Police are pushing tasers as a less lethal use-of-force option. But as the video released last week of the fatal tasering of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport reveals, these electric prod-shooting devices aren't foolproof when it comes to ensuring public safety. In fact, evidence suggests these powerful devices are potentially more deadly than conventional firearms.
The fuzz buzz
That tasers will save police forces oodles of cash by reducing the number of excessive force and wrongful death suits.
A 2004 report to the Toronto Police Services Board enthuses: "The cost of liability claims and payments relating to a serious injury or death that could have been prevented through the use of the taser could be substantial."
The real shocker
The false sense that the weapons are safe makes cops more inclined to use them as a first line of defence, instead of a last resort, increasing the likelihood of death or serious injury.
In its review of taser use by police forces in Canada, Amnesty International found that "they are often used in routine arrest situations at the first sign of resistance, or in the face of relatively minor resistance, and in situations where lethal force would not be contemplated."
A report commissioned by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in 2005 warned that multiple shocks can cause respiratory and heart failure in shooting victims.
Since 2002, 15 people have died after being shot by a taser in Canada. According to AI, "In the overwhelming majority of cases, no one was armed or appeared to present an imminent threat of death or serious injury to themselves or the lives of others."
Cruel and unusual punishment
AI says the taser abuse it has documented by police in Canada amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under the the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and its Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
Toronto's stunning reversal
The Police Services Board put on hold plans to distribute the weapons to more than 400 front-line uniformed officers (63 front-line supervisors, 26 riot cops and 24 emergency task force officers are currently equipped with tasers) after concerns about the propensity of officers to use the weapons on emotionally disturbed people during a 2005 pilot project.
On the 66 occasions tasers were used by Toronto emergency task force officers back then, 27 (or 41 per cent) involved emotionally disturbed persons.
The gap in taser training
Toronto police officers approved to carry tasers receive minimal training - an eight-hour crash course that includes "theoretical components, practical scenarios, as well as a practical and written examination."
In October 2006, Paul Kennedy, chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, expressed concern about how officers are using tasers, including how early on in confrontations they deploy the weapon.
A month earlier, Victoria police chief Paul Battershill stated that he held "philosophical concerns about whether the police by themselves should be defining where the taser belongs on the force continuumo and I am not convinced this can be done by police by themselves."
Why we should have little faith in taser safety
Taser International, the main manufacturer of taser stun guns, issued its own safety warning of potential health risks associated with its product after a number of lawsuits were launched by relatives of those who died after being shocked by tasers.