A Matter of Safety...The Taser Issue

Tasers. This hot button word is quickly becoming as galvanizing a conversational topic as politics, religion and abortion. Tragically, their use was again called into question on August 2, when 27 year old Marc-Andre Fontaine was tased by RCMP in the Leduc Petro Canada parking lot and died two days later.
    Leading up to the incident it has been stated by several witnesses that Fontaine, a sheet metal worker and father of three, was in an agitated state and police had been called after he got into a physical confrontation with a liquor store employee at the Co-op Gas Bar in Leduc after the gas bar attendant called over to the liquor store requesting help with an erratic customer. 
    Several incidents occurred between the Co-op gas bar and his final stop at the Petro Canada where eye witness Monique (last name withheld upon request), saw the final few minutes of Fontaine's run through town.
    "I was standing outside Kosmos having a smoke when I heard the screeching of tires heading my way coming from the west down 50th Ave." stated Monique. "I watched as this guy came flying by in a blue vehicle driving like a crazy man doing probably 80-90 km/h, and as he was driving he was spinning his wheels 90 degrees in each direction back and forth slamming into curbs and swerving into traffic in the oncoming lanes. A couple times he was up on two wheels he was swerving so violently. He turned really fast north onto 50th Street hitting the curb there and that's when I ran back inside the restaurant to tell my friends what I'd just seen. A couple minutes later we heard the emergency sirens coming so we left the restaurant and walked down to the Petro Canada where police were already starting to put up the police tape but I could see this guy lying on the ground with paramedics working on him. I didn't know at the time the guy on the ground was the guy I'd seen driving the blue vehicle so I called an officer over and gave him my statement."
    As more people come forward to share what they witnessed that day I don't think anyone would argue the fact that Mr. Fontaine was not behaving rationally. The reasons behind why he was exhibiting these unusual and dangerous behaviours is still under investigation but the end result is that after Mr. Fontaine rampaged through Leduc on a Friday night, by Sunday morning he had died in hospital. 
    The RCMP have reported that in order to subdue Mr. Fontaine he was struck by a taser and then handcuffed, but that shortly afterward it was noticed he was in medical distress and he lost consciousness. Mr. Fontaine was then transported via ambulance to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton in critical condition, where he passed away two days later.
    Since that time this incident has prompted the generation of an online petition attempting to gather 5000 signatures calling for stricter guidelines controlling the use of tasers. Part of the petition site states "Canadian Police: Don't Tase First, Ask Questions Later! In 2007, Canadian police officers faced harsh criticism after tasering a Polish immigrant to death. The investigation that followed this tragedy concluded that Canada must establish province-wide regulations on stun guns." 
    Tasers, or electroshock weapons, which are classified as non-lethal weapons, are designed to incapacitate a person by disrupting superficial muscle functions. One of the problems that even manufacturers of these weapons warns about, is that with people coming in all different sizes,  tasers can have differing effects on different people. Primarily the manufacturers are speaking to the average person purchasing a taser as a personal protective device and addressing the possibility that depending on the size and muscle mass of the attacker, taking other variables into consideration such as thickness of clothing and the attacker being in an altered state due to drugs or alcohol in their system, there is the possibility that the taser will not be effective. However, the difference is the typical voltage on a personal use taser is 30,000 volts but the police models are generally rated at 50,000 volts. Pretty much guaranteed to get results.
    So the questions being asked now are not so much whether the training the police receive to use the tasers is adequate, but rather when they are deployed how will they react on each individual. Yes, they are designed to disrupt "superficial" muscle functions but when the same voltage that can take down a 250lb muscular guy is deployed on a 120lb thin person with a weak heart can you state with all surety that shock will not run deeper and cause almost instant death? 
    There are a lot of police officers who refuse to go through the training to carry tasers for varied reasons and they still seem able to ‘get their man’ when the chips are down. A fair question to ask is, is this really a necessary tool for the police to carry? More and more people are starting to demand more information and that further studies be done on this newest of weapons in law enforcements' arsenal. 
    In the meantime, while everyone is waiting for the coroner to announce the actual cause of death of Marc-Andre Fontaine, public opinion is choosing to place the blame firmly at the feet of the taser. 
    The RCMP were contacted requesting any updates on this case but we had not been contacted by press time. This case is an ongoing investigation with the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team.

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