Time to Zap the Taser
Canada all but abolished the death penalty in 1976. It still exists for special cases in the military, though it is never used.
The last legal execution in this country was 1962 in Toronto's Don Jail, when two men, shall we say, dropped into history. Between 1867 and 1962, 710 people were executed in Canada.
It is a point of pride for millions of Canadians that we no longer hang our citizens.
Well, if you are one of those millions of Canadians, feel some shame that we continue to allow our police forces to Taser citizens to death.
Worse still, when we had executions, a prisoner could only be hanged for murder, rape or treason. Today, we let the police Taser people to death for mental illness, drug addiction or making a fuss at an airport.
Since 2001, Canadian police officers have killed at least 20 people with Tasers. That number could be as high as 25.
The poster corpse for Tasering gone wrong is Robert Dziekanski, 40, who died more than a year ago at Vancouver International Airport.
The world has watched the video of four RCMP officers casually approaching the frustrated man, then Tasering him to his eventual demise.
Let's look at some other lesser-known victims:
- Jason Dean, 28, in Red Deer, Alta., while running from police in August 2006;
- Roman Andreichikov, 25, high on cocaine and being restrained by Vancouver police in May 2004.
- Perry Ronald, 28, while being restrained by Edmonton police after jumping from a window in March 2004;
- Clark Whitehouse, 34, while running from the Whitehorse RCMP after being stopped in traffic in September 2003.
It is likely police had no cause to shoot any of these alleged criminals with a gun, yet they had the legal cause to blast 50,000 volts of electricity into them.
Sadly, the results would have been the same had they shot them in the head.
Death without trial.
On May 23, 2007, Amnesty International completed the report Canada: Inappropriate and Excessive Use of Tasers.
Here is the opening two sentences of that report:
"Children continue to be the victims of abusive use of Tasers by Canadian police officers. There have also been a disturbing number of cases where police officers have used Tasers inappropriately when there was no serious risk either to themselves or others present."
Just last week, Tasers were involved in two Alberta deaths:
- Gordon Walker Bowe, 30, was Tasered when police were called to investigate a suspicious person and a break-in;
- Four days earlier in Edmonton, Trevor Grimolfson, 38, died after police twice used a Taser following a struggle near a city pawnshop.
In light of these two deaths, Alberta Solicitor-General Fred Lindsay said he doesn't see any need to revisit the Taser guidelines.
Well, we disagree.
We don't think there should be any guidelines because we don't think the police should be allowed to use Tasers.
A death count of 20 to 25 as a result of Tasers is more than enough tragedy to call for a ban.
These people did not murder, rape or commit treason, yet they ended up in the same place as those two men in the Don Jail in 1962.
As the world saw in the Robert Dziekanski video, Tasering isn't police work. It's too easy. It's certainly a lot easier on the conscience than pulling out a gun and shooting the suspect.
But sadly, too often, the result is the same.
© The Vancouver Province 2008