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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

EDITORIAL: On tasers, the evidence is in

August 16, 2010
Globe and Mail

Taser International, the manufacturer of the electric stun gun, went to court in British Columbia to quash the key finding of a commission of inquiry – that tasers can kill. It tried to censor a free society's ability to get the truth about a weapon in common use by police across North America. Taser actually demanded the right to exercise a kind of “prior restraint:” to be shown the inquiry report before release, so it could make objections. Because it was denied this right, the Arizona-based manufacturer said, the report was unfair and illegal.

Thankfully, the B.C. Supreme Court stood up last week against this attempt to defeat the public's right to come to its own conclusions. It pointed out that Thomas Braidwood, a retired appeal-court judge, had invited Taser to make presentations and provide studies. When Taser recommended presentations from experts, the commission arranged to hear from them. Mr. Braidwood was fair and his conclusions were reasonable, based on the evidence, said Mr. Justice Robert Sewell.

This is more than a defeat of an attempt (one of many) by the litigious Taser to silence its critics. It's an affirmation of Mr. Braidwood's thorough analysis of the dangers of the 50,000-volt gun.

Before Mr. Braidwood, the received wisdom among police forces in this country – received in part from Taser – was that the weapon does not kill. Police were therefore given wide latitude to use it. Just how wide, and to what deadly effect, was on view three years ago when an RCMP officer used a taser five times on Robert Dziekanski, an unarmed Polish immigrant distressed because he had been looking for his mother at the Vancouver International Airport for 10 hours, killing him and giving rise to the Braidwood inquiry.

The sections of the Braidwood report that Taser tried to quash are well worth reading. Taser claims the weapon has saved countless lives. If that were true, Mr. Braidwood asked, have deaths in custody fallen? No, they are higher, in B.C. and in a U.S. study, since the taser's introduction.

Every provincial solicitor-general, police board and police chief in the country should know what Taser International did not want them to know: that the taser has fatal risks, according to Mr. Braidwood's fair-minded review of the best available research. They should therefore restrict its use to situations involving a risk of serious physical harm to the police or public.

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