On December 6, 2004, The Vancouver Sun ran a tiny story from Metairie, Louisiana: “A man sheriff’s deputies had shot twice with a Taser stun gun died Saturday, a day after he was pulled over for driving erratically, officials said”. The item recounted that the victim, 35 year old Patrick Fleming, had been tasered at the traffic stop and then again at the jail.

Why should this death matter? Because, according to recent reports from Amnesty International, at least 74 people in the United States and Canada have died after being subdued by this “non-lethal” high-tech weapon. It is apparent from media reports, including recent stories in the Miami Herald, that law enforcement officials are using Tasers routinely and have employed them against young children and the elderly.

Here in British Columbia, four people have died after being hit with the Taser’s 50,000 volt charge: Terrance Hanna, Clayton Willey, Roman Andreichik and Robert Bagnell. In at least a couple of these cases, the victims were not breaking any laws, but were apparently being subdued for their own protection.

It should be apparent to any rational observer that independent scientific studies are required to determine whether these weapons are safe for use against humans. Instead of pushing for a truly independent review, British Columbia’s Police Complaint Commissioner has commissioned a study from the first Canadian police department to use the devices. Victoria police sergeant Darren Laur will be involved in preparing the final report. In September of 2000 Laur was quoted as saying, “my goal is to see a Taser in every police car”. So much for objectivity.

British Columbians, and Canadians, need an immediate moratorium on the use of Tasers and a comprehensive independent scientific analysis before more people die unnecessarily.

Postscript: Another man has died after being tasered, this time in Hollywood Fla. on Wednesday, December 15, 2004.

Post-postscript: Yet another man has died, this time in Delray Beach, Fla. on Thursday, December 22, 2004.