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Sunday, July 26, 2009

EDITORIAL: Time to rein in Tasers

July 26, 2009
By ANDREW HANON, Edmonton Sun

Taser International is going to have to reassess its marketing strategy, thanks to the Braidwood Commission.

Thomas Braidwood is heading two commissions: the first probing the use of stun guns by B.C. law enforcement, and the second examining the death of Robert Dziekanksi moments after being zapped five times by Mounties at the Vancouver International Airport in 2007.

In his final report on the general use of Tasers, Braidwood concluded that the weapons can, indeed, kill.

That flies in the face of Taser's official line that the weapons provide cops with a non-lethal alternative to firearms -- a claim the company vociferously defends against all critics.

Taser International has long argued that in every case where someone has died after being zapped with a Taser, the cause of death has been attributed to something else, such as a drug overdose or a rare condition called "excited delirium."

But Braidwood writes that the weapons "have the capacity (even in healthy adult subjects) to cause heart arrhythmia, which can lead to ventricular tachycardia and/or fibrillation, which if not treated immediately, can cause death."

He also says, "although there is often a lack of physical evidence on autopsy to determine whether arrhythmia was the cause of death, if a person dies suddenly and from no obvious cause after being subjected to a conducted energy weapon, death is almost certainly due to an arrhythmia."

Despite all this, Braidwood endorses the weapons -- provided they're used properly.

"On balance, I concluded that our society is better off with these weapons in use than without them," he wrote. "However, my support for their use is conditional on significant changes being made in when, and the way in which, the weapon is deployed."

Braidwood called for the B.C. government to develop standard procedures to be used by all law enforcement agencies in the province. He said that the threshold for use should be significantly revised from "active resistance" to the much higher standard of "causing bodily harm."

Tasers are highly effective weapons that are, without question, less lethal than firearms. But it must be acknowledged that using them carries significant risk.

They must be treated as potentially deadly weapons and used only by those qualified to handle them.

The B.C. government says it's already ordered all police forces in the province to adopt all of Braidwood's recommendations.

Let's hope that other provincial governments follow suit.

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