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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sister of Quilem Registre and Montreal groups want moratorium on taser use

January 7, 2008
The Canadian Press

MONTREAL - The sister of a man who died after an altercation where police zapped him with a stun gun joined a chorus of activists and politicians Thursday calling for a moratorium on the use of the Taser.

Chantal Registre sat quietly during a news conference where the Quebec League of Human Rights, Amnesty International and others decried the use of the weapon to subdue suspects police deem unruly. The groups argued too little is known about the medical risks posed by stun guns and what they do to elderly persons, psychological patients or people on drugs.

Registre said she believes police improperly use stun guns and that cops should use the training they get at the police academy to subdue suspects. "I think they think it's a toy," she said after the news conference. "It's not a toy. It's really not a toy. I have the proof it's not a toy," she said. "I don't have a brother any more."

Her brother Quilem Registre was stopped by Montreal police in October 2007 for driving erratically. Police said he was intoxicated and aggressive and they used a stun gun - which emits a 50,000-volt electrical charge - to subdue him. He died in hospital several days later of liver and heart failure after his condition deteriorated.

"We're upset, the whole family is upset," Chantal Registre said, adding that her family is still awaiting an explanation of what happened to her brother. "We're always waiting for answers but we don't get them."

Quilem Registre's death came days after an incident in Vancouver that put stun gun use by police on Canadians' radar and sparked a widespread debate on the issue. RCMP used Tasers on Robert Dziekanski, 40, who had flown to Canada from Poland to join his mother. The Polish-speaking man became distraught after being stuck in the airport for several hours and police said they needed the zapper to control him. He died within minutes of the police intervention, which was captured on video.

Manufacturer Taser International maintains the deaths cannot be blamed on the device, which immobilizes suspects with an electrical shock. Since 2003, at least 17 Canadians have died following stun gun incidents.

Warren Allmand, a former federal solicitor general and past president of the International Centre for Human Rights, said a full, independent medical and technical review of all models of stun guns is needed. "What is the lethal potential of these weapons and how should they be categorized in relationship to other weapons and control mechanisms?" Allmand said. "What are the alternatives? It is only when we have the answers to these questions that the government can draft appropriate guidelines or directives for the use or non-use of Tasers."

Marvin Rotrand, a Montreal city councillor, said he is still trying to get a copy of the guidelines for use of stun guns by city police although he has been assured it is infrequent. He said he has been told the Montreal force only has 13 Tasers compared to 500 in Toronto. He's concerned that there is a push by police forces in Canada to make stun guns an everyday part of the street cop's arsenal.

"We find that very, very scary," Rotrand said. "We want there to be extremely strict rules if this is even going to be used by police. We want to know in advance whether this is a valid alternative to lethal force or this is something that is going to create a situation that many of us are going to regret afterwards."

(A report in today's Montreal Gazette says: The National Congress of Italian Canadians supports the moratorium and public inquiry call in connection with the death of Claudio Castegnetta, 32, in Quebec City in September. The Italian immigrant was a visibly disturbed man, wandering around barefoot when he refused to leave a Quebec City store. He died in a police cell two days after he was hit three or four times by a police Taser gun.)

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