TORONTO — The province has decided front-line police officers can now be armed with Tasers.
Ontario’s Ministry of Safety and Correctional Services announced Tuesday it will ease restrictions that currently allow only specific officers, such as supervisors and members of tactical units, to carry conductive energy weapons (CEWs).
“The use of CEWs has proven to result in fewer significant injuries to the public and police officers than many other use-of-force options,” Minister Madeleine Meilleur said at a press conference at the coroner's office in Toronto.
The move comes less than a month after the police shooting of Sammy Yatim, but she stressed the decision was already in the works and had nothing to do with the 18-year-old killed by a cop on a Toronto streetcar.
The ministry has been examining the use of Tasers since the devices were first introduced in Ontario in 2002, Meilleur said.
After careful review of research, discussion with policing partners and recommendations from 12 coroner’s inquests, she said the plan was to reveal the decision in June, but there was a delay.
Cops in Toronto are currently equipped with pepper-spray and retractable batons, but neither non-lethal use-of-force option was used when the knife-wielding Yatim was surrounded by police on a streetcar.
Toronto Police Const. James Forcillo is charged with second-degree murder in the teen’s death.
“The expanded use of CEWs by front-line officers comes with specific responsibilities,” Meilleur said, explaining Taser use will be treated similarly to firearms.
Every time a Taser is deployed it will be reported, whether it is used or not, she said. And if anyone is seriously hurt by a Taser, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit will investigate.
Toronto Police Deputy Chief Mike Federico was among several representatives from an assortment of services on hand for the announcement and said Tasers will only be used on people who pose an “imminent threat” to an officer, member of the public or themselves.
He said often the presence of a Taser is enough to end a stand-off.
The province won’t be providing any funding, so it will be up to each service to find the cash to pay for new Tasers.
It’s estimated one Taser with three charges costs $1,500.
Ontario’s revised use-of-force policy will also require officers to receive 12 hours of training before hitting the street armed with a Taser, up from the current eight hours.