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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Taser ban not the answer, OPP chief argues

August 27, 2008
JASON MAGDER, The Montreal Gazette

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino says Taser stun guns shouldn't be banned, but perhaps the training methods on the devices should be reviewed. "The debate has gone off the rails," said Fantino, who is in town to attend the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police at the Palais des congrès.

"We've got into this big debate about banning (Tasers). In my experience, conducted energy devices save lives. It's an intermediate tool that police officers should have available to them. What we need to debate is the proper use of the tools, and the accountability."

Since 2001, 280 people in the U.S. have died after being shot by a Taser stun gun, and Tasers were found to be a possible cause or contributory factor in 30 of those deaths, Amnesty International reports. In Canada, there were 15 deaths as of May, but none has been directly attributed to the use of a Taser.

Fantino would not comment on the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after he was shot with a Taser stun gun at Vancouver airport in October. Autopsy results have not yet been made public.

On the heels of that incident, the association ordered a study into whether the weapon is safe, but that study will only be completed by 2009 at the earliest. Yesterday morning, Steve Palmer, who is heading the research as executive director of the Canadian Police Research Centre, met with reporters.

While interim results of his report were expected to be made public at this week's conference, Palmer said a decision was made last weekend at a meeting with the executive of the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs to cancel that briefing.

"We decided to pass it out to an independent body so that the work that comes back has all that scientific rigour and validity that goes into a peer-reviewed document."

He said the decision was not related to the fact that Taser International is a major sponsor of the annual meeting. Until the study is completed, Palmer said, police forces can use the recommendations on the use of the weapon made in 2005, which said the device is safe.

Yesterday, Stephen Tuttle, the vice-president of communications for Taser International, was displaying the device and the latest products the company is offering at the conference's hall of exhibitors. The company was also showing a tiny device known as an extended range electronic projectile. It's the size of a 12-gauge shotgun shell, and can be fired from a shotgun to incapacitate a person with an electric shock from a distance of about 20 metres.

Tuttle said people should wait for the reviews of cases like the Dziekanski incident to draw conclusions about the safety of the Taser. "We stand behind the safety of our technology," Tuttle said. "First and foremost, you have to look at what are the alternatives to use of force."

The conference wraps up today. Sûreté du Québec deputy chief Steven Chabot, the association's president, is to give a briefing to reporters this morning.

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