The Electric Pencil

Archive for July 2008

18th Canadian dies after being shot with Taser

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When will they be banned?

18 people have died after being shocked with Tasers in Canada since 2003 – six of those in the last ten months. The latest? 17-year-old Michael Langan of Winnipeg, Manitoba, on July 22.


Two citizens flagged down police officers about 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, saying they were following someone they had seen stealing property from a vehicle parked in the 1100 block of Notre Dame Avenue.

Officers located a suspect in the area behind a house in the 800 block of William Avenue, near Arlington Street.

The teen was “brandishing a knife,” police said Wednesday, and refused to obey repeated commands to put the weapon down.

“That poses a threat to the officers, that poses a threat to other members of the public, and officers made the decision to deploy the electronic control device to ensure public safety as well as their own safety,” said police spokeswoman Const. Jacqueline Chaput.

One officer deployed a Taser. The teen was admitted to hospital in critical condition and died shortly after.

The Winnipeg police commissioner has called the incident tragic and announced an investigation will be carried out by another police force, as is the case with all fatal police incidents. Flagan’s mother, who wasn’t immediately told her son had died, and Amnesty International Canada have called for a moratorium on the weapons.

Taser International, and most police, have continued to argue that the stun guns are non-lethal, with only 1,500 of the possible 50,000 volts from the gun making it into a victims body. Recently, though, the RCMP admitted that the Taser is simply a less-lethal tool, and not necessarily beyond killing an individual, directly or indirectly. The RCMP reviewed it’s policy on Tasers after the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant to Canada who died after being tasered by RCMP officers in the Vancouver airport. Stricter rules now apply to the use of Tasers, but the weapon has not been banned.

Proponents point to 100,000 police officers who have survived volunteer taserings. But most people hit by tasers are not fit, stationary, calm police officers. They are often in agitated states, some with drugs or alcohol in their system. While it may not directly kill people, if it is primarily used on people already in an agitated or stressed state, shouldn’t this be taken into account?

At least some people think so: The Saskatchewan correctional system has announced it would not be arming it’s prison guards with Tasers because large numbers of inmates are in poor enough health that there is a heightened chance they could die.

The Canadian Press has published a list of those who have died in Canada after being shot by a Taser.


Written by Tim McSorley

July 24, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Montrealers get insight on InSite

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In June, the Quebec government quietly announced that it would be pursuing the possibility of setting up a safe injection site in Montreal. Considering the controversy elicited by Vancouver’s safe injection site, InSite, it was surprising that there wasn’t more reaction to it.  It could be that it people didn’t take much notice of the story in the lazy, hazy days of the beginning of the summer, or it could be that people realise, like Health Canada, that harm reduction strategies like InSite work.

While we haven’t heard much more about safe injection sites in Quebec since early June, today Montrealers will have the chance to find out more about how InSite has worked in Vancouver. Today at 6:30 in room 151 Bronfman Building (1001 Sherbrooke Street West) at McGill University, Friends of InSite will be making their Montreal stop in a country-wide tour to dispell myths, drum up support and take questions about safety injection sites. Friend their Facebook event page:

The series will present two powerful speakers who have experience with the implementation of harm reduction approaches. Liz Evans, the executive director and founder of the Portland Hotel Society – the community organization that operates the supervised injection site – will be speaking along with Tony Trimingham, a parent of an addict who died of an overdose and longtime activist for the supervised injection site in King’s Cross, Australia.

They will be reporting on the health care benefits of supervised injection sites, and discussing the implications of the recent BC Supreme Court decision for communities across the country.

Even if Montreal has not seen much debate yet, words continue to fly back and forth over the future of Vancouver’s InSite. Despite a victory at the B.C. Supreme Court, which ruled that Canada’s drug laws – particularly those that outlaw safe injection sites – violate the Charter of Rights by interfering with access to needed medical services. InSite was set to lose it’s exemption from Canadian drug laws on June 30th, but the ruling means that the site will be able to stay open indefinitely. That is, until the federal government comes up with a new law that may simply allow InSite to stay open, or one that runs a circle around the Charter, changing the law just enough to shut InSite down (although I’m not sur ehow that would be accomplished). The court gave the federal government until June 30, 2009, to pass a new law.

As a primer on the debate, Adam Radwanski and Margaret Wente are going back and forth over at the Globe and Mail, with Wente having the advantage of a five-part series on InSite (no prize for guessing which side she is on). To  balance it out, I suggest visiting and InSite itself. Friends of InSite have also posted this short video by Tony Trimingham:

Written by Tim McSorley

July 15, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Barriere Lake: Canada’s modern colonialism

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With all the hubub over the government’s apology to residential school survivors, it’s easy for many to overlook the fact that colonial atitudes that led to the residential school tragedy are still present today. But for Aboriginal communities across Canada, the reality is all to clear. A strong example is what has been going on in the Algonquin community of Barriere Lake. The residents have been fighting a protracted battle with the Canadian and Quebec governments for nearly 20 years now, primarily over whether the fedral and provincial officials would stick to the terms of a trilateral agreement on resource development in the north-western Quebec community’s territory. It came to a head recently, with the Canadian government, with the help of the Sûreté de Québec, out-right replacing the communities leadership with an unelected body.

Last week on the Lendemain de la veille, a radio show I have been hosting on CKUT 90.3 here in Montreal, I had the chance to speak with Michel Thusky, a resident of Barriere Lake, about the history of the dispute and actions by government officials. Django Doucet, of Solidarity For Barriere Lake, also spoke briefly about the occupation of the Lawrence Canon’s office, who is the MP for the area. The interviews are available here; just scroll ahed to the 30 minute mark. You can read more about the day-long occupation that took place June 26th on Lia Tarachansky’s blog at the Dominion and on Intercontinental Cry.

The ins-and-outs of the situation can get intricate (although the result is pretty clear). To get a good idea of what has been going on in this small community – and why more people need to be speaking out about it – check out The Algonquins of Barriere Lake, a video by a group of Ottawa University law students. It’s 41 minutes long, but definitely worth the watch.

To find out more, visit:

Written by Tim McSorley

July 11, 2008 at 11:21 pm

Help! I’m suffocating under my lack of economic freedom

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A gem in today’s La Presse:

Nathalie Elgrably-Levy, fomerly with the Montreal Economic Institute and now with the Fraser Institute, has published a scathing report on the lack of economic freedom in Quebec, ranking it 59th out of 60 in North America (last place went to Prince Edward Island).

What, perchance, is to blame for this stranglehold on my access to the accumulation of capital? According to La Presse:

[L]’interventionnisme étatique, les syndicats puissants, la création de programmes sociaux étendus et de toute une série de droits sociaux.

That’s right: state interventionism, strong unions, extensive social programs and a slew of social rights. Guess it’s time to get rid of them. Then we could be that much closer to the pinnacle of economic perfection: Delaware.

Written by Tim McSorley

July 9, 2008 at 12:11 pm

G8 eats their way through food crisis

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After disappearing from the frontpages of our newspapers, the food crisis – which never really went away – is making headlines again, if only because the bigwigs at the G8 are talking about it over eighteen course meals and driving around in fleets of hybrid cars during their latest summit in Japan. Whether or not anything truly relevant comes out of this meeting is yet to be seen. And anything short of revamping how international trade forces markets, allowing multinationals to devastate any semblance of a self-sustaining agricultural system probably won’t do much to change the long term impact.

But luckily there is more going on than the G8 meeting: A variety of culprits for the food crisis have been pointed to – rising oil prices and increasing levels of meat consumption are just two. But last week The Guardian revealed a World Trade Organization report that places the blame squarely on the explosion of the biofuel market. The report finds that 75 per cent of the increase in the prices of staples such as wheat and rice is directly (through the increasing use of grain for biofuels) or indirectly (due to heavy speculation in the grain markets, driving up prices, and the reduced amount of land being used to grow food crops) due to the growing use of biofuels. The article also claims that the reason the report was kept secret was to avoid embarassing the U.S. which has claimed that biofuels account for only three per cent of the increase.

On another note, it seems that whenever I talk with people about the food crisis there’s a question that keep comes up that we can’t seem to answer: if the price of crops is going up – especially if the increase is due to market specualtion – aren’t famers in devloping countries reaping the benefits and making more money themselves. Sarah McGregor looks at this issue over on Inter Press News, and the answer is astonishingly simple: increasing costs for fuel, machinery parts and to buy food for themselves are essentially eating away any additional profits. Some are worrying that farmers may actually be making less than they were before food prices soared.

So who’s actually winning out on these high prices? According to the Wall Street Journal, that bastion of pinko-commie conspiracy theorists: large agribusiness.

Written by Tim McSorley

July 9, 2008 at 10:00 am

Back at it

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The frenzy of moving is done, so I should be back to posting a bit more regularly again. I’ve got some catching up to do on some stories I’ve missed the past little while… In the meantime, go read the latest issue of The Dominion, fresh off the presses!

Written by Tim McSorley

July 7, 2008 at 1:35 pm

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