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Police chief backs expanded use of tasers

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair attends the Toronto Police Services meeting on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013.

FERNANDO MORALES/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The officer who tasered a Toronto teenager who had been shot multiple times on a streetcar has not been suspended, Police Chief Bill Blair said Thursday after vocally throwing his support behind expanded taser use – particularly for first responders confronting crisis situations.

The officer, like all but one of the others at the scene on July 27 when Sammy Yatim was killed, is under investigation and could face charges under the Police Services Act or the Criminal Code. The officer's conduct falls under the scope of Chief Blair's probe into the shooting death of Mr. Yatim, who was tasered after he was hit multiple times by police gunfire.

Constable James Forcillo has been charged with second-degree murder, but because his case is before the courts, his conduct falls outside the chief's mandated investigation. Constable Forcillo is out on bail and has been suspended with pay. Previously, Toronto police would not say whether the officer who used the taser was also suspended or remained on duty, citing privacy issues.

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When The Globe and Mail asked after a police services board meeting on Thursday whether that officer is working, the chief said "Yes." He would not comment on whether the officer might face charges, saying, "My review will look at the conduct of every officer involved, and I'm not going to speculate [about] the outcome of that." He didn't specify whether the officer remained on active duty as usual, and efforts to reach a Toronto police spokesperson for clarification were unsuccessful.

Stun guns had until recently been restricted in Ontario to tactical teams and supervisors, but the province's Community Safety Minister announced last month that all front-line officers could now use them. The move did not come with provincial funding for new weapons or training, which could cost millions in jurisdictions such as Toronto.

Chief Blair said after the meeting that if the force decides to expand taser use, all front-line officers will not necessarily carry them. It could mean "only making them more readily available to first responders in crisis situations," he said.

Torontonians are to weigh in on the subject at a public consultation Sept. 24 at City Hall. There was some initial confusion at Thursday's meeting over whether the force was training newly authorized officers to carry and use tasers – a notion that had Councillor Michael Thompson particularly concerned. Chief Blair told the board he is working on a new training regimen in case the force expands taser use, and said afterward that no previously unauthorized officers have been trained.

"These things don't happen overnight," he said. "If a decision is made and funding is available to broaden it, then we want to make sure that we have made all the preparations to ensure that our people are properly trained, well before they're deployed out into the field."

The board asked the chief for a report by Nov. 7 on the force's preparations for potentially expanded taser use.

In a report to the board before Thursday's meeting, Chief Blair said there is an "opportunity" within the proposed 2014-2023 capital budget. The board sent the capital program request to the budget sub-committee, which must report by Oct. 7.

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The board also heard on Thursday from a man who complained about the way this 911 call reporting gunfire in Riverdale Park was handled, but the chief said an officer's notes show the man was subjected to a thorough interview.

As well, Chief Blair told the board the force would continue to work with the city as it reviews the effectiveness of community safety zones – an issue that came to the fore when a high school student was killed by a truck last week on the first day of school.

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