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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Alberta premier defends Tasers, points out solicitor general survived a jolt

October 30, 2008
The Canadian Press

EDMONTON — Alberta's premier and solicitor general are downplaying the role a stun gun may have played in the death of an Edmonton man who was zapped twice by police.

Trevor Grimolfson died after he was confronted by police armed with Tasers as he ran amok in an Edmonton pawn shop Wednesday. His death is being investigated by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, an independent organization that reviews fatalities involving police forces in Alberta. But Grimolfson's family is already questioning the use of a stun gun on him.

Solicitor General Fred Lindsay said Thursday there's no proof Tasers have caused any deaths. He said there's plenty of evidence, however, to suggest that they have prevented people from being killed. "What I will say is the Taser is an effective tool and it's an alternate tool to lethal force," said Lindsay. "In over 2,000 (incidents) where it's been used in this country, it's actually saved people's lives."

More than 20 people have died in Canada after being stunned by Tasers. The U.S. company that makes the devices points out they have never been directly blamed for a death.

Lindsay said a condition know as excited delirium may be responsible for the deaths rather than the Taser itself. "How many of those deaths have been confirmed to be because of the use of the Taser? I haven't seen a lot of evidence come forward yet that confirms at the end of the investigation that it was caused by the voltage that was put into the person's body by the Taser."

Premier Ed Stelmach noted that Lindsay himself was jolted with a Taser during a demonstration earlier this year. "This minister is standing. He got Tasered and he's alive." Stelmach said the fact that someone has died must be balanced with "the safety of our police officers in these situations."

Witnesses have said Grimolfson entered a pawn shop Wednesday in a gritty section of Edmonton's west end and began assaulting someone inside.

Clifton Purvis, executive director of the serious incident response team, said a Taser was deployed at the scene on two occasions and had no effect. He said the man was eventually wrestled to the ground and handcuffed. But he lost consciousness and was transported to hospital where he was declared dead, said Purvis.

Grimolfson is originally from Selkirk, Man., and photos and tributes to him have been posted on a social networking website. "In memory of Trevor Grimolfson. An amazing man whose life was cut short thanks to the Edmonton Police," says the site.

Lindsay said there's still no proof the deployment of a Taser was linked in any way to Grimolfson's death. "Until the investigation is completed we're not even sure the Taser was deployed properly where the voltage actually went into the person."

Several reviews on the use of stun guns are underway across the country. There is also a public inquiry into the death of a Polish immigrant who died shortly after he was Tasered by RCMP officers at Vancouver's airport last year. A report commissioned by the RCMP said national standards, more resources and better co-ordination are needed to ensure officers are properly trained to use the devices.

Lindsay said Alberta has a "very comprehensive" policy for using Tasers and will continue to allow them to be used by police until there's evidence or studies that "prove otherwise."

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