Giving more Ont. cops stun guns may not increase safety, critics say
Published Wednesday, August 28, 2013 7:03AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 28, 2013 11:05PM EDT
The Ontario Liberal decision to allow frontline officers to carry stun guns is being criticized by security analysts, civil rights groups and victims’ families who say the changes won't necessarily be effective in increasing safety.
Ontario police forces have been calling for wider access to conducted energy weapons, commonly known as stun guns, for years. Since their introduction in 2002, only a few select supervising officers and tactical teams have been allowed to carry the devices.
Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur announced Tuesday that frontline officers will be able to carry CEWs if their local police boards approve their use, but insisted that the decision had nothing to do with the recent shooting death of Toronto teenager Sammy Yatim.
She said the new rules will lead to increased public safety by preventing death and injury.
But former Toronto police officer and security analyst Ross McLean told CTV's Canada AM that the decision will not be a "panacea."
McLean said that while he welcomed the news that officers were seeking alternatives to lethal force, the announcement was made without enough discussion regarding processes and accountability.
With appropriate policies and oversight Tasers can serve as an effective alternative to lethal force, he said. However, as each province has its own rules and regulations on how a Taser might be used, "the devil is in the details."
When used incorrectly, Tasers can be deadly, he said.
In 2007, Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died after being stunned with a Taser by RCMP at the Vancouver airport. An inquiry into the incident later determined that police were not justified in deploying the Taser.
McLean said that as a result of the Braidwood Inquiry, British Columbia has some of the strictest rules regulating use of stun guns.
By comparison, Ontario's current standards are lower, with minimum requirements for using the weapon including the intention to gain control of a person, he said.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association also took issue with the decision, noting that while there are "extreme cases" where there is a legitimate law enforcement use of a stun gun, the government should be focusing police efforts on de-escalation techniques rather than increasing weaponry.
"CCLA has long-standing concerns about the safety and appropriate uses of CEWs,” Sukanya Pillay, the association's interim General Counsel, said in a statement.
Pillay added that the new rules may open the door to increased misuse of the weapons and urged the adoption of tighter regulations.
"We must always be mindful that Tasers are harmful weapons and the risk of excessive and unjustified force resulting in unnecessary serious injury is real,” she said.
Marcus Firman, the father of a mentally ill man who died following a 2010 encounter with Ontario Provincial Police in which a Taser was used, said the Liberal decision was wrong.
He too, urged for greater focus on de-escalation, stating that his son would likely be alive if police had used de-escalation techniques to resolve the situation.
Last July, a coroner's jury found that Taser use was a contributing factor in Aron Firnman's death.
Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservatives criticized the timing of the Liberal announcement, saying it shouldn't have taken the shooting death of Yatim for the Liberals to act.
Yatim, 18, died after being shot by police multiple times on an empty Toronto streetcar in the early hours of July 27. Video from the scene also shows that a Taser was deployed during the incident.
Witnesses said he was holding a knife at the time of the shooting.
Toronto Police Const. James Forcillo has been charged by the Special Investigations Unit with second-degree murder in connection with Yatim's death.
With files from The Canadian Press