Thomas A. Swift Electrical Rifle: under the gun in Guelph
Tuesday, November 6, 200710 Comments
GUTS hosts a talk that asks the question "Tasers in Our Community?"
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.