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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hearings examine use of Tasers by Montreal police

April 28, 2010

Police across Montreal Island should follow the footsteps of authorities in several major American cities who have banned outright the use of stun guns by their police officers, the island-wide public security committee was told this afternoon by city councillor Marvin Rotrand.

Rotrand, speaking on behalf of a coalition favouring a ban that includes the Ligue des Droits et Libert├ęs, was among the first to appear at committee hearings examining Taser-gun use in local law enforcement.

The hearings, held at the request of Montreal city council, began just after 1 p.m. and ran until 4 p.m. They are scheduled to continue during an evening session at Montreal city hall, to begin at 7 p.m.

Boston, Detroit, Washington and San Francisco are among the U.S. cities that have either withdrawn stun guns as a law-enforcement tool or refused to adopt them when proposed, Rotrand said.

Assistant Director Marc Parent of Montreal police opened the hearings with a defence of Tasers as a police tool, saying they are needed in some instances as a last resort – “an intermediate weapon” – before officers pull out firearms. In other instances, they are used to bring an incident to a conclusion quickly, he added, without police use of a firearm as the sole remaining alternative.

There are 17 Tasers in the arsenal of the Montreal police force, he said, with about 100 officers trained in their use. Montreal police discharged an M-26 stun gun from Taser International against suspects in a total of 11 incidents during 2009, Parent said. The stun guns were pulled out and their use threatened – although they were not discharged – a further seven times last year, he added.

Police statistics show they were used 11 times and threatened a further three times in 2008; used 23 times and threatened 10 times in 2007; and used 17 times and threatened 11 times in 2006.

Police statistics from their 2001 introduction show that in their first three years of availability, Montreal officers pulled out a stun gun a total of 14 times. Those figures also don't differentiate between actual discharge or use as a threat.

Use of Tasers jumped to 21 in 2004 and dipped to 17 in 2005, again without a differentiation provided. Montreal police handle about 1.2 million 911 calls every year, a figure that has remained stable since 2001.

“If a new medicine caused as many deaths as Tasers, it would have been withdrawn very quickly,” Gaetan Laurendeau, another coalition member, told the committee from a public microphone.

A November 2008 report by Amnesty International concluded that 334 deaths in the United States and 25 deaths in Canada have followed police use of a Taser, said Patrick Bolland, another coalition member.

Among them was the death of Montrealer Quilem Registre, who died in hospital after he received six distinct Taser hits from local police in 2007.

"The Taser leaves no biomedical marker that can be identified as mortal," Bolland said.

A coroner's report, by Catherine Rudel-Tessier in October 2007, on Registre's death concluded that Taser use by officers could not be ruled out as a causal factor in his death.

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