Henry Aubin on the Police Murder of Robert Dziekanski

cellphone-video of an RCMP murder:
Robert Dziekanski was killed on October 14 in
Vancouver International Airport

Pulling the plug on Taser deaths
INCLUDING A CAMERA on the electric-shock weapon would help clear up questions on its use


Everyone is appalled by the tragic death of a man in Vancouver after police shot him with a Taser. But you don’t have to go far to find other cases of questionable use of this electric-shock weapon.

So far this fall, two men have died in Quebec after police tasered them. Unlike the death of Robert Dziekanski in Vancouver International Airport, no videos exist of the incidents, and they have received too little attention in the Montreal media.

On Oct. 14, the same day that Dziekanski died, Montreal police stopped Quilem Registre, 38, because of his erratic driving in the St. Michel area. Police say they shot him with a Taser because he was aggressive. Cocaine has been linked to numerous deaths of tasered people, and tests show that cocaine was in Registre’s blood when he was admitted to hospital after the incident. Relatives say he was in a coma for three days and suffered heart problems before he died.

The other case is still more troubling because a witness says the victim was peaceful. Claudio Castagnetta, a 32-yearold translator, was arrested for loitering barefoot and acting strangely inside a small grocery store in Quebec City. Unlike Registre, he had no criminal record.

The store owner who called police because of Castagnetta’s annoying presence told the Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil that when he asked the man what he was doing, “To my great surprise, he was not at all arrogant and was very diplomatic.” The store owner said that when the cops arrived, Castagnetta told them he had the right to be where he was. When police took him to their cruiser and tried to put handcuffs on him, he resisted – not with violence but by making his body rigid.

Two witnesses say police fired a Taser at him not once but at least three times – although they were unable to say how many times the weapon’s two darts hit him. It took six cops to bring him under control while lying on his stomach. Afterward, he was well enough to tell a lawyer that he suffered from bipolar disorder, but he died two days later in his cell.

Let me say right off that there’s not a mote of evidence that the Taser directly caused the deaths of Dziekanski, Castagnetta or Registre. Eight police forces in this province use Tasers (including the Sûreté du Québec and the Laval and Longueuil police), and a spokesperson for Quebec’s public security ministry, which oversees police, stresses that no deaths are directly attributable to the weapon since its introduction here in 2001.

The key word in all this, of course, is “directly.” The fact is that people hit with Tasers have a way of dying shortly thereafter. Amnesty International counts 18 such deaths in Canada and more than 240 in the U.S.

The only time police ought to be able to use Tasers is to defend either themselves or other citizens from life-threatening attack or injury – precisely the same criteria that governs (or is supposed to govern) police use of firearms.

We can’t tell if the Registre case meets that criteria because Montreal police have divulged so little about it. But the Castagnetta and Dziekanski cases flagrantly fail the test. First, neither victim had threatened police or endangered the public in any way. Second, police fired the Taser at them more than once, then pounced on them en masse (possibly inflicting serious injury on Dziekanski when an officer knelt on his neck).

Both times, then, police used the weapon gratuitously as an easy way to master people. Pardon me if I sound like the National Rifle Association, but Tasers don’t kill people, irresponsible police do.

A way exists to deter police from such casual use of this dangerous device. Taser International now makes a camera that clips on to a Taser and records what’s happening in video and audio. The company’s website notes that this “offers increased accountability – not just for officers, but for the people they arrest. Until now, it’s been the officer’s word against the suspect’s word.” If the suspect survives, that is.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has made the camera a precondition for introducing the Taser to his country. This little gizmo might be worth the Charest government’s consideration.

The above is from today’s Montreal Gazette – i apologize for not having time to write about this myself, as some of you have noticed i’m posting a lot less these days. Too much work, and it’s not showing any signs of abating…


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