Ontario to allow all cops to use stun guns
TORONTO - Ontario is the latest province to permit all frontline police officers to carry stun guns, following the fatal shooting of a Toronto teenager that's sparked public outrage.
Quebec is now the lone holdout among the provinces.
It is now up to local police services in Ontario to decide whether they want to equip all their officers with stun guns, which are currently restricted to supervisors and specialists, such as tactical units and hostage rescue teams.
TORONTO – Ontario is the latest province to permit all frontline
police officers to carry stun guns, following the fatal shooting of
a Toronto teenager that’s sparked public outrage.
Quebec is now the lone holdout among the provinces.
It is now up to local police services in Ontario to decide
whether they want to equip all their officers with stun guns, which
are currently restricted to supervisors and specialists, such as
tactical units and hostage rescue teams.
Police forces will also have to foot the bill if they want to arm
their officers with Tasers – costing about $1,500 each – which will
put pressure on municipal budgets.
Ontario police chiefs and associations have been pushing the
government for years to expand the use of stun guns, to no avail.
Coroner’s inquests have also recommended expanding the use of stun
guns since 2004.
But the governing Liberals insist the Sammy Yatim’s death had
nothing to do with their change of heart, even though the
announcement was made on the one-month anniversary of the fatal
The decision came after “extensive consultation” and was
supposed to be announced in June, Community Safety Minister
Madeleine Meilleur said Tuesday.
But she’s not waiting for a report by Ontario’s ombudsman, who
has launched his own probe of the province’s direction to police
about defusing conflict situations.
Meilleur wouldn’t say whether Yatim’s death could have been
prevented if Ontario had made the change sooner.
“It wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly,” she said. “We
have all seen what happened at the airport in Vancouver.”
Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died in 2007 after being
stunned with a Taser at the airport by RCMP officers.
But Meilleur said studies have shown that using Tasers can reduce
injuries by 60 to 65 per cent.
Ontario’s interim chief coroner and many police groups support
the government’s decision. Chief forensic pathologist Michael
Pollanen said it’s “unusual and quite rare” for someone to die
after being stunned by a Taser and there’s no clear evidence that
it’s the primary cause of death.
But Marcus Firman, whose mentally ill son Aron died in 2010 after
being stunned by a Taser, said the province should be funding mobile
police crisis teams, rather than expanding the use of a potentially
He said he fears more people will die like his son.
“I would say it’s a knee-jerk reaction basically to the Sammy
Yatim issue, they feel that they have to react,” he said.
“But it’s about reacting appropriately. I think they’re actually
jumping the gun here.”
In Yatim’s case, the supervisor stunned a teen “with eight
bullets in him,” said Firman’s lawyer, Julian Falconer.
“So our response? Give the Taser to more people,” he said.
“This is Alice in Wonderland.”
North Bay police chief Paul Cook, who also serves as president of
the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said there are times
when simply showing a Taser can defuse a dangerous situation. It
also gives officers a less lethal option.
In one case, police were able to use a stun gun to apprehend a
man who was trying to get them to shoot him, he said. If they hadn’t
had the stun gun, they would have been forced to use their sidearms.
Last year, the 97-member police force deployed stun guns 11 times
and fired them only three times, he said. No one was injured or
There are risks to any use of force and money is an issue, Cook
said. But providing stun guns to more cops is “absolutely the right
thing to do.”
The Police Association of Ontario is urging all police forces to
start training and equipping frontline cops with stun guns.
The Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto Police Services say
they’ll make them available to some frontline cops, along with the
gun, extendable baton and pepper spray that are currently at their
disposal. Ottawa and Hamilton police are also planning to expand the
use of Tasers.
Frontline OPP officers will likely be equipped with Tasers within
two years, said deputy commissioner Vince Hawkes.
The training takes eight months, but Meilleur said it will be
extended to 12 months. Officers will also have to report when they
even display a stun gun.
“We’re going to study who needs it based on a priority basis, so
that the frontline officers dealing with the public in those violent
situations can get the Taser first, versus some of the others,”
Finding the money amid the high cost of policing will be an
important issue as well, he said.
The government is simply passing the buck by refusing to pay for
the stun guns, said Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis.
Police forces who can’t afford Tasers could be blamed if there’s
an incident that may have been prevented by the use of a stun gun,
“If you feel that it’s important and you believe in it, why are
you not funding it?” Francis told Windsor radio station CKLW.
The use of force by police in Ontario has come under scrutiny
after Yatim, 18, was shot multiple times and Tasered by police
during a confrontation on an empty streetcar.
Videos of the incident prompted hundreds of people to take to the
streets to demand justice.
The Special Investigations Unit has charged Toronto police Const.
James Forcillo with second-degree murder.
Retired justice Dennis O’Connor has been asked by Toronto police
chief Bill Blair to lead a separate review of police procedures, use
of force and police response to emotionally disturbed people.