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Friday, January 20, 2012

Tasers a ‘new urban terrorism’ against ‘downtrodden’: Canadian study

January 20, 2012
By Douglas Quan, Post Media News

"They should have just taken a gun and shot my son‟: Taser deployment and the downtrodden in Canada

The use of Tasers by Canada’s police forces represents a “teething new urban terrorism” that targets society’s “downtrodden,” says a study published this month that looked at more than two dozen deaths involving the stun guns.

Those most likely to get “tased” include the poor, mentally ill and chronic drug users, according to the study, led by Temitope Oriola, who received a Governor General’s Gold Medal for academic excellence upon the completion of his doctoral studies at the University of Alberta last year.

“It is beneath the integrity of the RCMP — a well-respected organization by international standards — and other police establishments in Canada to continue to use the Taser without conclusive independent scientific evidence succinctly demonstrating its effects or consequences on the human body,” the study, published in the journal Social Identities, concludes.

Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser International in Arizona, said in a statement that the study reads more like a social commentary and falsely implies that Tasers caused all the deaths examined.

“The report is woefully out of touch regarding the realities facing Canadian law and enforcement,” he said.

Tuttle cited a U.S. Department of Justice report that found Tasers can significantly reduce injuries to suspects, protect police officers and may prevent injury to bystanders. The same report, however, raised concerns that police may be becoming too reliant on Tasers

In a statement, RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Julie Gagnon said the force has revised its use-of-force training and policies since 2007 to focus on “de-escalation and communication.”

The latest revision to the RCMP’s Taser-use policy in April 2010 states that Tasers can only be used when someone is causing bodily harm or when an officer believes that a person will imminently cause bodily harm, she said.

The force continues to work with the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, other police agencies and medical experts to enhance policies and training, Gagnon added.

The study reviewed 26 fatalities across the country in which a Taser was involved, including the high-profile death of Robert Dziekanski, a distraught Polish immigrant, following an encounter with police at Vancouver International Airport.

Relying on news accounts of those incidents, the study’s authors conclude that Tasers tend to be used on the most “hapless” members of society.

Many were poor or had chronic drug problems, some were ethnic minorities, and a few were certified as mentally ill, they said.

“Taser use on the downtrodden has led to a very unhealthy mistrust, dread and fear of the police akin to the way members of the public are terrified by terrorist attacks,” the authors wrote.

They go on to say that the huge public outcry that followed Dziekanski’s death was exceptional, as those with histories of poverty, drug use and mental illness tend not to generate much public sympathy.

In an interview, Oriola said he understands the dangers and risks that police face, but he insisted that there should be a moratorium on Taser use in Canada.

The days when academics sit on the sidelines and do “objective analysis” are becoming a “thing of the past,” Oriola said. Scholars need to take a stance on issues, especially those that involve society’s most vulnerable, he said.

Nicole Neverson of Ryerson University in Toronto and Charles Adeyanju of the University of Prince Edward Island were co-authors.

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