The death of a Polish man at Vancouver International Airport has sparked an intense debate in Canada over the increasing use of Tasers by law-enforcement officials. Concerns over the use of these electric shock guns has mounted in several other countries after a UN Committee on Human Rights recently labeled their impact "torture."
Nine investigations, including one by the Polish government, have opened into the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish national who died Oct. 14 almost immediately after he was Tasered by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RMCP) at the Vancouver International Airport, reports CanWest News Service. Polish officials said the aim of their inquiry was to verify whether Canadian police "involuntarily caused the death of a Polish citizen."
Criticism of the incident rose after a video of the incident was posted on YouTube Nov. 14, reports the New Statesman.
The clean-cut stereotype of a Mountie in a tomato-red uniform may linger internationally, but the RCMP's domestic reputation has been shaken. The officers captured on film have been removed from active duty; others replacing them at the Vancouver airport have been verbally abused and had rubbish thrown at them.
On the Saturday after the video's release, nearly 300 people arrived at the airport for a memorial service for Dziekanski.
The incident led to one senator calling for Canadian police to stop using Tasers, while police officials defended their actions, reports The Canadian Press.
Officials claim the electric shock guns, which emit up to 50,000 volts, are not the cause of death in such deadly incidents. A conference last week focused on such factors as "excited delirium," reports The Globe and Mail.
However, the key issue is excited delirium, a collection of symptoms that is quickly becoming the leading explanation offered when a person dies in police custody or after a taser is used….
Critics, who include civil-liberties groups and plaintiffs in myriad lawsuits against both Taser International and police departments, say the condition is actually a vague collection of descriptors designed to protect police officers from allegations of wrongdoing. But there are virtually no such critics at this conference….
Civil liberties activists are pointing to a report by the UN Committee Against Torture last week that called the use of Tasers "torture." The committee said it was "worried that the use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use."
The UN report provoked reaction in Australia, where Queensland police defended their trial use, reports The Brisbane Times.
Officials there said Tasers had been used in 93 incidents since the trial period began in July, and their use "was to resolve dangerous situations without injury."
In New Zealand, where a one-year trial of one model of the weapon has just ended, the Green Party urged the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to withdraw the $NZ780,000 (about $594,000) invested in the American firm, Taser International, Radio New Zealand reported.
Taser International officals dismissed the UN comments, suggesting that the committee was " 'out of touch' with the realities facing law enforcement agents," reports Australian news channel ABC.
Taser has cited research that shows that the electric-shock weapons are safe. Amnesty International, however, recently called for a suspension of Taser use pending further study, and a commitment to greater training of law-enforcement officers.
The organization's report cites increases in Taser-related deaths, and says that Tasers continue to be used in the US as a routine force tool rather than as weapon of last resort.
According to Amnesty, more than 150 people have died in the US after being struck by Tasers since June 2001. In 23 cases, coroners listed the use of the Taser as a cause or contributing factor.
More than 11,000 agencies in the US deploy TASER brand technology. Some 3,500 of these agencies give Tasers to all their patrol officers, according to the company.
In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed before his election in May to buy a Taser for every policeman and gendarme in France, a market for at least 300,000 guns, reports Agence France-Presse.
There are already about 250,000 of the stun guns in use, mainly in North America, but about 70 other countries are buying or trying Tasers -- including Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand, said [Taser representative Antoine] di Zazzo.
In Britain, where beat cops don't have guns, home secretary Jacqui Smith has said that all police should have Tasers, and the weapons were "more effective for subduing suspects and caused less harm than traditional batons," reports The Telegraph.
Mrs Smith told Police Review magazine that she "could see a day" when all officers were armed with stun guns. "If police officers could be prevented from injury because they are able to subdue someone more quickly than with other methods, then it would be viable," she said.
The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in England and Wales, has called for all officers to be equipped with stun guns.
Use of Tasers in Britain has risen since 2003, according to a report in the online magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.