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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Canadian inquiry's Taser warning defended in court

July 6, 2010
Allan Dowd, Reuters

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - TASER International Inc issued the same safety warning about its stun guns as did a British Columbia inquiry, government lawyers said on Tuesday in urging a court to reject the company's bid to quash the findings.

The inquiry was launched after a Polish immigrant died in Vancouver's airport in 2007 after police shot him with a stun gun multiple times. The exact cause of his death has not been determined.

The inquiry's report warned that the weapons could be lethal, but Taser disputed the finding and said it had ignored evidence.

The U.S.-based company, however, included the safety warning in a product bulletin to police three months after inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood issued his report, provincial lawyer Craig Jones told the B.C. Supreme Court.

"The difference, I suppose, is that commissioner Braidwood did it in plain language, and it was broadcast more widely," Jones told British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Robert Sewell.

Taser's attorney told the court in Vancouver earlier on Tuesday that Braidwood's report had caused concern with customers around the world and it was hurting potential sales.

The guns, also known as conducted energy weapons, are designed to disable a target with a jolt of up to 50,000 volts of electricity. They are marketed largely to police but can also be bought by the public in the United States.

The weapon's supporters say it is a needed alternative to firearms, but critics say not enough independent safety testing has been done on the potential for the jolt to cause a human heart to suddenly fail.

Braidwood's report declined to order a ban or moratorium on the weapon, but it recommended police restrict when and how it was deployed until more medical studies were done.

Taser's 2009 bulletin also recommended police shoot the weapon's electricity-deploying darts at a person's back rather the chest, and avoid aiming for near the heart, government lawyers said.

Taser participated in the provincial inquiry and supplied witnesses, but it has told the court its right to fairness was violated when it was not allowed to challenge the findings before they were made public.

Government attorneys told the court Taser did not have any special rights in the case, adding that if its reputation had been damaged it was because of "scientific reality" and not because of the inquiry's actions.

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