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Friday, February 08, 2008

We are waiting for answers - Sister of victim speaks out

February 8, 2008
IRWIN BLOCK, Montreal Gazette

Chantal Registre wants answers. The main one is to this question: If the Taser gun is more humane than one with bullets, why is her brother dead? She would like to know if the use by Montreal police of a Taser on Oct. 18 to subdue Quilem Registre, 38, provoked multiple heart attacks that killed him four days later.

Was there no other way to conduct his arrest on suspicion of drunk driving? she and a coalition of human rights groups and political figures asked yesterday. Because of the unanswered question, Chantal Registre said yesterday, she and her family are still in mourning. "We are all devastated," she said. "There is a big void and we don't know what to say. We are waiting for answers, and there are no answers."

She attended a news conference yesterday to support a renewed call for an immediate moratorium on the use by police of Taser guns to pacify suspects. The coalition also called for a full public inquiry into the deaths of Registre and Claudio Castagnetta, 32, who was hit by a Taser in Quebec City. The inquiry would include expert testimony into the medical and psychological consequences of being zapped by 50,000 volts of electricity.

City councillor Warren Allmand, a former federal solicitor-general, said an independent inquiry should look at the effect of Taser use on the elderly, the sick, children, women and people taking medication, alcohol or drugs. "What is the impact of repeated shots?" Allmand asked. "How many shots does it take to subdue a threatening person? What is the lethal potential of these weapons? What are the alternatives?"

The coalition rejected a report issued by a Quebec government subcommittee on the use of force because it included only one person, a physician, not connected with police or government. Independent experts must be consulted before the Quebec Public Security Department issues guidelines on Taser use, as it plans to do, the coalition said.

The Quebec coroner's office is investigating the cause and circumstances of Registre's death and that of Castagnetta in September. Castagnetta, an Italian immigrant, was walking around barefoot in a Quebec City store and refused to leave. He died in a police cell two days after he had been tasered three or four times.

Quebec Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis sees no need for a moratorium or an inquiry, as no study has blamed Taser use for any deaths in Canada, spokesperson Philippe Archambault said yesterday. About 150 Tasers are used by police forces in Quebec. All officers who get one receive special training, he said.

A total of 20 people have died across Canada since 2000 after they were tasered by police, Amnesty International's franco-phone branch said yesterday.

Montreal police have 16 Tasers in their arsenal and they are distributed as follows:

Five are available for the SWAT team; there are four each for the police force's intervention groups that control riots and work at detention facilities; two are for training and one is at the Montreal courthouse, Inspector René Allard says.

Guidelines for Taser use in Montreal specify two situations: The person to be apprehended represents a high risk of violence,or police consider there is a high risk of injury to the person to be arrested, to officers or to bystanders, Allard says.

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