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Expanded use of Tasers encourages more violence

The Ontario government’s move to expand the use of Tasers by police wrongly encourages the use of force, rather than promoting non-violent takedown methods, says Toronto criminal lawyer Jordana Goldlist.

Frontline officers in the province will now be permitted to carry Tasers if their force chooses, the Globe and Mail reports, noting the announcement came one month after the fatal police shooting of Toronto teenager Sammy Yatim, which sparked debate about the province’s use-of-force laws.

The prospect of arming more police officers in Ontario with Tasers has been discussed since at least 2009, the Globe reports, when a government report described them as “an appropriate tool for law enforcement.”

The article says introducing the new weapons could cost millions for jurisdictions like Toronto.

Goldlist, an associate with Edward H. Royle & Associates, says the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“That’s dollars that are not being spent on training officers on how to de-escalate a situation,” says Goldlist, noting the use of a stun gun should not be taken lightly.

“I had one client who was tasered by three different officers at the same time during the course of his arrest. He was unarmed at the time and the tasering caused him a great deal of pain and suffering. It was completely unnecessary in the circumstances. If the police are now getting Tasers, are they going to get proper training as well? More importantly, why aren’t we trying to teach officers how to resort to non-violent means?”

Goldlist says while a Taser may be a less lethal weapon than a firearm, it still provides officers with means to cause harm.

“I just think it’s sad, especially in the wake of the recent police violence that the media has been commenting on, that we’re providing them with another weapon to use, instead of training them to proceed in a non-violent fashion,” she says.

“I suspect defence lawyers are now going to be hearing more often about clients being tasered during the course of an arrest.”

The city’s financial resources, says Goldlist, could be “much better” placed elsewhere.

“It’s less likely to lead to a fatality, but tasering causes injury. Several of my clients have been tasered and all tell me it’s excruciating pain. There are numerous accounts of people dying as a result of police Tasers. We try to teach kids to 'use their words,' that violence isn't a solution, and at the same time we are going to spend millions of dollars giving the police stun guns instead of training them to talk a suspect into putting down a knife. How does that make sense?”

Goldlist says because a Taser is less lethal, there may actually be more opportunities for abusive use of the weapon.

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