The fight over gun use in Toronto’s Liberty Village bar may have just taken a new turn

Story highlights The health commission vice-chair wants to question city staff about whether or not Toronto Public Health is consistent with the COVID-19 policy.

The police officer was among several people arrested in connection with the massive brawl at the Toronto Liberty Village bar.

You may recall that in December, CNN reported that a major brawl broke out at Toronto’s popular Liberty Village bar, Tattoo Addiction. The investigation into the incident revealed that some of the suspects involved in the fight had gotten stuck in a line at the restaurant. Things took a turn for the worse when some of them refused to leave. According to Toronto Public Health, the party refused to leave when the only exit was blocked.

The officers, some of whom were constables, were forced to make a decision regarding how to handle the situation. They reportedly encountered a close call, stating that they “were actively fighting people who threatened to attack them.”

According to CTV Toronto, one of the officers fired his weapon and several people were arrested. Not long after, Toronto Public Health was able to make a statement that, according to spokesperson Alana Harvey, the officer’s use of force was consistent with the department’s policy on use of deadly force.

“Our job is to protect people, and no city employee should ever be in a position of taking a life,” Harvey stated in a statement.

Now, the vice-chair of the Toronto Public Health Commission, Dr. Kerry Stewart, is trying to clarify the discrepancy. He suggests that the officers’ use of force was inconsistent with the organization’s policy because they had pushed the unruly people away from the restaurant. But the officer didn’t use his firearm; rather, he approached them on foot to attempt to clear the party.

“My concern is whether or not the policy and the decision made were consistent with COVID-19,” Stewart told CTV Toronto. “My goal is to bring this all back to an eyeball-to-eyeball conversation with the director of public health so we can go into his office and ask the following questions: Is this policy coherent with the use of deadly force recommendations that are in COVID-19?”

Citing COVID-19, this is Toronto Public Health’s strict policy around the use of lethal force. The year-old policy states: “There should be a serious risk of death or bodily harm to anyone who intervenes in an assault by a person who is carrying a firearm. Using firearms only in response to such a risk is not considered necessary.”

Stewart acknowledges that it’s an “increasingly complicated situation” when a police officer’s only outlet is their firearm, but he isn’t satisfied with the current way the public health policy is crafted. He believes that a better policy would address the issue of barrier escape points, adding, “That’s something that needs to be considered.”

The Toronto Public Health spokesperson also suggests that it’s important to consider the use of force in difficult situations.

“[The officer] clearly had no idea what was going on. And even if he did have some idea, what were his options? What was his authorized action?”

Many people believe that the officer acted appropriately, but others are questioning whether or not there should have been a different response. In an interview with CTV Toronto, one eye witness stated, “I just don’t know what to say. The situation was terrifying for them, and there was a lot going on.”

The allegations surrounding the actions of the police officer appear to be building momentum, and what better opportunity to take stock of the use of force policy? We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the future, but in the meantime, we’d recommend checking in with your local public health department to learn about these recommendations, so you’re equipped to respond to difficult situations.

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