In the University of Toronto, a human rights group is calling for the illegalization of tear gas as a riot-control agent.
It argues that in most cases, police misuse the chemical weapon which can hurt peaceful protesters or innocent bystanders.
In destroying current stockpiles of the chemical weapon and halting all imports, exports and manufacturing of it, on Thursday, the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP) called for every level of government to issue legislation banning the use of tear gas.
Vincent Wong, a research associate at the IHRP and co-author of the report, said the tear gas had an inherently unselective impact and was abused against peaceful assemblies and vulnerable populations. Vincent added that the report states that it “harms everyone in its vicinity regardless of whether one is engaged in militant actions in a demonstration, protesting peacefully, or merely observing,” because of the “indiscriminate” nature of tear gas.
According to the report, tear gas is regularly misused by law enforcement. It notes that it can lead to serious irritation of the lungs, eyes, nose and mouth, crying, difficulty breathing, and temporary blindness and symptoms can last upwards of 30 minutes. Severe eye injuries, development of respiratory illnesses and damage to the cardiovascular system are long-term side effects of tear gas. Besides, one person dies for every 600 times police administer tear gas, according to a 1995 report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
Wong said as medical health professionals had done more longitudinal studies, the long-term side effects are starting to come to fruition. He added that it was clear there were actual permanent chemical burns in the throat and lungs, of respiratory failure that could lead to death and warnings of higher risks of blindness. Because of coughing and sneezing associated with its use and the famous increased risk of respiratory illnesses, there was also concern that the use of tear gas could increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it.
1,288 American public health professionals signed an open letter in June requesting law enforcement to ban the usage of tear gas because of the increased risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. The report states, “Tear gas is not a low-risk weapon; instead, it can cause serious injury and have lasting effects, particularly for more vulnerable groups. This is exacerbated when it is misused by law enforcement officials.” Since 1997, the use of riot control agents like tear gas has been banned from warfare.
Wong said, “It’s really, really absurd when you think about that tear gas in war is even arguably an international war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and yet you see so many different countries — the U.S. is the one that we see the most in media — use it on its own citizens and civilians. What we’re seeing is that tear gas is now being misused as a riot or crowd-control tool of first resort. It’s just effective, so they just shoot tear gas whenever they think people are not going to disperse if we tell them to.”
NDP MP Matthew Green started a petition to stop the use and manufacturing of tear gas in Canada in June. This has since then collected more than 9,300 signatures. Sept. 8 is the deadline for signature. Additionally, Wong noted that the matter was not just a foreign issue, but an issue they are discussing here in Canada. He is hopeful that the report would be useful in those discussions.