Granting more Ontario police officers an additional alternative to guns, the provincial government has announced that Tasers can be made available to all frontline officers, not just the supervising officers and special units who now carry them.
Ontario's governing Liberals are permitting the expanded use of stun guns by police, allowing officers to carry Tasers if their local police force chooses to do so.
Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur made the announcement Tuesday morning, following weeks of scrutiny since a Toronto teenager was shot and killed on a streetcar.
Meilleur said the decision did not come as a result of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim’s death, but from lengthy consultations with police boards, an examination of coroner’s inquests, and the current research on the topic.
With the changes, local police forces can decide whether to allow their officers to carry conducted energy weapons or not. It will also be the police force's responsibility to cover the cost of approximately $1,500 per unit.
"This is the right decision to make and it will increase community safety by preventing injury and death," Meilleur said. "The use of CEW's has proven to result in fewer significant injuries to subjects and to police officers.”
To accompany the changes, guidelines on the use of stun guns will be modified to include an additional four hours of training, increased reporting provisions and data collection, and specific training for officers on how to engage with people who may be dealing with mental health issues. Local police services will also be expected to consult with their communities before deciding whether or not to arm officers with the weapons.
Meillur said the ministry will review the policy change once it is implemented. "We will keep a watchful eye on CEW use going forward and we'll closely monitor the growing body of research on this topic," she said.
She said the decision was not made lightly, making note of the 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after being stunned with a Taser by RCMP at the Vancouver airport.
An inquiry into the incident found that police were not justified in deploying the Taser.
Since their introduction in 2002, Ontario has restricted the use of stun guns to a few select supervising officers and special units.
The President of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police Paul Cook welcomed the decision.
"With clear policies and procedures, a well-trained officer with a conducted energy weapon, properly supervised and fully accountable for all use-of-force decisions, can save lives," he said in a statement released following Meilleur’s announcement.
Toronto police Deputy Chief Michael Frederico and Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Comm. Chief Vince Hawkes told reporters they'll be looking into expanding CEW use in their own forces.
But a defence attorney who regularly represents citizens who have experienced the use of force by police said the new rules don’t change anything.
"People are going to continue dying. It will be caught on video it will be the subject of major public attention and then it will go away like a thief in the night," Julian Falconer told CP24. "What troubles me about this is, it's painted as a Band Aid solution. They have not changed the training required; they have not provided resources for it. So the execution is very poor."
Ron Wretham, the co-CEO of Investigative Solutions Network Inc., and a former member of the Toronto police's emergency task force, told CTV News Channel that Tasers have additional benefits over other policing options because they collect data on when the unit was deployed and for how long.
"There's no using a Taser without it being reported," he said. "The officer is totally accountable."
The use of deadly force by police has been in the spotlight since Yatim was shot multiple times in the early hours of July 27 on a TTC streetcar. Video footage of the event also shows a stun gun was deployed during the incident.
Witnesses said Yatim was holding a knife on the empty streetcar 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.
The shooting sparked outrage across the city, prompting protests in the city's downtown core calling for justice for the teen.
Besides the police SIU investigation, two other probes have been launched in the wake of the Yatim shooting.
A separate investigation by Ontario's ombudsman will examine what guidelines are provided to police for defusing conflicts.
As well, retired justice Dennis O'Connor will review police procedures, use of force and police responses to emotionally disturbed people.
With files from CTV Toronto's Austin Delany and The Canadian Press