non-lethal security tools -- said part of the problem with Tasers is their design. The North Vancouver businessman and former U.S. Navy Seal said Tasers rely on "spark gap technology." As with a car's spark plug, CEDs can wear out. When they do, the intended electrical wavelength can change and make the devices unsafe. Officers using such a device might be tempted to use the device more than once, he said. That raises the following questions for Stethem:

How many stuns are too many?

When is the duration of electrical contact too long?

What science has been done by the manufacturer or law enforcement to support the use of CEDs?

"What science has been done to support unlimited stuns and unlimited exposure -- and the answer is none," Stethem said. His company is developing a solid-state device that reportedly won't have any variations in electrical output.

But Taser International's position is that: "Specifically in Canada, while previous incidents were widely reported in the media as 'Taser deaths,' the role of the Taser device has been cleared in every case to date." Smith told Canada AM, "I have been Tasered myself. I have Tasered my brother." While admitting the device is "not risk-free," Smith said it's still the safest way to end a confrontation.

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