Saturday, October 27, 2007

Excited Delerium: Shooting for the Stars

In all the speculation over recent deaths of persons in custody, many as a result of taser shock, law enforcement officials have pointed to a condition called Excited Delerium. Here are links to several different accounts of the frightening and fully indemnifying illness which caused the overwhelming stress that killed several people:

Taser alone didn't kill Geldart: pathologist

Tasers: Could paranoid rage be the real killer?

Canadian Police Research Centre: Excited Delirium PDF

The symptoms of this exceptional and disturbing ailment include acute agitation, profuse sweating, and insensitivity to pain. Apparently when someone suffers from this they can become violent and prone to disruptive behaviour.

Since people have apparently suffered from this dangerous and rare syndrome in custody of customs, immigration, security and military officers, I decided to learn about it from a trusted health source. I contacted Health Canada to ask them about this upsetting illness from which many people suffer and ultimately die, despite it's rarity, when they are in the custody of law enforcers. I wrote the following email to them:


In several recent cases of TASER use in Canada and the US, law enforcement officials have blamed the deaths of detainees on a syndrome they call "excited delerium". They site symptoms similar to a panic attack and asphyxia.

Does Health Canada recognize such a syndrome? Does this syndrome exist in the eyes of Canada's Health Agency?

kind regards,

Here is the response I received from Health Canada:

Thank you for contacting Health Canada, as of right now, no we don't. I have searched for some information but it does not exist. For additional personal health information from a trusted source, visit the Canadian Health Network, a Web site about health promotion and disease prevention, brought to you by Health Canada and major health organizations across Canada

Communications Officer | Agent des communications
Health Canada | Santé Canada


We have a prognosis from non-medical staff who potentially wish to exonerate themselves and their agencies from causing death by (at least) gross negligence, and symptoms that can easily apply to anyone suffering from stress during arrest or questioning. Terror and trauma can each cause high-anxiety, insensitivity to pain, profuse sweating and violent outbursts. So can exceptional stress on the body, like electrocution.

Excited Delerium. As false a diagnosis as "disturbing the peace" is a charge.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

They've done it again

This time the victim was a distraught woman in a grocery store in Vancouver. She was brandishing knives and threatening other customers, apparently stabbing the fruit. The police in question moved in to stun the girl, but I wonder, did they think they couldn't take her? She was threatening produce, with dangerous weapons true, but there must be a way other than electrocution for a police officer to subdue a distraught person apparently out of touch with their surroundings.

There is a slapstick quality to this case, along with several others from the states that have been highly publicized. We see a body shake under electric shock and it's funny. It looks like a cartoon or a television show. We expect smoke to curl out from the ears of the victim or perhaps for the body to twitch comically in the aftermath. We certainly expect the electrocuted person to submit meekly to the wishes of their shocker, so a discussion now is beginning where we blame the victim and wonder what they were doing in the first place to merit an attack.

The company making and profiting from these devises is called TASER. It is not the acme company that blew up Wile E. Coyote so many times and it is not held to the same manufacturing standards as electric-cattle prods or electrified fences are in this country.

I hope the woman survives the shock tonight and tells us about it tomorrow.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

One of our own, by one of our own

This is becoming insane.

A Quebec man died in hospital last night after being electrocuted by Montreal police on an intoxicated driving incident. The man was driving erratically and when police pulled him over they claimed he became excited and had to be subdued. He was electrocuted with a TASER and brought to hospital in critical condition. He died last night.

Is this the answer to the overcrowding in our prisons? Shall we burden the budget of Health Canada with hundreds of Canadians dead by unnecessary electrical surge in order to alleviate penal congestion? And what of the doctors who must deal with these cases? They have strict guidelines that prevent them from administering electrical shocks to even very disturbed individuals. A consensus of opinion is needed before such a practice along with the attempt at patient consent and proper anesthetization.

Our police by whatever motive are killing us. I choose to believe it is due to an untested, unregulated, dangerous device that we have insisted they use in the line of duty. No-one signs up for the police academy hoping to be responsible for someone's death one day.

The man hit no-one, posed a danger only to himself and faced a penalty under the criminal code of Canada, a public document. Instead of a hearing, he got a shock.

He was one of us. He lost control of his patience, something we are all known to do, and last night he died in a hospital bed in this province; in this country.

Of electrocution.

Make Canada T.A.S.E.R. Free

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I couldn't tell why the throne speech was on prime time either

The speech from the throne is concluded. The rhetoric we already knew was coming has been uttered, and now to the business of pulling and tweaking at the assumptions and meanings of it all. There was something for everyone in the speech tonight; Northern Sovereignty, the human rights of the First Nations people, the mystic economy, the endangered environment. Crime and it's punishment were huge players in the speech. There wasn't much on the act of prevention, only the brutal retribution wished for by anxious and grief stricken victims and their families. There was mention of child-care, mention of tax cuts. Something for everyone.

Well, almost.

I heard our Governor General outline a strategy that works for candidates who campaign to particular voters. I heard a strategy that will in fact prove difficult to react to for an opposition neither ready for an election nor willing to support it's contents. I heard a speech fit for a total failure as a party leader and prime minister. What I didn't hear any mention of is women.

In the Canadian North, the people who already live there are only now gaining any type of notice or credibility because the earth is heating up so rapidly that new trade routes are apparent in it. The women of our North face extreme difficulties in negotiating subsistence and any possible higher education or empowerment due not only to the remoteness of the landscape and the lack of infrastructure, but the legislation in place that deals a double blow to First Nations women. The proposal of militarizing the region also poses a problem for women in Canada's forces, who are routinely disenfranchised by the methods of promotion and the unwillingness of the institution itself to change for our benefit. Women who live with their spouses on military bases are brutalized and humiliated in far more frightening numbers than other women in this country. In my quite biased view I must ask, if women aren't safe in their own homes, who needs national security?

We heard discussion of a topic that frightened me in the last election. During the campaigns, an abhorrent, unimaginable shooting took place in Toronto on boxing day. I'm sorry to say that all four candidates, the left and the right to both extremes jumped on the same bandwagon and instead of waiting calmly for us to regain our footing and get our heads around it, we were told that what we need are mandatory minimums. I had no choices in this matter last time, both Duceppe and Layton described agreement with such a policy. Shall I outline again why mandatory minimums don't work? The bullet points then:

they are too costly; we already have an overloaded prison system

they are inherently racist and favour heavy penalties for crimes committed by those poorest among us, mostly black and of Indian descent.

they are insulting. There is no point in having a judge and bothering to pretend value to judicial reasoning when a hand-book is adequate for tens of millions of people.

they do not protect women from abusive partners or family members

The elusive environment was mentioned as well. We're out of Kyoto, we've known that for a while. But the focus was interestingly on the market of carbon trade. Why not mention the innovation possible in investing in green companies across the country? Because too much investment from "interested parties" is going into oil in Alberta and now the Maritime Provinces. It would be completely irrational on the part of a free-market leader to suggest competition with oil companies on the part of young, upstart tidal hydro companies, wind production companies and solar initiative companies. Especially when there's money to be made in mending fences with Danny Williams. Better to leave Exxon to regulate itself, and relegate the Environment Minister to Minister of Natural Cleanup.

We heard nothing today that will make us safer, richer, or freer. We heard another desperate plea to send unwilling soldiers into harms way with no plan of action or consequence. We heard no mention of our historic blue-helmets or the successes we have had in calming, disarming, and peacefully settling disputes. The bold rhetoric used to describe the pursuit of self-determination in the face of oppression extends as far as Burma. Laudable, but we're not going to help, and dunes of bodies in Darfur still swell like pox on the Sudan's countryside.

What will happen? I just don't want to vote again. Nothing good has happened since the last election and I simply shudder at the thought of 5 years with Harper at our helm. I want to be vitriolic, I want to be passionate. But as I should have expected, the words uttered by Her Excellency, Canada's Governor General, on behalf of our sovereign, were dry, weak sentences from a rich white man, for rich white men, to a room of mostly rich, white men.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tasering is not a verb: Redux North

And now it's us. It's Sunday afternoon, and in the Globe and Mail one of the shortest articles I've seen briefly mentions the incident without discussing the details. The CBC has not posted an article yet, and I'm sure it won't be in the prime time news tomorrow since everyone will be talking about the throne speech on Tuesday.

A man in Vancouver, his nationality is not mentioned, was behaving wildly in the Vancouver Airport. The RCMP were called in to give support to the private security company who works at the airport. The man was restrained and then "subdued" by a Thomas A. Smith Electric Rifle or TASER after which he died.

Again he is not spoken of as dying of electrocution.

This country does not permit the death penalty for even the most abhorrent crimes. We do not permit our state to execute Canadian citizens or indeed other citizens for crimes real or perceived by law enforcement. As such, when a police or RCMP officer causes the death of a citizen in pursuit or in custody, the matter is of grave seriousness. It is talked about, it is investigated (generally) and there is public discourse on the matter.

A man in Vancouver was executed by electrocution by an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police using a Thomas A. Smith Electric Rifle. By using a tool repeatedly shown to be dangerous and prone to cause death. Guns punch holes in human beings and as such they are used with discretion to deter and restrain citizens seen to be taking criminal action. TASERs are not appropriate tools for law enforcement officials to use when pursuing or detaining citizens of our countries. They are unproven, dangerous, and frankly too easy.

A police officer attempting to restrain a potentially violent criminal must use pressure and force in order to do so. A police officer must occasionally overpower a citizen engaging in criminal activity by psychological force (a uniform and trappings) by authoritarian force (vocal commands) and physical force (restraint with the body or threat of a weapon). Such people are still people when engaging in these activities and as such are subject to the faults of every person. A tool like a portable electrocution device is too easy to use, indeed to overuse, for it to be a reasonable tool in the hands of law enforcement.

We are subject to prejudices and stigmas prevalent in our world. We perceive the mentally ill to be unpredictable and inhuman, we perceive black Canadians to be dangerous and suspect, we perceive First Nations people to be secret protesters with a chip on their shoulder. We judge each other before we meet like everyone. And when we more easily permit law enforcement officers to subdue and injure citizens under their care, we permit ourselves to imagine threats of potential crimes and fictional safety for all rather than addressing the truths of this world to create true safety and comprehension for us all.

Our bodies are our own, our mothers taught us that through the sixties and seventies. Our identities are as Canadians first, potential criminals or threats second. We deserve confidence in the knowledge that our law enforcers do not burn us, interrupt the signals from our brains to our organs, that we do not need fear from men in uniforms disrupting our neurological signals and causing our deaths without public recourse.

A man in Vancouver died today. He was publicly electrocuted by an officer of the law in full view of the public in an airport. I repeat, he was not "tasered" until accidental death.

He was electrocuted.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dr. Cynthia

This is the second instance in the freshwater pond where I have mentioned donations to be sent directly to a cause. Given what is happening in Burma right now, I feel this is appropriate.

Dr. Cynthia Maung operates a clinic specifically for Burmese refugees who are able to make it into Thailand. She and her colleagues treat both people leaving Burma and people who seek treatment in Thailand due to lack of healthcare services in Burma and then return home. The clinic offers surgical services, health services, counseling, a blood bank, eye care, primary care etc. They also offer children's services and outreach services to the community surrounding them. Many of these communities include refugees from Burma.

Training is also provided, so that qualified nurses and midwives can return to Burma or get to rural areas to practice healthcare on people who cannot get travel to get the services they need.

The clinic was founded in the uprising in 1988 and is still going strong. North American donations are eligible for tax deductions as the clinic has a charitable partner in both Canada and the US.

Here is the page where money can be donated to people who want to treat the wounded and the shocked. And hopefully this small action can preserve some hope in the lives and bodies of the survivors of a crushing dictatorship.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

under the cloud cover

It's raining in Burma right now. There is too much cloud cover for satellites to get clear shots of where the monks are being hauled away to in trucks by the thousand. I imagine some people higher up than me are hypothesizing about where the most likely camps are. Here are before and after shots of a military camp being expanded, and a small village being destroyed. The American Association for the Advancement of Science captured these photos via satellite and have been monitoring progress in Burma since 2000. This coup was certainly huge and fast, but the military has been building towards this for years. Perhaps that is why they were so willing to shoot into the crowd, they've been operating this way for almost two decades, this is simply the next escalation.

In a Buddhist country where bodies are cremated, we won't find mass graves in the jungle. Only scented ash and wonder.

I won't be so naive as to hope that we'll actually send any reinforcements to a country on China's doorstep. But I at least hope that when the clouds part and we can see down through our collective lens again to where the monks were brought, there is one or two left alive to tell the tale.