Monday, October 22, 2007

No moratorium on tasers, Quebec says

The Gazette

Despite concerns about the use of taser guns, a Quebec government official said today that the devices are effective and have saved lives.

"In many cases, they have saved lives and avoided more serious injury to a suspect or a police officer," said Robert Lafreniere, an assistant deputy minister in the Public Security Department.

There will be no moratorium on the use of tasers pending several police investigations, as requested last week by Amnesty International Canada, Lafreniere said.

"We can't deprive (the police) of the use of tasers knowing what we know," he said at a news conference at the police academy in Nicolet.

The use of the stun guns by police has come under scrutiny after two Quebecers died within a month after being tasered. Also, a 40-year-old Polish man died this month after he was subdued by a taser gun at the Vancouver International Airport.

Taser guns use two barbed darts to deliver a jolt of electricity up to 50,000 volts. They are intended to temporary paralyze someone by causing muscles to contract uncontrollably.

Police use the weapons to subdue out-of-control persons rather than using their firearm. Officers using tasers have been properly trained and use the weapons only when necessary, Lafreniere said.

Amnesty International Canada says 18 people have died in Canada after being hit by tasers since 2001.

In Montreal, Quilem Registre, 38, died in hospital last week, several days after he had been tasered by Montreal police in the St. Michel district. Registre was suspected of drunk driving when he was stopped by police. The vehicle he was driving hit several cars. Police said they subdued him with a taser after he became aggressive.

Tests have confirmed that cocaine was present in Registre's body when he was admitted to hospital soon after the incident. The coroner's office has not determined an exact cause of death.

Claudio Castagnetta, 32, died in Quebec City on Sept. 20, two days after police officers there used a taser on him. His death is also under investigation.

Police forces in Quebec used taser guns 51 times in 2006 with no deaths.

In February 2006, the Public Security Department sent guidelines to the eight Quebec police forces that use tasers. It recommended that officers not fire multiple shots at a suspect, refrain from hitting the head, neck or genital area, and that officers using tasers be properly trained and that police departments keep a log of the number of times tasers are fired.

The committee preparing a report on taser use in Quebec will submit its findings to Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis shortly. The report, which was due in December, has been fast-tracked following the two recent taser shootings in Quebec.

Claude Dauphin, the city of Montreal executive committee member in charge of public safety, said not all Montreal police officers have access to tasers.

"It is the SWAT team, special units and officers at detention centres who have them," he said.

In many cases, when officers pull out the taser guns, aggressive people change their behaviour immediately, he said.

City councillor Marvin Rotrand said Dauphin should impose a moratorium on the use of tasers in Montreal until his department conducts a study on whether they are safe and effective. Rotrand contends there has not been enough debate on the use of stun guns, which Montreal police began using at the end of 2000.