Ontario rewrites stun gun rules

Ontario is rewriting its rules on police use of stun guns such as Tasers but will leave the final decision on pulling the trigger to the officers involved.

Police will still decide whether to pull trigger

Ontario is rewriting its rules on police use of stun guns such as Tasers but will leave the final decision on pulling the trigger to the officers involved.

"We're enhancing Ontario's position with regards to its measured approach by introducing a very, very significant guideline [that is] very, very prescriptive," Minister of Community Safety Rick Bartolucci said Tuesday.

There will be rules on when to use force with the "vulnerable population," which includes the elderly, children and pregnant women.

"We do spend some time talking about vulnerable groups, but at the same time, we're not going to say no to when a police officer should use a Taser," Bartolucci said.

"We're going to leave that up to the police officer to make that decision, because he or she is in that situation and he or she must best respond."

A report commissioned by the government in 2008 is recommending the continued use of Tasers in Ontario, calling them "an effective, less lethal weapon" for law enforcement.

But it also said the government should amend current provincial guidelines to include rules on deployment of the guns – otherwise known as conductive energy weapons [CEW] – as well as standardized training for all users and instructors.

"There was a lack of consistency with regards to guidelines and training standards, so those are the two recommendations that we zeroed in on to make changes as quickly as possible," Bartolucci said.

A police standards advisory committee found "variations" in operational procedures and training for the weapons from police force to police force across the province. The group, representing police and municipalities, was asked to advise the government about the use of stun guns.

"For example, police services differ in their reporting practices, obtaining medical attention following CEW use, deployment and equipment control processes," the committee said.

The report also suggests the ministry talk to police about who should be authorized to use the weapons, and possibly expand their use beyond tactical officers and supervisors.

Police organizations have long advocated that all uniformed officers be allowed to carry stun guns, arguing they are less deadly than firearms and would save lives.

That is one idea the government isn't accepting, at least for now.

At least 20 people in Canada are known to have died after being struck with a Taser.

The Ontario review was launched after the 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, which sparked a public inquiry in British Columbia

Dziekanski died after being hit with a RCMP Taser at the Vancouver airport. A video of the confrontation taken by a fellow passenger triggered public outrage and a re-examination of stun gun use.

In releasing the inquiry's findings last July, Justice Thomas Braidwood called on the B.C. government to place severe restrictions on the use of Tasers, including a requirement that the weapons be used only when there is a threat of bodily harm.

Other provinces have also taken a second look at how they use stun guns, and the RCMP is planning a sweeping overhaul of its Taser policy.