VANCOUVER - Tasers are not risk free, are designed to incapacitate and the term "non-lethal" does not mean safe, the chairman of Taser International told an inquiry into use of the weapon Monday.
Tom Smith, of Taser International, also noted there's a big distinction between a Taser jolt being the cause of a death and it being a contributing factor. Smith's appearance at the public inquiry drew a packed audience as he sparred with commission lawyer Art Vertlieb.
After explaining the history and development of the stun gun, Smith mentioned Taser's were "generally safe."
Vertlieb asked him to elaborate.
"They are not risk free," Smith responded, noting people fall down when they are hit.
Could death result? asked Vertlieb.
"I would never say never."
The inquiry also heard from Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh who was attorney general in British Columbia in 2000 when the first Tasers were introduced to Canadian police in Victoria.
Dosanjh, now the federal Liberal critic for the public safety ministry, said the assurances he was given about Taser's safety, research record and amount of use all proved to be misleading.
Dosanjh said he was assured in 2000 that the Taser was "absolutely safe," had been "thoroughly researched" and would only be used sparingly.
"In fact, what has happened has been contrary to all assurances I was given," he said.
He said there has been significant "usage creep" and the Taser is now being used "where it was never intended to be used."
He listed several "suggestions" he would like incorporated in the inquiry's final report, including a re-positioning of Taser use "higher up on the use-of-force continuum."
National standards are needed across the country for its use and police and other users should have better training, he said.
Outside the inquiry, Dosanjh was asked if he thought Tasers caused death.
"There is absolutely no conclusive evidence that Tasers don't kill, Dosanjh said.
"It's not up to me . . . or the Canadian public to prove that Tasers kill. It is up to the Taser manufacturers and the police forces to actually satisfy Canadians that Tasers are not dangerous weapons."
Vertlieb told the inquiry statistics indicate more than 300 people - including about 20 in Canada - have had Taser use noted as a contributing factor in their deaths.
Smith countered that the figure included "medical comments" and inquests and that his understanding was that Taser had only been cited as a contributing factor about 30 times "as a potentially contributing cause."
"Thirty as a contributing factor?" asked Vertlieb.
"That's out there," replied Smith.
"There is a difference between contributing and causing," he said. There is a big distinction."
Vertlieb asked if the 30 would have "died anyway."
"I'm not going to guess," responded Smith, who travelled to the inquiry from Taser's headquarters in Phoenix, Ariz.
Instead, Smith said research and other statistics from agencies using Tasers suggest the stun gun reduces injuries to officers and suspects and has "revolutionized law enforcement."
Some 129 studies have been done on conducted energy weapons, including 20 per cent that were sponsored by Taser - something Smith called "fantastic."
Smith said 350,000 police officers carry the weapons in 40 countries, and a poll of officers in the United Kingdom found 95 per cent wanted Tasers while 96 per cent did not want guns.
The inquiry, headed by retired judge Thomas Braidwood, was called after the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski who died after being hit with an RCMP Taser at Vancouver International airport last October.
Vertlieb asked Smith about the term "individual susceptibility" that he had used during his presentation.
"It's something unforeseen," said Smith, adding that it means a "higher degree of risk."
But he said he could not provide a "specific definition in a litigious society."
And Smith was also asked by reporters outside if he agreed that Dziekanski died "in part" because he was hit by a Taser.
"Sir, we are all waiting. I'm waiting, You're waiting. We have not seen the medical examiner's (coroner's) report."
He said he would not speculate on Dziekanski's death.
He called it a "very tragic situation. Our hearts go out to the family. I can't even begin to know what that family's going through."
He said noted the video has been seen widely.
"We're all waiting to see what the medical science comes out and says once there is a ruling on that case."