VANCOUVER – A report by the head of a B.C. public inquiry should be overturned because it unfairly concluded Tasers can be deadly without first giving the weapon’s manufacturer a chance to refute those findings, says a lawyer for Taser International.
The Arizona-based company is challenging the findings of a report released by commissioner Thomas Braidwood last July – the first of two reports stemming from the death of Robert Dziekanski – that concluded Tasers can kill and recommended restrictions on their use.
Taser’s lawyer, David Neave, told B.C. Supreme Court on Monday that Braidwood owed the company a chance to review the report before it was released to the public so it could respond to those findings, especially given their potential impact to Taser’s reputation.
Neave also insisted Braidwood heard nothing during several weeks of hearings in 2008 to support the conclusion that Tasers can cause serious injury or death.
“On one side of the fairness coin, there’s a duty from the commission to Taser,” Neave said. “The other side of that coin is a legal right to procedural fairness to Taser.”
“The findings that a Taser can cause death are unreasonable. The findings are not supported by the evidence that was known to the commissioner.”
In fact, Neave argued that Braidwood heard a significant amount of evidence that showed the opposite – that there is no evidence Tasers can adversely affect the human heart.
Neave complained that Braidwood’s report only mentions 57 of the 174 reports that Taser provided to the commission.
The report followed the first phase of a public inquiry after Dziekanski’s death at Vancouver’s airport in October 2007, when he was confronted by four RCMP officers and repeatedly stunned with a Taser.
While Braidwood said there wasn’t enough medical evidence on the precise risk of an electrical shock from a Taser, he said there was sufficient evidence to conclude the weapons have the capacity to affect the heart and cause a fatal arrhythmia.
He also questioned some of the studies and statistics provided by Taser, saying their methodology and results were insufficient to support the company’s claims that the weapons can’t affect the heart.
Neave told court on Monday that Braidwood’s report has hurt the company’s business around the world. He referred to an affidavit from co-founder Thomas Smith, who said the report caused customers to question the safety of Tasers and scuttled a multimillion-dollar contract in Africa earlier this year.
“Clearly there has been a negative impact from the decisions in the report,” Neave said. “There has been an economic backlash.”
Earlier this year, the provincial government asked the court to throw out Taser’s petition, arguing the company had no right to challenge Braidwood’s report.
Judge Robert Sewell allowed the case to proceed, but forced Taser to remove allegations of bias against the commission’s lead lawyer and its medical adviser.
The province’s lawyers are expected to repeat their arguments that recommendations from a commission such as Braidwood’s aren’t subject to judicial review and that the province had no obligation to share the report with Taser before releasing it.
They’ll also claim Braidwood did, in fact, read all of Taser’s material, even if he didn’t include all of the company’s studies in his 550-page report.
Braidwood was asked about the Taser’s legal challenge last month as he released his second report, which dealt with Dziekanski’s death in detail.
“I certainly read all their material, I read everything,” he said. “It doesn’t mean to say I’m going to put it all in a report. Let me just say I disagree with them.”
Taser has a history of successfully defending its weapons in court against any claims they can cause or contribute to someone’s death.
For example, when an Ohio medical examiner ruled that three men’s deaths were in part caused by the effects of Tasers, the company convinced a judge that any suggestion the Taser was to blame should be removed from the autopsy findings.