May 30, 2005

Is a Taser enough force? Part 2

This is an update to my previous article "How much force is enough?"

A Taser gun
It has been months and months since the announcement of a full coroner's inquest into events surrounding the death of Robert Wayne Bagnell, which happened almost a year ago. A coroner's inquest had been set to start in May 2005, but I recently learned from Patti Gillman, sister of the deceased, that that date has been postponed.

So, it seems we're in a holding pattern still, waiting for the start of an investigation that could clarify the cause(s) of Bob Bagnell's death during an altercation with police in a downtown Vancouver Hotel in June 2004.

Meanwhile, Bob's sister Patti is following the progress of the Ontario Coroner's inquest into another Taser-related death, that of Peter Lamonday. In May 2004, Lamonday died after being "shocked several times by Police" during their attempts to arrest and restrain him. The inquest into the Lamonday death is the first Taser-related death to be investigated in a Coroner's inquest in the province of Ontario. No doubt the media and law enforcement will pay close attention to those proceedings.

According to what I have read in the media and online, many preliminary police coroner reports have said that Taser use was not to the blame in these deaths. Causes of death in many of the cases were attributed to excessive cocaine use, leading to a "drug induced psychosis" and heart failure.

Some people are more than suspicious of claims by law enforcement and the Taser manufacturer that this particular tool is not in some way contributing to deaths in these cases.

According to an article on the CTV web site:

"Amnesty International has said the weapon should be banned until more tests are done to determine its safety. The human rights group says the guns can be deadly when someone is in a weakened state because of heart problems or drug use."

Read more on this page from Amnesty International:

Below is Patti Gillman's recent letter to the London Free Press, detailing her observations of the Lamonday inquest and in general:

"Letter to the Editor:

I held my breath waiting for the Coroner's Inquest into Peter Lamonday's death. I was naively confident that the first Taser-death related inquest in Ontario would at long last provide an opportunity for a much needed and long overdue dialogue on the perils of continued Taser use in Ontario.

When I learned that no independent expert Taser witness would be called to testify, and that those who would testify were public officials who have been openly supportive of Tasers, it became clear that the results of this travesty were a foregone conclusion.

It is atrocious and a great disservice to Mr. Lamonday and the other 9 Canadians (including my brother) who have died, not to mention those who will surely follow – that the role of the Taser in Mr. Lamonday’s premature and senseless death was not more thoroughly examined but was, instead, hastily dismissed by so-called experts on day one of the inquest. From there, the Taser and its part in Mr. Lamonday’s demise were substantially ignored. It is indefensible that no one saw fit to challenge this colossal omission. It is said that justice must be seen to be done, to be done. Sadly, justice was seen to be absent from this inquest.

The police officers likely did not intend to use deadly force on Mr. Lamonday when they Tasered him. It is reasonable to believe that they did not know they were playing Russian roulette with a potentially lethal weapon, since they had been so artfully sold a "non-lethal" bill of goods. If Taser use is to continue in Ontario and in Canada, then the weapon’s place on the continuum of force must be increased to a level equal to deadly force, so that police officers can better predict a potentially deadly outcome and consider their force options more carefully.

The Taser may not have been the sole cause of Mr. Lamonday’s death. But its supporting role simply cannot be ignored, especially given that the weapon’s own manufacturer, Taser International, recently came closer than ever before to saying that use of Tasers can lead to death. Taser International stated: "Our products are often used in aggressive confrontations that may result in serious, permanent bodily injury or death to those involved. Our products may cause or be associated with these injuries."

The rising number of deaths validates the company’s announcement. What more do Ontario officials need before they suspend their own disbelief?"

As an observer who knew Bob Bagnell in my own small way, my motivation rests in the concern that the dead in these situations do not become dehumanized because of poverty, their lifestyle or because of the violent circumstances of their deaths. I do not claim to know much about the other 90-plus Taser-related deaths documented thus far in the U.S. and Canada - I can only claim some knowledge of one particular victim. His family and others are looking for information and closure. (My personal web tribute to Robert Wayne Bagnell gives a portrait-in-progress:

I'm skeptical of an article on a seemingly police-friendly web site quoting the deputy coroner at the Lamonday inquest. He stated that the Taser was not to blame in Lamonday's death because the man died much later, and not immediately after the shock. This kind of logic is likely the start of some precedent-setting somewhere... we'll see.

Sorry - but my concerns are not yet quieted. I can't help but feel a bit cynical when the ads surrounding this particular article are... Taser ads.

May 26, 2005

"Only in Canada you say? Pity."

Recently, my wife and I were very proud to attend the wedding of two friends. It was a small civil ceremony held at a private home, perched on a cliff overlooking a beautiful 180 degree view of Howe Sound. Even though the sky was cloudy, the rain had managed to stay away.

After making our rounds through the crowd, re-meeting many of my wife's former colleagues, we all assembled out on the sundeck. A small wooden stand held a register and some papers bearing the BC provincial logo. The Marriage Commissioner performing the ceremony asked us all to come closer. The deck was crowded with friends and family. We chuckled as we shuffled a foot or two towards our friends, two men who had been together for 22 years. They turned and faced each other and the ceremony began.

The couple, their mothers and fathers and long-time friends all wept with joy as they recited their vows and pledged their love and committment to each other. It was simple, heartfelt and absolutely genuine, without the pomp and circumstance of some of the large, church weddings we have also witnessed, but just as grand an event. Perhaps because it was small and intimate, it really had a strong impact on me. I could see how much these two guys loved each other, and how much their family and friends loved and supported them. The sun shone down through the clouds, voices cracked and tears flowed, and they each said "I do". It was beautiful.

When the Commissioner said "by the power vested in me by the province of British Columbia", I felt so proud of my home province. Same-sex marriage only became legal in BC in 2003. As of February 2005, it is legal in 7 of 10 provinces and one in three territories in Canada. All the same, same-sex marriage has been a pretty controversial issue in Canada. In the U.S., even more so.

At the end of the day, I feel that the act of marriage doesn't materially change the level of committment in a relationship. Our two friends have been committed to each other for as long as me and my wife, with the two of them only recently deciding to tie the knot, so I know their committment to each other is very strong, marriage notwithstanding. And these guys have withstood social tests, pressures and prejudices from our society that a heterosexual couple would never have to tolerate.

A marriage ceremony is symbolically, socially, and emotionally a powerful thing; an acknowledgement of a couple's committment to their relationship, done in front of others who are there to witness and support the union.

A little background on same-sex marriage from the CBC web site.

May 12, 2005

New Stories online in the "True Life" project

True Life - The history of me and my dysfunctional family...

Read True Life - The story of me and my family...

My family
After over a year's delay, I have finally begun the latest series of stories in my "True Life" web memoirs, covering the years 1975 to 1977.

"True Life" is a collection of illustrated personal stories about my family and my memories of growing up. I started writing and designing this project in 1998, and it officially went online in March of 1999. It has been a periodic effort ever since.

May 10, 2005

Obi-John Kenobi and a young Padawan apprentice...

Recently, my nephew Mitchell and I were talking about the soon-to-be released Star Wars movie, "Revenge of the Sith". Mitch is a huge Star Wars fan, just like his Uncle John and Auntie Grace.

I remembered that each of us had worn similar Halloween costumes before, and, well, as you can see, now there's an even Newer Hope in a galaxy far, far, away...

Obi-John Kenobi and a young Padawan apprentice...

May 08, 2005

I miss my mother.

i miss mom
I suddenly realized it was Mother's Day. It reminded me of my Mum. On a whim, I typed "i miss my mom" into Google, and the first site I saw led to a person who has expressed my own feelings very well:

"Hi mom,

It's been so long since I last thought about you. That's probably the worst thing I could say to you, but it's true. I haven't made a conscious effort to remember you, not like I used to. It is somewhat understandable I guess, you've been dead for almost ten years now. But I just don't like the fact that I haven't really thought about you or even just missed you these past few months.. months that feel like years. And then quite suddenly the world seemed to stop just now and in that moment of quiet I thought: I miss my mother."

Remember her for just a moment.

Try to remember something positive or happy. Remember that chain of belly buttons that connects you to your mother, her to her mother, and so on and so on.

Just for today, try to remember something good.

Read the entire letter here: I miss my mother. I miss you.