In light of some high profile cases, including the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Walter Scott, it may be useful to review the police use of force guidelines in Ontario, to determine whether such tragedies are likely to occur here.
Much like in the United States, most police departments are self-regulating, meaning that in instances where force is used, including the drawing or use of a firearm or Taser, a full report must be made and provided to the Chief, but is not required to be given to an independent third party unless a complaint has been filed. However, certain provisions in the Equipment and Use of Force Regulations which have been passed pursuant to the Police Services Act, provide safeguards against Police negligence. Officers are not permitted to use force or carry a sidearm if they have not completed the proper training to do so, and are prohibited from discharging, pointing or even drawing a handgun, unless they “believe, on reasonable grounds, that to do so is necessary to protect against loss of life or serious bodily harm”. Additionally, all instances in which a firearm has been discharged, even if it does not result in injury or loss of life to the suspect, must be investigated, with a report being submitted to the Solicitor General or an independent review board.
Police Officers must, on occasion, use force to protect themselves or citizens, to effect an arrest. The vast majority of cases where force is used by police, it can be justified. There are, however, cases where police use unnecessary or excessive force. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that racial minorities including aboriginals suffered disproportionately from such excesses. Certainly, more studies in this topic can help Canadian communities understand the reasoning behind police use of force, and may help police departments create better policies for lessening instances in which force is used. However, civil litigation can also create an environment where police officers and departments become more responsible and better serve their community as a result.