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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Misuse of tasers poses too many risks to the public

December 18, 2007

A Letter to the Editor of a Sudbury newspaper at northernlife.ca:

I am writing this letter to express my concerns regarding the increasing reports of misuse of the taser weapon in a growing number of policing services within Canada. This weapon is intimidating, cruel, capable of inflicting torturous pain and is potentially lethal.

For those who disagree with the assertion the taser is deadly, dispute this with the families of the victims who have mysteriously died shortly after being tasered.

Unless anyone of these victims was a direct and imminent threat to the life of a police officer, none of their alleged offences deserved a circumvention of their Canadian and human rights resulting in either cruel and unusual punishment or the risk of termination of their lives.

A growing number of reports are indicating that the taser is increasingly being used as a “weapon to threaten” and a “pain compliance tool” within our citizenry, while often ignoring other safer, less harmful and dignified methods of intervention or apprehension. Unfortunately, this is a position we are quickly finding ourselves in and is certainly inconsistent with Canadian values and United Nations standards.

I do recognize our police officers often place their lives at risk when dealing with truly dangerous situations. I completely support the use of firearms as their ultimate defence in the event their lives are directly threatened. However, since the issuance of the taser as an alternative to their firearm, documented reports and resultant lawsuits are now clearly indicating its alleged indiscriminate misuse including torture, cruelty, degradation and electrocution of ordinary citizens.

Being educated in the electrical engineering field, I am well versed on the dangers of electricity and how differently it affects every person who comes into contact with it. Electrical current flows through every individual differently as each one of us has a different “resistance” to the flow of electrical current. The location on the body and how the shock is applied, often determines why some survive electrocution and others die.

A dose of electricity may paralyze the respiratory organs and damage the central nervous system in even the healthiest of victims. The immediate or eventual cause of death, however, is usually an interruption of heart action. This potential for lethal damage is exacerbated when the victim has a pre-existing medical or respiratory condition.

According to the Canada Safety Council, “Even a relatively small shock can cause cardiac arrest in someone with a weak heart.” Make no mistake; if you are being “tasered”, you are being exposed to “electricity” with 415 times the electrical force of your typical 120-volt GFCI household electrical outlet. Tasering is intense “electric shock.” Any form of non-medically controlled and administered electrical shock always has the real potential for electrocution.

To put it into perspective, the GFCI protected electrical outlets that we all have in our homes is deemed necessary by our government regulated Canadian Electrical Code in order to prevent any possibility of electrocution and damage to the human body. These “ground fault circuit interrupter” devices are designed to stop the flow of electrical current at a threshold of five milli-amps at 120-volts of electricity. They work very well and protect us from electrical shock, and as such are the law.

Yet, other government agencies we employ to “serve and protect” are given the right to legally impale the flesh of another human being with a device that delivers an excruciating 50,000 volts (415 times higher) and 150 milli-amps (30 times higher) of dangerous electrical current.

The taser’s original justification was accepted by the public under the premise that it was to be used as a “last alternative non-lethal option” to the police revolver. In many jurisdictions this is obviously no longer the case as they have escalated taser use way beyond its original intent with plans to further equip more officers, thus increasing the risk of it’s misuse within the general public.

The taser is frequently being misapplied and as such, shortcutting accepted “continuum of force” guidelines for routine interventions. And since it’s a potentially lethal weapon, contrary to what the so-called manufacturer’s sponsored experts will have you believe, it is now playing a part in both unnecessary “cruelty to humans” and a contributing role in taking the lives of our fellow Canadians who might otherwise be alive today.

This weapon, if used only as a substitute to deadly force, could be an acceptable alternative choice as originally intended, but it’s obvious well documented misuse poses far too many risks to the public’s health, dignity and life and as such should be banned until independent thorough studies have been completed.

According to the international standards set out under the United Nations code of conduct for law enforcement officials and the basic principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials, force should only be used as a last resort and that officers must apply only the minimum amount of force necessary to obtain a lawful objective.

Increasingly, Amnesty International reports are showing the misuse of tasers being used to secure compliance in routine arrest and non-life threatening situations, including use against persons not actively resisting arrest, and against non-violent protestors.

In a number of these cases, the treatment by police officers is in clear violation of international standards prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. How many more people need to be mistreated worse than animals, to such cruel, inhuman, invasive and punitive treatment for the sake of expedient compliance?

How many more lives unnecessarily need to be lost before we wake up and accept the fact that the so-called non-lethal tasers are directly or indirectly mysteriously killing our fellow human beings?

G. Fleury

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