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Friday, October 09, 2009

Tasering of handicapped Quebec man sparks uproar

October 9, 2009
RHÉAL SÉGUIN, Globe and Mail

The tasering of a man with Down syndrome by Quebec City police has created a furor in the province, raising concerns over the appropriate use of the weapon.

The controversy erupted yesterday after it was learned that a 43-year-old man, whose name has not been released, was restrained by police last August with the use of a taser gun. After weeks of hesitation, parents and family members of people living in the same residence came forward to demand an explanation.

Marc Gourdeau, whose daughter lives in the special-care home, couldn't believe that police would use a taser gun in a controlled environment on an unarmed, intellectually handicapped person. No fewer than eight police officers arrived when employees at the home were unable to control the man's erratic behaviour, he said.

Four officers went inside where Mr. Gourdeau's daughter overheard the police warn the man that if he didn't behave he would be tasered. The man, standing alone in a room, was then jolted with the weapon. He was admitted to hospital and later that night was brought back to the residence, Mr. Gourdeau said.

Mr. Gourdeau was convinced that it had never happened before, but later learned it wasn't the first time.

"After learning what had happened at the special-care home where my daughter lives, an employee working at another residence told me that a similar incident occurred there about a year ago," Mr. Gourdeau said. "I want to stop this. I don't want something like this to happen to my daughter."

Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis defended the police's action insisting that the taser gun was never used before in a special-care home, and was only used in "exceptional" circumstances.

"There's one simple truth here: when you don't obey a police officer, you expose yourself to a certain number of things," Mr. Dupuis said in the National Assembly.

"Can the minister at least go back on his declaration to the effect that, in Quebec, when people don't obey [the police], they get electrocuted? Frankly this is totally crazy," said Part Québécois House Leader Stéphane Bédard.

Sitting in the public gallery, Mr. Gourdeau said it was beyond him why the government would stand behind the police's actions. Use of the taser has become an easy way out for police to deal with physically disabled individuals, he said.

"The man had Down syndrome. He may have also been heavily medicated. It's not that he wouldn't obey police orders. He probably couldn't understand them. Here was a man who was completely disoriented," Mr. Gourdeau said in a telephone interview.

Charles Rice, a co-ordinator with a local association defending the rights of the intellectually handicapped, reiterated the call made by several human- rights groups for a moratorium on the use of tasers. "There is too much uncertainty about its use and there have been too many incidences where people have died," Mr. Rice said.

Mr. Rice referred to the death in September, 2007, of Quebec City resident Claudio Castegnetta a few days after being tasered five times by police. Mr. Castagnetta failed to receive potentially life-saving medical attention following his arrest, a coroner's report concluded. His death prompted changes to protocol, which now require police in Quebec to immediately admit to hospital anyone who has been tasered.

About a month later, in October, 2007, 30-year-old Quilem Registre died after Montreal police jolted him six times with a taser in less than a minute.

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