Should all cops carry Tasers? Toronto police board meeting to review use of lethal force

Toronto's police services board is set to discuss Tasers and the use of less lethal force, but its Wednesday meeting could be disrupted by a protest calling for more de-escalation and crisis training for officers instead.

Review follows 11 coroner's inquests over a decade recommending Tasers be deployed to all front-line officers

The use of conducted energy weapons - also known as Tasers - by all front-line officers is being explored by Toronto police. (CBC)

Toronto's police services board is set to discuss Tasers and the use of less lethal force, but its Wednesday meeting could be disrupted by a protest calling for more de-escalation and crisis training for officers instead. 

In the last decade, the coroner in 11 inquests has recommended full deployment of Tasers — Conducted Energy Weapons (CEWs) — to all front-line officers, according to a Toronto police document released last week.

The Toronto Police Service "believes that through proper policy, procedures, training and accountability, the CEW is an important use of force option that can help maintain public and officer safety, and assist with its goal of zero harm/zero death," the document read. 

More weapons 'not the answer,' advocates say

While nearly a dozen inquests have called for all field officers to be equipped with Tasers, advocates like Nigel Barriffe contend the proposal isn't an effective way to reduce police violence. He fears a focus on CEWs overshadows other recommendations aimed at helping police de-escalate tense situations. 

Nigel Barriffe, president of Urban Alliance on Race Relations, says, 'What we need is more de-escalation policies, more de-escalation training.' (CBC)

"We know that having more weapons in the hands of police officers is not the answer," he told CBC Toronto ahead of Wednesday's police board meeting. 

"What we need is more de-escalation policies, more de-escalation training."

Barriffe will be speaking in front of the board, which consists of Mayor John Tory, two city councillors, three provincial appointees and chair Andy Pringle. 

11 inquests in last decade recommended Tasers

These calls for change to lethal force aren't new. 

Four years ago, Toronto's police board conducted a consultation on Tasers and decided not to expand the use of CEWs across the service, but a recent coroner's inquest has re-ignited debate about police use of excessive force and solutions to quell escalating tensions and deaths within the community. 

In July, a five-person jury at a coroner's inquest into the death of Andrew Loku — who was wielding a hammer when he was fatally shot by Toronto police two years ago — handed down 39 recommendations. They included equipping every front-line police officer in the province with a Taser and police cars with non-lethal means of force, including shields and helmets. 

The jury also recommended amending the annual use-of-force recertification to include qualification in areas, such as mental health, anti-racism and particularly anti-Black racism. 

Andrew Loku, 45, was shot by police on July 5, 2015 after he refused to drop a hammer he was carrying. (Handout photo)

Loku, a 45-year-old father of five originally from South Sudan, had a history of mental health issues. The inquest heard testimony from Toronto police Const. Andrew Doyle, who pulled the trigger twice. 

The 13-year veteran testified he shot Loku on July 5, 2015 as the man advanced toward him, hammer raised, in the hallway of his apartment building, which houses people with mental-health challenges. 

Loku's death, and the Special Investigations Unit's decision not to lay charges against Doyle, sparked protests outside police headquarters by Black Lives Matter Toronto that lasted more than two weeks.

The activists said police officers are unable to adequately deal with people under mental distress. 

Ontario ombudsman Paul Dubé wants police to receive better de-escalation training following his special investigation into the shooting death of Sammy Yatim in 2013. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

In another push for changes to police use of force, provincial ombudsman Paul Dubé issued a scathing review of police training in Ontario last year. He wants officers to get better training in de-escalation techniques, saying they get plenty of instruction on how to use their guns, but not on how to use their mouths. 

That comment was based largely on his examination of 19 fatal police shootings during the period after the death of Toronto teenager Sammy Yatim in the summer of 2013 until the release of his report. 

At the time, Dubé pointed out there were already well over 100 coroner's jury recommendations calling for improved police training.

That's in addition to some 84 recommendations by Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci that included the creation of a police and mental-health oversight body, and a requirement that new constables complete a mental health first-aid course.


Amara McLaughlin

Senior producer, CBC News

Amara McLaughlin is the senior producer of social media for CBC News in Toronto.

With files from CBC's Talia Ricci