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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Montreal hears from taser opponents

May 12, 2010
By Dan Delmar, The Suburban

A number of community groups and concerned citizens are showing their displeasure with the taser gun as a part of the Montreal police arsenal.

Hearings were recently held at city hall, in front of the public safety commission, and several Montrealers made their case for an outright ban, including members of the Black Coalition of Quebec (BCQ) and city councillor Marvin Rotrand.

“There have been many cases where there has been a lack of responsibility,” on the part of officers who have been given the taser, said Dan Philip of the BCQ. Something is wrong when “a young man received 300,000 volts of electricity, six times.”

Philip pointed to the case of Quilem Registre, 38, who died on Oct. 18, 2007 — four days after being repeatedly stunned by a Montreal police officer in St. Michel. In her report, coroner Catherine Rudel-Tessier noted the officers who made the arrest were poorly trained and broke the department’s rules on Taser use.

“It was a criminal act,” Philip told the public safety commission. “It is the responsibility of the city to protect human life. We have to really look at what is the right of the person and what is justice in our society. Why is it necessary to use tasers?”

Since the Registre death, Montreal police and RCMP officers who are armed with the taser have had to participate in more extensive training.

There are only 17 tasers in use by Montreal police; they were used a total of 11 times in 2009.

“We have to teach them that the taser gun is not a harmless weapon,” Rudel-Tessier wrote in her report. “The controversy that follows its use around the world certainly proves this. It can lead to serious injuries.”

The weapon’s manufacturer, Taser International, has continued to maintain that the stun gun has not directly led to the death of a suspect. 25 Canadians have died after being shot with a taser gun; over 300 in the United States.

“We don’t have any proof that the taser was responsible directly for the death of a person,” said Marc Parent, an assistant director with the Montreal police department, echoing the claims of Taser International. “We still believe it can help us intervene without injuries.”

During the hearing, councillors peppered citizens with questions. Councillor Réal Ménard wondered if the 17 tasers were removed from the arsenal, and what weapon would replace them. Hampstead mayor William Steinberg pressed Patrick Bolland to come up with statistics to prove the tasers were harmful, while ignoring the lack of information available to the city to support its use — apart from data provided by Taser International.

“Everyone thinks that the taser is inoffensive, but from what I see, it kills,” said Bolland, who is part of the Coalition pour le Retrait du Taser.

“The police forces of San Francisco, of Washington D.C., of Detroit and Boston have decided not the use tasers. Why can Montreal not be one of those cities?”

On the role the weapon played in the Registre death, Rudel-Tessier stopped short of saying the taser was the cause, but did say doctors who treated him wondered if the weapon was part of a “bad cocktail,” including drug and alcohol use, which led to his death.

“According to the doctors, if it is impossible to affirm that the electrical discharges were solely responsible for Registre’s condition, it is just as difficult to determine that it played no role in his death.”

Montreal’s public safety commission is expected to produce a report outlining its recommendations in June.

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