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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Truth not tasers weighs in on RCMP admission that tasers cause death

On February 12, 2009, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) announced new rules of engagement for the use of tasers in Canada, in response to a demand by the Canadian House of Commons Public Safety and National Security Committee that they reign in their use of these weapons. These new rules of engagement marked the first time that a Canadian police force has publicly acknowledged that tasers may pose a fatal risk.

We here at Truth not Tasers have been publicly acknowledging that tasers have the potential to be lethal for years. So, I was blown away when the police themselves finally admitted they agree. Even though RCMP Commissioner William Elliott didn't exactly come right out and say that tasers kill people, he did concede that "shortly after a Taser was deployed, individuals died." I'd say that comes pretty close.

Strangely enough, these new and improved rules of engagement are simply those under which tasers were supposed to have been initially approved for use in this country. However, as time passed, and while no one was really looking (save for a very few people like us), “usage creep” entered stage left and things went sideways in a major way. If the RCMP and police across the country have not been operating under these rules – and Canadians are slowly coming to realize that in fact they haven’t been – how the hell have we allowed them to get away with it for so long?? And what justice exists for those families who have lost a loved one who would likely still be alive had it not been deemed “necessary" to taser them?

For example, I am confident that had police been operating under these rules the night my brother Robert Bagnell died in June 2004, they would have had no reason to taser him and he would likely be alive today. His was a classic case of non-combative resistance. He was on his back, on a washroom floor – all 136 pounds of him – and posed no credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm to the 13 Vancouver Police officers in attendance. There were no members of the public present. The police would never have considered shooting Bob with a gun that night, but it was easy and convenient to pull out their trusty “non-lethal” (yes, police and the manufacturer were still calling them non-lethal back then) tasers.

And, in fact, I believe that the majority of Canadian men who have died would in all likelihood still be alive today had they not been tasered. So few of them posed a true, credible threat to anyone, save perhaps to themselves. Which is something that disturbs me about the new “rules”: what will constitute “enough” threat to a person’s own self?

From where I sit, these rules still rely far too much on officer discretion and do not come nearly close enough to making the taser the last resort before lethal force. And all the training in the world isn’t going to address that, one officer’s perception and experience being another officer’s reality. Editorial after editorial – even RCMP Complaints Commissioner Paul Kennedy – has cautioned that the rules are still too broad and vague. I agree wholeheartedly.

In the days since the announcement, police agencies across the country, including the RCMP’s own Sgt. Scott Warren, chairman of the officer safety committee, have come out madly swinging in defence against making any (gasp!) changes to their taser policies. See "What's wrong with this picture? And who's keeping track?" If anyone is awake enough to enforce it, police forces (and transit cops, etc.) across the country, will have no choice but to follow suit.

Otherwise, now that our federal police force has publicly acknowledged that the taser is potentially lethal, if it is used “inappropriately” and where bullets would never be an option and a person dies, what will that be called and how will it be handled?
RCMP Complaints Commissioner Paul Kennedy has undertaken to review the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the 10 men who were tasered by the RCMP and subsequently died. No one has yet identified who, if anyone, will be responsible to do the same for those 17 Canadians whose deaths did not involve the RCMP. Namely, Ronald Perry, Roman Andreichikov, Peter Lamonday, Robert Bagnell, Jerry Knight, Samuel Truscott, James Foldi, Alesandro Fiacco, James Barber, Claudio Castagnetta, Quilem Registre, Howard Hyde, Jeffrey Marreel, Michael Langan, Sean Reilly, Trevor Grimolfson and Gordon Walker Bowe.

Another important next step will be to unravel the incestuous relationship that exists between Canadian law enforcement (and its research arms) and the very rich and powerful - and endlessly litigious - Taser International. This enormously inappropriate alliance reeks of conflict of interest and it has been allowed to fester and flourish for many years beyond its best-by date. The necessity of Taser International’s attendance, in person or representatively, around and at Canadian inquests and inquiries into taser-related deaths must also be microscopically examined.

I hope that the RCMP’s policy changes will give medical examiners everywhere something new to work with. Medical examiners and coroners have been under tremendous pressure from police, “excited delirium” proponents and the weapon's manufacturer, Taser International, to “reverse and prevent medical rulings that Tasers contributed to someone's death.” The President of the National Association of Medical Examiners in the United States has said in more ways than one that “it is dangerously close to intimidation.”

Something also needs to be done about police using tasers on youth and senior citizens. C’mon – get REAL!

I have never been here for credit or accolades. But I do like to think that I and others, including the Canadian media, have played a critical role in getting us to where we are today. There is no doubt in my mind that we have collectively added to the pressure for needed change. I am grateful for my fellow travellers (most notably fellow blogger Excited-Delirium), who have joined me on this journey.

What a long, strange trip it's been. Unfortunately, it’s a trip that isn't over yet. I, for one, won't be riding off into the sunset until I and my family are satisfied that all we could do we have done.

"Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us." (Jerry Garcia, The Grateful Dead)


Able Mom said...

I am the author of the signed-in-ink petition that was hand-delivered to Rona Ambrose, MP, praying that House of Commons would ban Tasers would in 2006. It was never even read to the House of Commons because it "unfortunately became lost" in Harper's Cabinet shuffle, or Stockwell Day's office.

So if the public can actually now trust that every Taser-related death will be fully investigated - what about the Taser survivors? What about the ones who were arrested with such merciful police "discretion" and "non-lethal" force that no criminal charges were laid because the cops didn’t want the embarrassment of taking a probably innocent person to a JP within 24 hours? What about all the doctors and nurses who have mistakenly mis-diagnosed and mistreated patients because the Police didn't tell them the truth, nor provide Taser “download data" when they off-loaded "suspects of addictions”, onto our over-burdened health-care system without any ID? How are the families and teachers of these “suspects” to understand why with zero toxicology and only blistering burns on their skin, they gradually emerge from a coma or catatonic state, still unable to speak, hear, read or write as well as they could before they were Tasered?

Blogger Mike Touareg suggested that repeated Taser shocks into someone whose adrenaline is already pumping, ionizes the blood, killing blood cells, which stimulates the already over-worked heart to pump harder while it tries to keep the brain alive. If the victim doesn't die, it can take several weeks or even months until enough healthy blood cells can be produced to even start healing the damage to nerves. Even if there is no actual tissue damage to the brain, dead blood cells don’t help it work for a long time.

Mike didn’t give his credentials, and I’m no doctor - but if there are any doctors possessed of as much common sense as he apparently has, maybe they would care to offer their comments.

Anyone interested in civil class action for survivors disabled by Tasers, who were tortured without a warrant, and have never been charged with an offense, can call me at (780) 915-2212.

PS: Her Excellency Michelle Jean, still hasn’t explained how it a rumour got started that she gave “Royal Assent” to the BC Police Commissioner to start importing Tasers.

Anonymous said...

My thanks to you for your efforts to bring the truth to light. My biggest fear is that this weapon will intimidate the public by becoming known as a way to incapacitate anyone who does not "cooperate" with police while police "keep the peace". That is a long way from being needed to incapacitate someone who presents a clear danger to police or the public, or arresting someone caught in the act a crime.
r van der kam -at- n c f dot ca (remove spaces etc)