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Police Taser use needs reviewing

After Ottawa police shot Samantha Soderlind in her apartment — and, accidentally, her friend Steven Lindsey — the Ottawa Police Association ...


“Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.”


- Abraham Kaplan


After Ottawa police shot Samantha Soderlind in her apartment — and, accidentally, her friend Steven Lindsey — the Ottawa Police Association was quick to argue that such disasters could be avoided by issuing Tasers to all police officers.

This after Ottawa’s police force, among others, was subjected to a brief pre-Christmas toy recall, following CBC reports that some Tasers were supplying a bigger jolt than the 50,000 volts specified by the manufacturer.

Testing found our municipal people-prods were working normally, but opinion is divided on whether that’s good news. While police continue to insist the Taser is safe, they often rely on research that is largely funded by the weapon’s maker — Taser International.

In Canada, more than 25 people have died after having these gadgets used on them. The dead include Robert Dziekanski of unsought Vancouver airport fame.

Such dangerous radicals as former BC Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh and former RCMP Commissioner Guiliano Zaccardelli have joined Amnesty International in calling for a moratorium on the Mounties’ use of Tasers until their dangers have been properly assessed.

It must be noted that the Ottawa police have been more nice than naughty in their use of the Taser. It was reported in July that our cops had used their Tasers 115 times between October 2000 and May 2008. The stun guns were initially issued only to tactical squad officers, and then, in October 2007, to supervisors.

In comparison, the Edmonton Police, which supplies Tasers to all its front-line officers, had used them 88 times in one 10-month period.

In Vancouver, transit police have been issued the stun guns, and have in some cases turned them on riders for not paying their fares. The polite term for this is “usage creep.” Tasing is generally preferable to shooting, but would turnstile jumpers really have been shot if stun guns hadn’t been available?

Ottawa’s record is not entirely unblotted. In 2003, a non-violent protestor was shocked twice at a demonstration while he lay handcuffed on the ground.

The police officer who tased him was subsequently convicted last year of “unnecessary exercise of authority,” something a Taser can make all too convenient and tempting.

Although it’s never a been good idea to argue with a cop, if he’s now equipped with a ‘Shut Up Button’, at what point in an honest difference of opinion with police might a citizen be adjudged “combative” or “resistant,” and subjected to a 50,000-volt correction?

 
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