May 19, 2008 / 2:57 AM / 10 years ago

Weeping mother urges Taser moratorium in Canada

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A mother whose son’s death at a Canadian airport ignited debate over the safety of Taser stun guns wept on Thursday as she called for a moratorium on their use.

“I know my son would not (have) died if he was not Tasered,” Zofia Ciscowski told a public inquiry launched into the death of her son, Robert Dziekanski, during a confrontation with police after he arrived at Vancouver’s airport as a new immigrant from Poland.

Ciscowski’s lawyer said too many questions have been raised about the weapon’s safety and the adequacy of police training on using the Taser to allow it to be used until Canada completes an independent safety investigation.

“It’s time to put the genie back in the bottle and to start from square one,” lawyer Walter Kosteckyj told the public inquiry, which is looking at both the airport incident and the broader issue of the weapon’s use.

The stun guns made by TASER International Inc. have become popular with police internationally as a means of subduing people. They use a 50,000-volt jolt of electricity that causes muscle spasms and incapacitates a person.

The stun gun’s supporters say it is much safer for both the person being arrested and police officers than other weapons such as firearms and batons.

Critics have accused Arizona-based Taser of pushing the product into the market without adequate independent testing of health risks such as heart failure.

Taser announced on Thursday the release of three new studies in the United States that it said showed its devices had no effect on human hearts or pacemakers.

Amnesty International says that since 2001 there have been more than 290 deaths in North America in incidents involving the weapon, but Taser says there is no evidence the gun directly caused the fatalities and that factors such as a victim’s previous drug use may have been responsible.

Images of Dziekanski writhing on the floor of Vancouver International Airport shortly after he was stunned by police were broadcast around the world, but the cause of his death has not yet been determined.

Kosteckyj said an autopsy found no drugs or alcohol in the 40-year-old man’s body.

Ciscowski, 61, who moved to Canada from Poland nine years ago, said she has lost faith in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police over the handling of the incident and the later investigation of her son’s death.

“I want justice and accountability,” she said, adding that no mother should have to experience what she did.

Police officials who have testified at the inquiry have strongly defended the weapon but acknowledge there are no set standards for using the device.

Kosteckyj, a former police officer, said it is wrong that the company is the primary source of training, and officers are now too quick to stun people instead of waiting to assess if a situation can be diffused through nonviolent means.

Dziekanski, who did not speak English, was described as distraught and confused after waiting alone in the airport for hours for his mother to arrive, but witnesses have questioned police claims that he posed a threat.

Taser Chairman Thomas Smith told the inquiry on Monday the incident was tragic, but declined further comment pending the completion of a medical examiner’s report.

Editing by Peter Galloway

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