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Friday, October 16, 2009

EDITORIAL: Nothing speculative

Merriam Webster definition of SYLLOGISM:
1 : a deductive scheme of a formal argument consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion (as in “every virtue is laudable; kindness is a virtue; therefore kindness is laudable”)
2 : a subtle, specious, or crafty argument
3 : deductive reasoning

October 16, 2009
Editorial, Globe and Mail

The manufacturer of the taser acknowledged the uncertainty over whether the weapon is deadly, then argued at the inquiry into Robert Dziekanski's death that it most certainly is not. That death, and the Taser company's new directives to aim away from the chest, show why there should be a high threshold before police can use this dangerous weapon.

Taser's faulty syllogism goes like this: People have always died in police custody. They still die in police custody. Therefore the taser does not kill them. Does this follow? No. Yet this is what a lawyer for Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz., argued at the inquiry before former appeal-court judge Thomas Braidwood in Vancouver this week.

Taser added a false argument to the faulty syllogism: It is speculative to say the taser caused or contributed to the death of Mr. Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who was tasered five times at the Vancouver International Airport in October, 2007. Why? Because he was in an "acute emotional, physical and physiological crisis the night he died," says Taser.

Yes, and then the RCMP shot this man five times with 50,000 volts of electricity - five seconds each shot - smack in the middle of his medical crisis. He was shot, he died. What is so speculative?

Taser wants its weapon to be given the benefit of any doubt that exists. But it is plain the benefit should accrue to the people who might be shot. If the weapon has been wrongly accused, it will get over it. The people who have been killed, on the other hand, won't.

Taser acknowledged the uncertainty in a bulletin last month, saying that while the risk of a heart attack is extremely low, complicating factors of drug use or underlying cardiac problems may exist, and police should aim at the pelvic area. The RCMP has passed the directive on to its officers. It is a good directive. It will make it harder for police to rely on this weapon, because at 15 feet, the optimal shooting distance, it may be more difficult to aim accurately. (Keep in mind the two wires with barbed hooks that it shoots are designed to go into the body a metre or so apart, thus creating a vector of electricity.) It should also make those provinces that have not yet reconsidered their guidelines for taser use, in light of the findings from an earlier inquiry related to Mr. Dziekanski's death, take a second look.

The taser may kill, or contribute to a death, and yet it has been used on people such as Mr. Dziekanski, distressed but posing no threat to anyone. It should be used only in situations where there is a serious risk of physical harm.

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