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Friday, February 08, 2008

Quebec government faces calls to suspend taser use

February 8, 2008
RHÉAL SÉGUIN, The Globe and Mail

QUEBEC CITY -- The Quebec government is under increasing pressure to impose a moratorium on the use of tasers until an independent study can verify whether the weapons are safe for use by the province's police forces. The Parti Québécois said yesterday it will use parliamentary tactics to force Premier Jean Charest's minority government to reverse an earlier decision and impose a moratorium. "At the opening of the session, we will deploy a precise strategy to make sure all the light can be shed on this issue," said PQ House Leader François Gendron.

Furthermore a new coalition that includes Amnesty International, the Ligue des droits et libertés, various politicians and advocacy groups demanded a moratorium yesterday citing the deaths last fall of Quilem Registre in Montreal and Claudio Castagnetta in Quebec City as examples of the unsafe use of the weapon.

Tasers were used in separate incidents during the arrests of Mr. Registre and Mr. Castagnetta. Three other Canadians died last fall following multiple discharges of the electroshock weapon, including the well-publicized case of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport.

"People are worried and we need a moratorium while independent experts study the safety of this weapon," said Dominique Peschard, president of the Ligue des droits et libertés. "We also need an inquiry to determine if the taser gun contributed to the deaths of Mr. Registre and Mr. Castagnetta."

Friends and relatives of the Registre and Castagnetta families have urged the government to release all information from the Sûreté du Québec's investigation into the deaths of the two men. "It's been five months since Mr. Castagnetta died and we've received nothing from the police investigation," said Jesse Zimmer, a close friend of Claudio Castagnetta. "In Ontario, independent inquiries are conducted into deaths involving police officers. Here in Quebec the police investigate the police. That has to change."

Jacques Dupuis, the Quebec Minister of Public Security, reiterated yesterday that his government was open to all new information regarding the safety of tasers, but categorically refused to impose a moratorium. A study released last December conducted by experts and senior members of Quebec police forces recommended improved training on the use of tasers, but stopped short of recommending a moratorium.

The coalition questioned the report's neutrality noting that new information from tests conducted on animals have shown that tasers could cause heart damage.

"It is a weapon that has been denounced as a weapon of torture by a United Nations committee," Amnesty International spokeswoman Anne Sainte-Marie said yesterday.

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