The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), an agency charged with overseeing the application of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, arrived at the conclusion on Friday, November 23, that the use of the electric pulse Taser gun constitutes a "form of torture" and "can even provoke death."
"Use of these weapons provokes extreme pain," that can go as far as "causing death, as reliable studies and recent facts occurring in practice have revealed," declared the Committee's ten members in a recommendation to Portugal, a country that purchased Taser X-26 guns for its police. "The consequences to the physical and mental state of the persons targeted are of a nature to violate" the provisions of the UN's Convention against Torture, the experts, who asked Lisbon to "consider renouncing use of the electric weapons," also note.
Used by 3,000 Policemen in France
The Taser X-26 is currently used by some 3,000 police and gendarmes in France. The second law for domestic security orientation and programming (Lopsi), which came into effect in 2007, already projects extending its use in 2009; and even the municipal police, which now numbers some 17,000 men, could be equipped with it. For that to happen, the government will have to modify the March 24, 2000 decree which classifies the weapon as category 4 and consequently excludes its use by the forces of order.
The ruling by the UN Committee Against Torture comes just as a new death took place Thursday in Canada. A forty-five-year old man died in Nova Scotia province after being Tasered, although the exact circumstances of the death are not yet known. While indicating that, "it would be very premature to conclude that the Taser contributed to this man's death," the provincial authorities have ordered an immediate reexamination of Taser use. The Canadian Minister of Public Security had already ordered a complete reexamination of the usage procedures for this electric stun gun on October 14 after the death of a man who had received several shots at the Vancouver airport.
Basing itself on "medical-legal analyses," the weapon's
manufacturer asserts that these similar deaths have been "attributed"
to "other factors and not to low-intensity Taser electric
International, which demands its ban, asserts that 18 people
have died in Canada and over 280 in the United States following
incidents connected to this weapon.
November 25, 2007 -- Le Devoir (France)
The Taser Shock Wave
Serious Questions Are Now Being Posed About The Electric Stun Gun.
By Brian Myles
The behavior of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) following the death of a Polish citizen who suffered two Taser discharges at the Vancouver airport symbolizes everything that is wrong with police culture with respect to use of force.
Twenty-four Seconds. That's all the time four RCMP policemen took to evaluate the "threat" posed to them in the person of Robert Dziekanski, this past October 14, at the Vancouver airport. The Polish citizen did not understand English; he was disoriented and had been looking for his mother with no success for close to ten hours. Without even speaking to him, although he offered no resistance at all, the police struck him twice with the Taser. "Intervention" is not the correct word to describe the policemen's work, which was sealed by Dziekanski's death. It was an aggression by men in uniform that was captured by an amateur videographer.
The video, just recently aired, is of a limpidity that contrasts with the hazy explanations the RCMP advanced in the hours following the tragedy. One can imagine. A federal police spokesman, Pierre Lemaître, declared for the media that Dziekanski represented a threat to the policemen's security. The latter had really tried to reason with him, notably by telling him to "relax," but without success. Dziekanski had continued to throw objects across the room.
The images, seen by the whole world, have exposed the RMPC version of events for what it is: a shameless lie. At the policemen's arrival, Dziekanski stepped back and lifted his arms in the air, in a gesture that looks like frustration or pique. The agents responded immediately with a 50,000-volt electric discharge. And by a second one, made necessary because the first seemed not to have any effect, indicated Mr. Lemaître. On the contrary, the images show us this Polish man twisted with pain on the ground immediately after receiving the first shot. Then, pressure was applied to the suspect's "shoulders," Agent Lemaître said. Rather, what the public sees on the video is a knee on his neck.
This incident -- and especially its media repercussions -- is the straw that broke the camel's back. Since 2001, 18 people have died in Canada several minutes or several hours after suffering a Taser discharge at the hands of the police. At the request of the minister of Public Security, Stockwell Day, the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP has enlarged its present investigation to cover the Taser. The Canada Border Services Agency, the Vancouver airport authorities and the British Columbia coroner are all specifically studying Mr. Dziekanski's death. As though the situation were not already serious enough, the Nova Scotia justice minister also launched an investigation Thursday after the death of a prisoner occurred 30 hours after he was Tasered during a failed escape attempt.
The Weapon and Its Use
It's pointless to wait for the conclusion of all these investigations before observing the obvious: one must distinguish between the electric stun gun and its use. Developed in Arizona in 1994, the weapon is used today by 11,000 police forces, including nine in Québec.
The weapon operates by means of two electrodes connected to wires that, once they reach a person, attach themselves to their clothing and strike with a 50,000-volt electric current. The muscles are briefly paralyzed, giving the police several precious seconds to gain control over a suspect. Technically, the charge is not strong enough to interrupt the heartbeat as a cardiac defibrillator would.
After a gun, the Taser is the most redoubtable weapon in the police arsenal. But it does not kill, at least it's not supposed to in principle. In a study dating from 2005, the Canadian Center for Police Research concluded that its use "can save and has saved many lives." Police associations have even advanced the figure of 4,000 lives spared thanks to the work of police who fired their Taser rather than their service weapon.
Criminologist Jean-Paul Brodeur deems these calculations fanciful. "The number of lives presumably saved often greatly exceeds the number of times -- not very frequent -- that police actually use their firearm in a year. They're saving lives in fictitious situations that are completely made up," asserts Mr. Brodeur, a professor at the School of Criminology at the University of Montreal.
Like Paul Kennedy, president of the Commission of Public Complaints against the RCMP, Mr. Brodeur believes that the police use their Tasers far too often and too early in their interventions. That's "the effect of widening the penal net." This intermediate weapon is used in place of neutralization by physical contact when it ought rather to be substituted for a gun. "That's obviously what happened at the Vancouver airport. Surely, if they had not had the Taser, no one would have fired any weapon at this person: he would have been brought under control physically. Instead of that, they chose the least physically risky measure and the least demanding for the police: technological neutralization," Mr. Brodeur observes. That said, he gives little weight to the work of the Commission of Public Complaints against the RCMP, which had its teeth pulled under the Zaccardelli administration.
An investigation conducted by Amnesty International corroborates the theory formulated by Mr. Brodeur and several other police specialists. The stories by various people who have undergone Tasering make one's blood run cold. In one example, some New Brunswick RCMP police Tasered a 17-year-old boy -- who, according to a witness, was not even resisting arrest -- at least 13 times. A Halifax woman was Tasered while she was handcuffed, while a lawyer was Tasered twice for taking photos of a police intervention in Edmonton.
Those are the lucky ones. Since 2001, the Taser has been implicated in the deaths of 270 people in the United States and 17 in Canada. The police have neither the necessary training nor the necessary supervision in the use of this weapon, Amnesty International observed in its report. Still worse: police forces do not demonstrate any form of remorse over these tragic cases, the organization, which recommends a moratorium on Taser use, deplores.
According to Jean-Paul Brodeur, training in Taser use is less important than "the impossible training of how to react in a crisis situation. What needs revision are the protocols for the use of force," he deems.
It's All Going Swimmingly in Quebec
While the Taser is grabbing the headlines in English-speaking Canada, it's all going swimmingly in Québec. A committee of experts mandated by the Minister of Public Security to establish directives for use of the electric stun gun made a sortie on October 22 that seems very hasty today. Although the group's final report is expected in December, the experts hired by the state have, in fact, emphasized the Taser's innocuous character.
According to Dr. René Blais, responsible within the consultative committee for the medical aspect, "no documented death has been directly linked to Taser use up until now." The statement is all the more surprising given that the coroner's inquest into the death of Quilem Registre is still not completed. Registre, a Montrealer of Haitian origin, died in the hospital several days after being Tasered six times this autumn. According to the police version, he was driving erratically in the Saint-Michel quarter; he seemed intoxicated and showed aggression at the arrival of police officers. The Sûreté du Québec (SQ) is investigating the affair, which involves the Police Service for the City of Montreal (SPVM). The League of Blacks is demanding a public investigation ... that is not forthcoming.
If one trusts Dr. Blais's expertise, the Taser had nothing to do with it. "If an electric shock were supposed to put a person's life in danger and provoke cardiac arrest, that would happen immediately, in the seconds following the intervention," he explained at a press conference. That logic, moreover, espouses Taser International's.
For his part, Jean-Paul Brodeur rejects the conclusions of "these quack doctors" who exonerate Taser of all blame if death does not occur in the instants following a Tasering.
In a letter to the press, professor at the Institute for Biomedical Innovation at the Polytechnic School, Pierre Savard, recently highlighted that a Taser discharge could provoke an increase in heart rate. Within a few minutes, ventricular fibrillation (rapid, disorganized and ineffective contraction of the ventricles) could result. It's a cause of cardiac arrest and sudden death. The studies on Taser's effects were conducted on men in good health, Professor Savard also emphasized, while in real life, patrol officers encounter all kinds of individuals, some with a weak heart, others who are intoxicated or demented.
Taser International has, moreover, found in a marginal phenomenon the ideal culprit to exonerate its prodigious invention: the individual affected with "agitated delirium." Endowed with a sense of omnipotence, confused, disoriented, aggressive, he struggles until exhaustion just as former hockey-player John Kordic once did, when he died in 1992 in a hotel room after having long resisted his arrest. It's not the Taser, but the agitated delirium that leads straight to death, the American company alleges.
The Canadian Center for Police Research gave agitated delirium first place in its 2005 report, on a very thin factual basis. "Even though it's not universally recognized as a cardiac condition, agitated delirium is ever-more accepted as a primary contributing factor in death following Taser use." O.K. But a factor accepted by whom? Obviously by those who are keenest on Taser: the manufacturer and its clients.
The research on the effects of Tasering is marred by profound methodological defects, as the Canadian Center for Police Research report testifies. "The police services and directing agencies must entirely trust the manufacturer's assertions with respect to their product's security," the agency candidly acknowledges.
And the manufacturer invites the public to believe it on its own word, with no other form of debate. These days, Taser is brandishing the impudent threat of judicial recourse against about 60 media outlets that have ascribed Dziekanski's death to his Tasering. A shock treatment is necessary: an -- independent -- update on Taser experience and knowledge.
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