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Friday, March 20, 2009

EDITORIAL: Firing Tasers in Toronto

March 20, 2009

Police say stun guns prevent injuries, sparing the lives of officers and those who are zapped with 50,000 volts of electricity. Amnesty International says 25 Canadians have died after being stunned.

Clearly, we're still in a phase of exploring the benefits and the dangers of these weapons. As such, it's welcome news that Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has produced a comprehensive accounting of the circumstances of Taser use by his officers.

Last year, Toronto police used Tasers on 312 people (and five dogs) according to the report prepared for next week's Police Services Board meeting. In the vast majority of cases, police deployed the stun guns – defined as everything from unholstering and aiming the weapon to firing the probes – on people who were violent or likely to cause serious bodily harm or death to themselves, an officer or someone else.

Yet, 11 people who displayed no aggression at all but simply refused, verbally or by not moving, to follow police direction were subjected to "demonstrated force." That can include having the Taser pointed at them and electric sparks shown.

Police rules allow for this but given the growing controversy over Tasers, the police board would do well to give this policy a second look. If it's unacceptable for police to threaten passive people by pointing their handgun at them, why allow it with a Taser?

Greater care must be taken to ensure Tasers are used only in cases where the danger is real and immediate, not as a first response.

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