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 police shooting.
The decision came after “extensive consultation” and was supposed to be announced in June, Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur said Tuesday.
But Meilleur wouldn’t say whether Yatim’s death could have been prevented if Ontario had made the change sooner.
“It was not 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. A public inquiry found that the police officers were not justified in using the Taser.
Many police forces, including the Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto Police Services, say they plan to train and equip their officers with stun guns, in addition to the sidearm, extendable baton and pepper spray that they currently carry.
OPP deputy commissioner Vince Hawkes said it should be implemented within two years.
“We have to look at the pros and cons of, first of all, finding the money within our organization where it’s a priority, and then develop a transition plan, the purchase, go through all of that, including the training piece,” he said
The training takes eight months, but Meilleur said they’ll extend it to a full year.
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.
Ontario’s ombudsman has launched his own investigation into the 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.