(another) Taser Victim

The Globe and Mail is reporting that there wass another taser-related death in Western Canada yesterday:

A man was killed in a confrontation with Winnipeg police yesterday after being hit with a taser stun gun, the first such incident in the city’s history.

The incident began just before 4 p.m. when police officers confronted a man in a back alley adjacent to the grounds of the national microbiology laboratory in the city’s downtown core.

They had been called to the area by a member of the public asking for help in a criminal matter, said police spokeswoman Constable Jacqueline Chaput.

“I’m not privy to the information surrounding that encounter, however it did result in the deployment of an electronic control device used by one of our officers against the male,” Constable Chaput said. “It is yet to be determined by the investigation whether the electronic control device had a hand in the fatality.”

It’s worth noting that the link between the taser and the death is not certain yet, for prudence’s sake. But I don’t think most people would object to such an assumption. After all, it has happened altogether too often that tasers killed instead of stunning.

The last major coverage an incident got in Canada was out west as well, marking the death of a Polish man in B.C.. That was over six months ago, although there have been other minor issues involving tasers since, both in Canada and the United States. But is a six-month gap really enough to pass by? Can we stand to have another half dozen people killed before the government is willing to consider the ramifications of taser usage?

This is a sticky issue. As I argued last time, there’s a fine line between appropriate violence and abuse. Tasers are theoretically supposed to help eliminate that line. As far as I can tell, the ideal technology would permit policemen to restrict a criminal with minimal physical violence, which tasers are designed to do.

But they don’t. There can be no denying that electrocuting someone to death is a pretty good example of “violence”. It’s convenient, yes, but the fact remains that tasers are clearly toeing the line of abuse — and in many cases, are well over it.

My plight isn’t a new one. And it won’t be the last time it’s heard. But it needs to be made public that these weapons are causing excessive harm, and this type of a situation demands that the public cry out against the use of tasers. Until the technology can be perfected to absolutely minimize the number of unjustified deaths, a ban needs to be put on them in the short-term.

Either that, or policemen who use the taser hastily need to be punished. Heavily. And not just those who kill someone, either. Any instance where quick use could have resulted in damage should be determined hazardous. It’s not a game to pull the trigger, and the ones in charge of doing so need to realize that sooner than later.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Zayna
    Jul 23, 2008 @ 14:01:43

    Strangely, I’ve given this topic some previous thought. It was after hearing about the B.C. incident with the Polish gentleman.

    I wondered how much adrenaline levels have to do with the effects of the tasers. You know, the “fight or flight” hormone.

    My assumption (and of course it could be totally wrong) is that while testing this device…subjects were well aware that at some point the shock was coming, were likely not in any state of aggravation and were fully secure in their overall safety.

    If that assumption is true, then how does this translate into a real life situation where a person might be unable to communicate effectively, is already aggitated and ends up in fear for their lives?

    Just a question I think the people who are endorsing these things should be asking.


  2. Bill
    Jul 24, 2008 @ 08:45:52

    In this case I think that the use was unavoidable given the person was armed, but in general I don’t support the use of a Taser as a control method. It should be regulated as a gun a leathal weapon, and Guns should thus be restricted somewhat higher. If it is an alternative to a leathal weapon it should only be used when a leathal weapon should be deployed. For those that claim it protects the police well even if it is regulated as a leathal weapon it still protects the police. Other means of subduing a suspect can be developed.


  3. Stephen
    Jul 24, 2008 @ 11:36:30

    Further details from today’s Globe and Mail:

    Seventeen-year-old Michael Langan died Tuesday after being hit with a police electronic stun gun, the 22nd person in Canada to die after being tasered. …

    Police spokeswoman Constable Jacqueline Chaput said he was carrying a knife and refused to drop it. …

    Ms. Shymko said her son, who was Métis, was young and healthy, although relatively small for his age.

    “He was 5 foot 6, 145 pounds. He wasn’t fat, he was in shape. And there’s no damn way he could die right there after they tasered him,” she said.

    As Bill says, Mr. Langan was armed. But he was only seventeen, and he was a small man.

    I do not accept that the only way for police to deal with a situation like this is to taser the individual. I agree with nebcanuck: it is unnecessarily violent. It is not the minimum use of force that could be applied under the circumstances.

    Perhaps further facts will emerge that will change my evaluation. But based on what we know so far, this seventeen year old is dead when he didn’t need to be. And law enforcement officials are responsible for his death.


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