Repeated, suspicious deaths from taser strikes have shocked Canada’s public conscience even while Taser International claims their product has saved 4,000 Canadian lives. However, at least eight lives have been lost in Canada due to Taser shocks while under the influence of cocaine or alcohol.
British Columbia: On 19 April 2003, Terry Hanna, aged 51, died shortly after he was shot with a Taser by Burnaby RCMP officers.
Yukon Territories: In September 2003, Clark Whitehouse, aged 34, died after he was shocked with a Taser by Whitehorse RCMP officers.
Alberta: On March 23 2004, Perry Ronald died after being shot with a Taser by officers from Edmonton Police Department. An autopsy failed to determine a cause of death.
British Columbia: On 1 May 2004, Vancouver police shot 25-year-old Roman Andreichikov with a Taser as he lay on the floor in his apartment.
Ontario: May 13, 2004, Peter Lamonday, a 33-year-old landscape worker, died approximately twenty minutes after London Police Service (LPS) officers pepper-sprayed him, punched him in the face, and then Tasered him a number of times.
British Columbia: 23 June 2004, Robert Bagnall, aged 54, died shortly after being shocked with a Taser by Vancouver police officers.
Ontario: 17 July 2004, Jerry Knight, a semi-professional 29-year-old boxer, was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital after being subdued with a Taser by officers from Peel Region Police Department.
Ontario: 8 August 2004, Samuel Truscott, 43, died after he was pepper-sprayed and shocked with a Taser by Kingston police officers.
Blame it on drugs
These deaths excited a brief flurry of showy soul searching by Canadian authorities. In the end, the cases concluded with obvious similarities. All of the victims were high on cocaine, and all of their deaths were blamed not on the 50,000-volt blasts they received but on the drugs. Such were the separate conclusions of Ontario Chief Coroner Jim Cairns and BC Chief Coroner Terry Smith in August of 2004, months before Smith, for one, was expected to complete his inquest.
By September 2004, Victoria Police Chief Paul Battershill released his interim Taser technology review, ordered by the BC Police Complaints Commission in response to Robert Bagnall’s death. Yet the report only added to the growing number of law enforcers pointing the finger at drugs — or, more specifically, “excited delirium”, which in laymen’s terms means the victims struggled to death because they were mentally ill or high on drugs.
Although Chief Battershill’s report predictably found tasers not guilty of causing the deaths, it also painted a rather disturbing picture of taser abuse by Canadian police. The reader of the dry, self-absolving paper learns, for example, that Canadian police voluntarily told Taser International that they used stun guns at least 60 times against people who offered nothing more than “passive resistance”. The report defines passive resistance as when “subjects … do not do anything to actively hinder police, but they are passively non-compliant. Protestors at a ‘sit-in’ provide an example of this level of resistance.”
Curiously, the report also showed that, according to voluntary reports collected by Taser International, Canadian police used their stun gun a total of 3033 times — far below the 4,000 Canadian lives Taser International claims that its product has “saved”.
Dying to save lives
Although Taser International’s figures are grossly inflated, its stun gun really would save lives if it were only used in cases where police would otherwise use a pistol.
However, Taser International’s own statistics again paint a different picture than the corporation would prefer to portray. The stats reveal that the number of times cops have used Tasers against suspects who are attempting to kill them is remarkably less than the number of times cops used Tasers against suspects who were only assaulting them. What this implies is that the more violent the offender, the more chance a cop will reach for his pistol, not his taser. Instead of creating a non-lethal alternative to shooting a bullet, the Taser has provided Canadian police with a handy way of dealing with anyone who rubs them the wrong way.
What kind of threat was British Columbia resident Clayton Willey, who in 2003 was tasered repeatedly after being handcuffed, and died — supposedly from a cocaine overdose — 20 minutes afterward? What kind of threat was Robert Thomas of BC who, in 2001, was tasered seven times on the face, kidneys, arms and hand after being held down and subdued by three RCMP officers?
Many similar cases abound, but probably the most distasteful police abuse of Tasers is political. A report by the RCMP Complaints Commission concluded that police misused Tasers against totally peaceful protestors during the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. By 2003, RCMP were at it again. They tasered peaceful, non-aggressive Algerians staging a sit-in protest at the Minister of Immigration’s office, who were hoping to be allowed to stay in Canada.
These cases at most account for a tiny fraction of the 60 reported uses of Tasers by Canadian police against peaceful, non-violent protestors.
Probably the worst reason why police defend Tasers, despite the extensive damning evidence, is that the device provides two services that our rulers find difficult to criticize: it kills both protesters and drug users. And what better way to get rid of the liberal, open-minded people who oppose strict control and corruption? If we must face the very real threat of injury or death from those sworn to “Serve and Protect” us, peaceful protesting will surely be a thing of the past.