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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Taser firm's relations with coroner to be probed

December 1, 2007

TORONTO -- A federal Commons committee set to explore a string of deaths after taser use will expand its probe to include relationships the stun gun manufacturer has with Canadian officials, members said yesterday.

That will include a look at the relationship between Taser International and James Cairns, Ontario's deputy chief coroner, who said this week he has allowed Taser and a second company closely linked to the manufacturer to pay his travel expenses for lecturing at their U.S. conferences.

Dr. Cairns is one of Canada's best-known coroners and has been asked to testify as an expert on in-custody deaths, which sometimes occur after a person has been shocked with a taser. He told The Globe and Mail he doesn't view his participation at the conferences as a conflict of interest because he does not accept fees, and attends on his vacation time.

"I am not an agent for Taser or anything else," Dr. Cairns said in an interview this week. "I do not own Taser shares. I wanted there to be no conflict of interest."

Members of the Commons public safety committee, which will begin their taser investigation in January, disagree. "This is clearly a case where someone is absolutely blind to the issue. The fact is there is a perception of conflict of interest," said Ujjal Dosanjh, the federal Liberal public safety critic. "When you are testifying in court or at coroners' inquests ... the public needs to know you have no conflict of interest and that there is no appearance of the conflict of interest," he said.

Mr. Dosanjh said that public officials invited to Taser and related conferences should question the sponsors' motivations. "I'm sure Taser International wouldn't pay for anyone that disagrees with the use of taser. That should tell you there is a huge problem," he said, adding: "I'm just troubled that Dr. Cairns wouldn't see that there is a conflict of interest."

NDP public safety critic Penny Priddy said: "When a coroner's office issues a statement, people take that as an absolute word. I just think that they cannot afford to do this. They should know better." Ms. Priddy said she thinks Dr. Cairns' connection to Taser International will "cloud any comments he's going to make" at future inquests.

Ontario's Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Rick Bartolucci, declined to comment yesterday on whether the expense-paid trips constitute a conflict under provincial policy.

A spokeswoman said the minister does not become involved in human resources matters.

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