Several of Ontario’s largest police services are making use of increased decision-making power handed down by the province over the summer when it comes to the availability of conductive energy weapons (CEWs) for front-line officers. In late August, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services announced that police services will be allowed to decide which of its officers can carry CEWs. Since then, several police services, including in Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa have proposed expanded use of CEWs. To date, budget requests to pay for the CEWs have either been refused (Toronto) or a decision has not yet been made. Some cities like Hamilton are hoping the province will contribute the money since it was the one that released the new regulations.
To date, these budget requests have either been refused (Toronto) or a decision has not yet been made. Some cities like Hamilton are hoping the province will contribute the money since it was the one that released the new regulations.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Ontario has in past policy documents highlighted the issues surrounding the use of CEWs otherwise known as Tasers.
Evidence from other jurisdictions such as the United States and British Columbia has shown that expanded use of CEWs has resulted in “usage creep” and that Taser use has almost become a tool of first resort.
CMHA Ontario believes that a suitable approach would be to also equip police officers with the proper communication and de-escalation techniques in order to ensure that Tasers are truly a tool of last resort to be used only before the deployment of a firearm.
Currently, new recruits undergo 12 hours of training related to mental health issues and individuals in emotional crisis. This is only a small component of the 12 weeks of use-of-force training all new police officers undergo with experienced officers doing 8 hour refresher courses in use-of-force each year. Some cities, like Toronto, require that police officers do 20-hour refresher courses but it is unclear how much of that time is spent on how to approach individuals in mental health crisis.
Furthermore, CMHA Ontario also believes that more research is needed into the use of Tasers, especially on those living with mental health issues. Individuals experiencing a serious mental illness appear to have a greater risk of irregular heartbeats and coronary heart disease as well as sudden cardiac arrest and death due to being on antipsychotic medication. This increased risk could be exacerbated by CEWs, which may stimulate the heart and potentially result in adverse or even deadly consequences.
During the government’s announcement, it was encouraging to hear the minister state that amendments to use-of-force guidelines will now include specific training for interaction with people living with mental health issues. CMHA Ontario’s position is that evidence-based solutions such as Mobile-Crisis Intervention Teams (MCITs) should be considered. By partnering mental health professionals with specially-trained officers, MCITs have been successfully implemented in several jurisdictions in Ontario and use a de-escalation approach in instances where police interact with people in a mental health crisis.
For more information about CMHA Ontario’s work on the use of Tasers, please read our Position Paper – Conducted Energy Weapons (Tasers)