TORONTO - Ontario’s governing Liberals are set to expand the use of Tasers by police.
Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur says it will be up to local police forces to decide whether to equip their officers with the weapons, and it will be up to those forces to pay for them.
Meilleur says the decision was made after an extensive consultation with police and coroners across the province.
“The use of [conducted energy weapons] has proven to result in fewer significant injuries to subjects and to police officers,” she said at a news conference announcing the change.
Up to now, only supervising and specialized officers were allowed to carry stun guns, setting police in Ontario apart from counterparts in several other provinces along with the RCMP.
Police chiefs have been advocating for the expanded use of Tasers for years.
Chief Paul Cook, president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, welcomes the change.
“This is something our association has been advocating for since 2007.”
The issue has come under scrutiny after 18-year-old Sammy Yatim was shot multiple times and hit by a stun gun by Toronto police during a confrontation on an empty streetcar.
The Special Investigations Unit has charged Toronto police Const. James Forcillo with second-degree murder.
However, Meilleur says the fatal shooting of Yatim did not play a role in the move.
“It didn’t play any role,” she said.
“The discussion was going on and the decision to move forward has been taken after much consultation with our expert.”
In the wake of Yatim’s death, the Liberals said they would review officer training, equipment and how use of force incidents are reported.
Ontario’s ombudsman has launched his own investigation into the Yatim shooting, probing what kind of direction the provincial government provides to police for defusing conflict situations.
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.
Reaction to expanded use of Tasers by police is not going over well with a lot of people.
Marcus Firman, whose mentally ill son Aron died in 2010 after being tasered in Collingwood, say the province should have recommended crisis intervention officers.
“I think in many of these situations, many people survive police confrontations without, with feasible frontline first intervention officers,” said Firman.