You may have arrived here via a direct link to a specific post. To see the most recent posts, click HERE.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Taser better than gun, mental health group says

April 4, 2008
The Canadian Press

People have died from being jolted by a police Taser but the shock device is better than lethal force, says a mental health advocacy group. John Gray, a board member with the B.C. Schizophrenia Society, told a Commons committee Friday that a decade ago his group urged police to find another way to subdue mentally ill people after two B.C. residents were killed by police. "If there is an elevated risk, we would like to choose the Taser over a gun,'' Gray said. "I have seen people volunteer to be Tasered, without apparent ill effects. I have never seen anyone volunteer to be shot by a gun.''

Gray's opinion was in sharp contrast to two others who appeared before the Commons committee on public safety during a fact-finding trip to the Vancouver International Airport, where Robert Dziekanski died last October after being hit with an RCMP Taser. The committee is studying the growing use of the weapons by police across the country.

Both the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and lawyer Cameron Ward, who has represented the families of those who have died after being shocked by police, urged MPs to call for a moratorium on Taser use until further study can be done.

The association's Murray Mollard said politicians need to ensure that the shock device doesn't pose a risk of harm to Canadians.

"Rather than a second-last option in the use-of-force spectrum, it has become a much earlier and, in some cases, a first option in the use of force,'' Mollard told the committee. "We think the public has been misled by police authorities.''

A time line presented to the committee by the Canada Border Services Agency showed RCMP at Vancouver's airport interacted with Dziekanski for just over a minute before he was jolted twice by a Taser and pinned to the ground. The dramatic video of the interaction between the Polish immigrant and Mounties before his death was captured by a passerby and circulated worldwide on the Internet and TV.

"Robert Dziekanski's tragic case was unique in only one respect,'' Ward told the committee. "It was unique in that the circumstances of his death were captured on videotape." Ward said 336 people have died in North America since September 1999 after being given a 50,000-volt shock died and many of them have died in the same way. "Most of the cases involved people who were not armed, people who were acting erratically and who were Tasered more than once," he said. "Many of them involve people who were Tasered in what is called by the manufacturer the dry-stun mode."

Dry stun is when the weapon is fired while placed against a person's body.

It's the same way RCMP outside Victoria twice shocked a handcuffed 15-year-old boy last month, including once in the chest, while he was in the back of a police cruiser.

"Before the Star Trek-type Taser, 50,000-volt weapon came on the scene police officers were able to subdue people who needed medical attention without having 336 of them drop dead inexplicably,'' Ward concluded. "We have to be wary of sophisticated, new technological solutions.''

When Tom Smith, chairman of Taser International Inc, testified before the committee in January he said he and his brother invented the Taser after two friends had been killed and they wondered why there wasn't a better way to stop someone without using lethal force. "We grew up watching Star Wars and Star Trek and asked why we couldn't make a non-lethal phaser,'' he said. "That's what led us to start the company."

The committee is one of more than a dozen investigations into Taser use prompted by Dziekanski's death, including an ongoing criminal investigation, an upcoming public inquiry and a coroner's inquest.

Steve Tuttle, Taser International's vice-president of communications, said in a terse news release Friday that Taser would take part in the investigations. "Taser International wishes to provide information to all inquests and inquiries in Canada and looks forward to the opportunity to assist in these matters."

- 30 -

Next thing you know, Taser International will be offering company shares and other incentives to the members of the committee, along with Canadian coroners and other officials in this country. A few years ago, my response to Mr. Tuttle would have been, "sorry, Mr. Arizona, that's not the way we do things here in Canada - pity, eh?" However, we now know that Taser International has padded the pockets of Canadian police officers, sponsored conferences at the Platinum level for Canadian police chiefs and paid travel and other expenses for a famously pro-taser Canadian coroner. It's insane - and far and away beyond unethical. If Taser International is ever allowed to "provide information to all inquests and inquiries in Canada," then so too should the following people, among others, be invited to "provide information":

Cameron Ward;

Amnesty International;

Civil Liberties Associations;

Allan Nakatsu, who tested the tasers used on my brother and found them to be extraordinarily more powerful than Taser International's specifications;

Dr. Ian Dawe, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto;

Researchers who have found that tasers cause ventricular fibrillation and worse;

the police officers who have been permanently injured;

Some journalists I know;

The owner of excited-delirium.com and me.

To the BC Schizophrenia Society's John Gray I say: your argument (we would like to choose the Taser over a gun) might have some merit if tasers were being used where lethal force (guns) would be the only option. Unfortunately, that is not the case at all. Tasers are being used where a gun would never, ever be considered justified in this country.

No comments: