The RCMP is advising its officers not to get laser eye surgery after several studies linked the operation to reduced night vision, while the Ontario Provincial Police Association has notified its members of a discount offer on the controversial procedure.
The RCMP's occupational-health division has instructed its medical offices to advise those considering the procedure not to get it, said Dr. Jean-Pierre Legault, health-service officer for Ontario and the former chief of occupational health. The recommendation follows a routine review of research data, he said.
"We know there is a problem," Dr. Legault said, adding the force has yet to determine how severe that problem is. "Our recommendation right now is that our members not have [the surgery]unless absolutely required to do so."
RCMP officers are not barred from getting the procedure, he said.
But those considering the operation to maintain the vision standard required for front-line work will be warned of the possible complications. Studies conducted in Canada, Britain and Germany found 30 per cent to 70 per cent of patients showed a significant loss of night vision, Dr. Legault said.
On Dec. 1, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration posted an Internet warning about the risks, including permanent vision loss and reduced night vision.
The industry has disputed the studies and maintains the procedure is safe, pointing to other research that has found the surgery has a high success rate.
Despite the recent debate about its safety, the provincial police union distributed a discount offer on the procedure to its members this month.
In a move now under fire from consumer advocates and some members, the police union notified more than 5,000 Ontario officers and retirees about a deal on laser eye surgery offered by TLC Laser Centres Inc. of Mississauga.
The offer, which was disseminated via the police force's e-mail system on Dec. 1, states that "for the month of January [TLC]is offering all police officers a discount of approximately 40 per cent off the cost of corrective laser eye surgery."
Debbie McKenna, executive officer for the association, said the union is not advocating the surgery by publicizing the offer, which extends to all police in Canada.
Superintendent Rick Kotwa of OPP corporate communications said he knew nothing about the union passing along the offer, and said his office would look into it.
Carroll Robinson, manager of the constable-selection unit at Ontario's Ministry of the Solicitor-General, said provincial police are not forbidden to have the operation, and they are not tested for night vision afterward.
But officers are asked to report any problems with glare, and are required to provide a letter from their doctor stating their vision has proved stable in two tests taken at different times of the day, he said.
"We do not believe we are at risk," Mr. Robinson said, adding the current policy "is reasonably protecting us, even if night vision really is a problem."
Like the RCMP, police in other countries are taking a stronger line.
Forces in Britain are now advising officers against the procedure, said Valentine Murombe-Chivero of the Association of Chief Police Officers in London.
"It is a problem," he said. "People are expected to see their senior officer and to make sure the surgery is absolutely necessary, and if it is, they would have to be examined" after the operation, he said, adding that officers who have had the surgery are sometimes barred from high-speed chases.
Dr. Legault said 20 per cent of RCMP applicants have already had the surgery to meet the entry requirement of 20/20 vision with corrective lenses, 20/40 vision without.
He called that number "very, very high," especially in light of the growing number of negative studies, including a study by the German military which found 50 per cent of patients who had the surgery failed a night-vision test.
This fall, the RCMP asked researchers at the University of Ottawa Eye Institute to find out how much it would cost to create a test that would simulate two scenarios: high-speed car chases in darkness, and night-time confrontations with suspects.
"We've asked them to try to build a practical test," Dr. Legault said.