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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ontario coroner hit for taser link

November 6, 2007

Taser International paid for Jim Cairns' travel to its U.S. conferences - An expert who testified at a landmark inquest in London into police use of a Taser is under fire for his links to the stun gun manufacturer. Dr. James Cairns, the provincial deputy chief coroner who appeared at the 2005 probe of the death of Londoner Peter Lamonday, is facing criticism for having Taser International pay his travel expenses to lecture at their American conferences.

Although a Commons committee set to review Taser use will examine the relationship, the coroner's office is adamant there is no conflict of interest.

"He's not endorsing a product," Dr. Bonita Porter, Ontario's chief coroner, said yesterday. "He's showing what our experience is. It's not something we should discourage." Porter cited Cairns's testimony at the Lamonday inquest, held in May 2005, as evidence of his expertise.

One Liberal MP who sits on the public safety and national security committee that will examine Taser use in 2008 said Cairns's travel creates the perception of a conflict. "That's just highly improper," Ujjal Dosanjh said in an interview from Ottawa. "Any evidence that Dr. Cairns may have given -- and that's not to judge the evidence -- anything he said with respect to Tasers will be considered in light of the fact he's accepted the fare paid by Taser."

Lamonday, high on cocaine, was hit with a police Taser three times outside a Hamilton Road convenience store late on May 14, 2004. He died 50 minutes later in hospital. The inquest, held a year later, was the first to examine a Canadian death that followed the use of the powerful but controversial stun guns. In testimony, Cairns defended the use of Tasers and noted the timeline of that fateful night was proof the weapon wasn't responsible for the 33-year-old Lamonday's death.

"If you're going to die from an electric shock, you die when you get the electric shock, not minutes or hours later," Cairns told the jury. "Death cannot be attributed to the Taser if there is an interval between use and death." The inquest jury ruled Lamonday died of a cocaine-induced excited delirium and recommended more officers be armed with Tasers.

Cairns couldn't be reached yesterday, but in a recent interview, he made it clear he's remained impartial on the stun guns. "I am not an agent for Taser or anything else," he was quoted as saying. "I do not own Taser shares. I wanted there to be no conflict of interest." To Porter, having Taser pay Cairns's way to its conferences is to the benefit of taxpayers. "It saves the Ontario government paying the fare," she said. "There's a hysteria now about Tasers."

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