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Saturday, January 17, 2009

EDITORIAL: Delay in pulling tasers stunning

January 17, 2009
Editorial, Calgary Herald

It's shocking that certain Tasers identified for safety testing are still being used by police forces in Alberta.

The provincial government should have pulled the possibly faulty Tasers out of circulation when concerns were first raised by a CBC news report in early December.

The public broadcaster commissioned a test on 41 stun guns and discovered four of the units --all model number X26--de-livered significantly more current --as high as 50 per cent more --than what the manufacturer claimed was possible.

After initially defending their use, Solicitor General Fred Lindsay moved in mid-December to have the questionable weapons tested, starting in the new year. He announced all X26 models acquired before 2006 would be examined to determine whether they were generating more power than specified by the manufacturer.

According to recent news reports, though, the weapons have yet to be removed.

The province is still determining the testing protocol, explained a spokesman for the Solicitor General's office. "At this point, we're still in the development of the protocol and how they will be tested," Andy Weiler told the Herald.

That explanation is no justification for taking the chances associated with the continued use of these potentially deadly weapons. The first priority should be to protect the public.

There are 400 X26 Tasers in use in Alberta that were manufactured before 2005.

The RCMP pulled the stun guns in question immediately after CBC aired the report Dec. 4 -- including the six circulating in Alberta. Police in other jurisdictions, including British Columbia, also took the decision to take the weapons out of use pending testing. So why is Alberta refusing to take the prudent course of action?

Alberta has had blinders on regarding Taser guns for too long, despite a litany of deaths associated with their use.

In November, a month before the CBC report proved him wrong, Lindsay refused to revisit provincial Taser guidelines. There had been two deaths in this province in less than a week following incidents involving police officers pulling the Tasers.

Tasers may be an effective tool to help police do their job, but the fact remains they are being misused too frequently, on people who aren't even armed or violent.

Stun guns were sold to the public as an alternative to lethal force, not a way to subdue unruly behaviour, as we saw happen during the Stanley Cup finals in Edmonton three years ago.Police zapped defenceless, unarmed and reportedly unaggressive fans into submission, including an elderly lawyer who was merely taking photos of the scene.

That's too cavalier an approach. In other provinces, police have been known to Taser sleeping suspects.

Even the remotest possibility that some of these guns are mal-functioning is reason enough to suspend their use and doubly so, since it's clear too many police are using these devices outside of the protocol use-of-force continuum. It's incumbent upon the Alberta government to issue an immediate moratorium on the arsenal of potentially flawed Tasers.

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