A report on taser technology released today parrots the manufacturer’s claims and glosses over 126 deaths proximal to Taser use, says Cameron Ward, lawyer for Robert Bagnell’s family. (Robert Bagnell, 44, died June 23, 2004 after being tasered by Vancouver police.) “Canadian police forces should be obliged to stop using Tasers until truly independent and objective studies have been done on their safety implications”, he said.

There have been 126 deaths proximate to Taser use in North America since September, 1999. [source: Arizona Republic; www.azcentral.com] Ten of those have occurred in Canada. There have been 31 deaths in North America this year alone, with the most recent occurring yesterday, June 13, 2005, in Palatka, Florida. Taser International Inc., the weapon’s manufacturer, claims these deaths are coincidental, and not related to the physiological effects of 50,000 volts of electricity on the human body.

The Victoria Police Department report contains no real analysis of these fatalities, which is predictable. The Victoria Police Department and at least one of its authors have been proponents of Tasers since the Department became the first Canadian police force to start using the devices in 1998. Report contributor Sgt. Darren Laur has personally profited from his relationship with Taser International Inc., having received direct payments and stock options from the company in undisclosed amounts. He was also quoted in 2000 as saying, “My goal would be to see a Taser in every patrol car”. [source: Schizophrenia Digest, Sept./Oct. 2000]. The Victoria Police Department also holds the dubious distinction of having used a Taser on an 82 year-old, one of the oldest persons ever to be shocked by the weapon. [source: Victoria Times Colonist, March 2, 2005] American police forces have used Tasers on children as young as six.

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner was right to commission a report into the safety of Tasers. It was wrong, however, to hire some of Canada’s staunchest advocates of the weapons to do the work.

Postscript: Since the foregoing was written on June 14, there have been six more deaths in North America, including one in Surrey, BC and another in Beamsville, ON.