Thomas A. Swift Electrical Rifle: under the gun in Guelph

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

  • GUTS hosts a talk that asks the question "Tasers in Our Community?"

    GUTS hosts a talk that asks the question "Tasers in Our Community?"

On Saturday, November 3rd, the Guelph Union of Tenants and Supporters hosted a talk entitled "Tasers in Our Community?" at the Norfolk St. United Church. Members of GUTS, Amnesty International, and Janie Jameson of Six Nations spoke at the talk.

The talk was held in response to the growing debate surrounding the presence of TASERS in Guelph, in Canada, and in North America. Since Canada's police force and military began using Tasers in 2001, 18 people have died after being shocked with a Taser. In the month of October, two men died after being Tasered. 40-year-old Robert Dziekanski of Pieszyce, Poland, died at Vancouver International Airport after being Tasered by police on October 14th; 38-year-old Quilem Registre died on Oct. 17th in Quebec after being Tasered while intoxicated.

So, what exactly is a Taser? The acronynm stands for "Thomas A. Swift Electrical Rifle," (a name pulled from a 1915 Science Fiction novel entitled Tom Swift and his Electrical Rifle, no joke); the electrical rifle sends out 50,000 bolts for two seconds each time the trigger is pulled. The Taser is manufactured by a company from Arizona called Taser International. Most of the research that has been done about the Taser has been completed by this company, or by police units.

Two members from the GUTS began the talk by outlining the danger of Tasers, and GUTS' opposition to their use. GUTS cited International Human Rights Law alongside the Police's Use of Force model to assert that Tasers have been widely misused and abused by police officers in Canada and the United States. "According to Taser International's own literature," said one GUTS member, "police are not to use them on a person who is intoxicated, physically exerted, or has a history of heart attacks - how would a police officer know if someone had a history of heart attacks?"

GUTS also talked about Dziekanski's death, noting that the RCMP had seized a videotape that documented the police Tasering him before his death; they have refused to release the video tape that eyewitnesses say would prove that the RCMP Tasered Dziekanski unnecessarily. GUTS also spoke to a couple local cases where police Tasered intoxicated individuals. In one case, a man fell and broke his cheekbone outside of the Welcome In Drop-In Centre; in another, police Tasered a women in her holding cell in order to "help her stand up" because she refused to move.

While police maintain the stance that "Tasers save lives," the talk on Saturday debunked this myth. Andy from Amnesty International sees the misuse and abuse of the Taser as a Human Rights Issue. "If police were only using the Taser instead of using a gun, I would perhaps agree with their assertion that Tasers save lives," he said, "but they're not - they're reaching into their utility belts for their Tasers far more frequently than they would ever reach for their guns." Andy went on to say that he feels like the Police Commissioner's insistence that the Taser is "safe" has contributed to a rise in the use of the Taser, which has had deadly consequences in North America.

Amnesty International is currently calling for a moratorium on Taser use in Canada until "full, fair, independent, fact-based research" can be carried out - research into its use as well as its effects. Amnesty is concerned not only with the deaths associated with Tasers, but other Human Rights concerns as well - the use of Tasers for "pain compliance" is on the rise, he said, and this amounts to torture under UN code. One apt example is the now notorious Tasering of a UCLA student - already restrained by 5 or 6 officers, the student is Tasered as he yells "Don't Tase me, Bro!"

Equally moving was the footage that Janie Jameson of Six Nations brought to the Norfolk St. United Church on Saturday. Since the protests in Caledonia began months ago, the use of Tasers has been a frequent tactic of the OPP when detaining protestors. "It's unbelievable that any kind of excessive force like that can be legal," Janie said, passing around a copy of Tekawennake News. The article featured several photos of Skylar Williams, already restrained by several officers in full riot gear, being Tasered twice at the same time.

"This is becoming standard treatment for my family," said Janie, citing another occasion where her brother was Tasered at an arena while his young son was present. Janie sees the use of the Taser and police brutality in general as a form of silencing dissent. Andy from Amnesty International was quick to point out that Canada voted against a bill that would extend Human Rights for aboriginal peoples at the UN one and a half years ago.

"Tasers in Our Community?" was a timely talk - Guelph Police Chief Rob Davis has recently been cited as saying he'd like to see a Taser on the belt of every front-line officer in Guelph. Currently, only supervisors and the tactical unit can use Tasers. Critics point out that the Taser is already being misused by the police who do have access to it, and stress that this is absolutely the wrong step for Guelph to take.

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  1. Posted by: Jonathon on Nov 7, 2007 @ 1:48pm

    When I read the arguments about tasers I can't help but think what people would rather have the police use? The only viable alternatives I see are either as equaly destructive (pepper spray, batons) or more so (guns).

    You can't blame the existance of tasers for their misuse either. It's equally easy to misuse a gun or a baton or even your fists. Don't blame the tool for the hand that holds it. What these people should be campeigning for is stricter controlls and better enforcement, not an all out ban.

  2. Posted by: Lynn on Nov 7, 2007 @ 3:24pm

    Tasers are intended to be used instead of guns. In an instance where a police officer has decided to shoot, shooting a taser is certainly a lot less harmful. However this is certainly not how tasers are being used. At the presentation we were informed of one instance where a boy was awoken from sleeping in his car with tasers. It is not equally easy to misuse a gun because there are strict rules that the police must follow when using a gun and a annoying barrage of paperwork that they must fill out each time. Tasers are relatively easy for officers to use and abuse.

    Although I agree that it isn't very effective to 'blame the tool for the hand that holds it', the fact is that Tasers are a tool that may soon come into the hands of many police officers, and by addressing the dangerous (and if you ask me- sick) nature of this tool and resisting it, you are in fact campaigning for better enforcement. Police aren't using Tasers as a less dangerous alternative to other weapons, some are using it as a torture device. Yes, there should be stricter controls- and one of these controls should be banning tasers. Strict controls alone do not prevent the misuse of dangerous devices such as tasers.

  3. Posted by: Chris on Nov 7, 2007 @ 8:54pm

    This coming from an organisation who writes "F*** the Police" under it's articles pertaining to police matters.

    Did any of you highly-informed individuals consider the circumstances under which the taser was used? No, you only considered the fact that it was used. It takes time and effort to subdue a drunk/high person (I would know) and a taser is a way of effectivly subduing a person without further injury to them or more importantly to the officer. Some people die, whoopie. More people die from drug use every year, whats GUTS stance on that? Hmm, lemme guess. "Drug use is cool man, can you hold my crack pipe while I go get my welfare check and whine about how hard done by I am".

    GUTS is such a funny group. Ya'll make me laugh everytime I see one of your posters around campus. Seriously, go get jobs and stop being a pain in the arse. Taking pictures of you and your morbidly obese friends sitting on a cop car waving flags and going back to munch twinkies and talk about how important you are is sooooooooo not cool.

  4. Posted by: j on Nov 7, 2007 @ 9:20pm

    I was going to post something, but Chris did a far better job than I could've, good job.

    It's all about the officer's safety and the individual being subdued. Yes, sometimes people die from tasers. People also die from being hit with a baton or shot as well, or even through physical restraint.

    I'm more apt to sympathize with the people that are charged with protecting us than some layabout drug user who ends up reacting negatively to a taser after becoming violent.

  5. Posted by: T on Nov 8, 2007 @ 9:18am

    Every time I see an anti-police GUTS poster I can't help but get the feeling that the issue isn't so much that they're worried about human rights, but more that they're just fed up about getting roughed up when they drink too much and get thrown out of a bar.

    I agree that tasers might be a problem if they're abused by police, but ANY tool we give to the police would be a problem if it was abused. I'm sure that if police were given pillows instead of tasers or guns, GUTS would still find something to complain about.

    As a side note, I remember seeing on Discovery Channel some fun police device that might be better than tasers. It was a big speaker that directed an extremely low-frequency sound at a person/crowd that was so intense it basically caused them to lose bladder and bowel control. This I think is a more productive solution, as it is less harmful but equally humiliating.

  6. Posted by: Jenny on Nov 8, 2007 @ 5:03pm

    Part 1
    One by one...

    In each of the cases that tasers were mentioned in the talk, the "circumstances under which the taser was used" were addressed to add even further context to how cruel their use was.

    "a taser is a way of effectively subduing a person without further injury to them or ~more importantly~ to the officer." Your bias is clear. Without even knowing who these people who are who the cops think must be subdued, you feel that a cops life is more valuable.

    "Some people die, whoopie." This pretty much removes your credibility.

    "More people die from drug use every year, whats GUTS stance on that?" I am not a part of GUTS, but I have done enough research into their campaigns to speak accurately about them. Their stance on drug use is Harm Reduction. See www.canadianharmreduction.com for more information on what is a socially progressive stance.

    "Seriously, go get jobs and stop being a pain in the arse." Every person I know who is a member of GUTS has a job. While keeping confidentiality, I can assure you that they are jobs that genuinely help people and are viewed as legitimate and valuable by the status quo.

  7. Posted by: Jenny on Nov 8, 2007 @ 5:09pm

    Part 2

    "...but more that they're just fed up about getting roughed up when they drink too much and get thrown out of a bar." Please understand I don't want to give you reason to get defensive or angry, but this isn't true. GUTS community organizers aren't the kind of people to get wasted and thrown out of bars, much less even go to bars. The issue is that far too many people have had their lives stolen from the use of tasers.

    Reading these comments, it is clear that people are coming from different places regarding who they empathize with and who they identify with. It is easy to interpret that most of the folks making them have not come under unjust scrutiny from police for one of many reasons - class, physical appearance, political beliefs, and so on. Having been illegaly abused by police for the above three reasons, and knowing many more people who suffer abuse on a regular basis, I assure you that there is a darker, meaner side to police that does not include 'protecting public safety' or some innocuous phrase. A lot of cops out there, who may be nice off the job, are very mean and conniving. You may not want to believe this based on your own personal experiences, but this much is undeniably true.

  8. Posted by: on Nov 13, 2007 @ 3:06pm

    "Taking pictures of you and your morbidly obese friends sitting on a cop car waving flags and going back to munch twinkies and talk about how important you are is sooooooooo not cool."

    regardless of your view on tasers your statement is offensive, oppressive, and unneccassary.

    shame on you for such a comment and shame on the cannon for giving this person a platform to spread his narrow view of beauty.

    statements like the one above show what true wastes of time people like Chris are.

  9. Posted by: on Nov 13, 2007 @ 3:09pm

    "You can't blame the existance of tasers for their misuse either. It's equally easy to misuse a gun or a baton or even your fists. Don't blame the tool for the hand that holds it."


  10. Posted by: j on Nov 14, 2007 @ 3:46am


    God forbid someone says something you don't agree with. Everything is oppressive to you guys, isn't it? I'd be more concerned if the cannon didn't allow it. Free speech is more important than censorship in the name of keeping the morbidly obese members of GUTS happy. Unhealthiness is not beautiful.

    What a rational and well thought out post. Must've taken you some time to articulate that thought.

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