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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Victim's parents testify at taser inquiry

May 6, 2008
Staff Reporter, The Province

VANCOUVER -- The Braidwood Commission inquiry into Taser use continued Tuesday with emotional evidence from Cathy and Joseph Gallagher, parents of a mentally ill Vancouver man who was subdued by seven police officers and Tasered twice.

Cathy Gallagher held up a small, red T-shirt with a hole in it showing where her son -- a slight, 37-year-old man who had an MBA from McMaster University -- was Tasered in the heart.

Christopher Gallagher has remained in hospital since the incident, which occurred on Feb. 24. The Gallaghers want a complete moratorium on Taser use.

The inquiry also heard from Victoria police Const. Mike Massine, a conducted-energy weapons trainer for the Victoria Police Department, who said Tasers pose very little risk and are useful weapons for police.

The inquiry, headed by retired Supreme Court judge Thomas Braidwood, continued Tuesday afternoon with evidence from an emergency-room physician and a prison warden.

On Monday the inquiry opened with presentations by two American experts who concluded after years of research that the weapon poses very little risk.

Electrical engineer J. Patrick Reilly, a consultant and Johns Hopkins University lecturer from Maryland, said "the hazards are very low, but probably not zero." Outside the inquiry, Reilly said the Taser is "not benign" and admitted he wouldn't want himself or any family member to be Tasered, but insisted the Taser may be one of the more acceptable weapons in the police arsenal.

"If you compare [the impact of a Taser] with a bullet, it's a no-brainer," said Reilly, adding "safety is relative." Inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a retired Supreme Court judge, said there will be two inquiry phases -- the first, a series of public forums throughout May to get expert opinion on the use of "conducted-energy weapons [Tasers]," by B.C. police forces, sheriffs and corrections officers.

Wisconsin biomedical engineer John Webster outlined by videolink his detailed experiments on pigs that concluded the chances of Taser use causing a person's heart to stop "are extremely low." Webster said the probability that a Taser could stop a person's heart, even in the worst-case scenario where the darts hit a slight or thin person in vulnerable spots near the heart, would be one in several million.

More than 300 people across North America have died after being stunned by Tasers.

The "electrical stun weapons" manufactured by Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz., can shoot two barbs attached to wires, or the gun can be applied directly to a person's skin.

The second phase of the commission will look into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after being Tasered by RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, but will not start until the RCMP has finished its own investigation in the fall.

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