Family of Ejaz Choudry demands firing of officer who fatally shot him during mental health crisis

A group of community organizations are demanding the firing of a Peel Regional Police officer who fatally shot a 62-year-old man in a mental health crisis over the weekend.

Family of 62-year-old says they called a non-emergency line, but instead of getting medicine, he ended up dead

Hashim Choudhary addresses the media in front of the apartment building where his uncle, Ejaz Choudry, a 62-year-old man who family members said was experiencing a schizophrenic episode, was shot by Peel Police and died at the scene the previous night, in Mississauga, Ont., Sunday, June 21, 2020.
Hashim Choudhary addressed the media in front of the apartment building where his uncle, Ejaz Choudry, a 62-year-old man who family members said was experiencing a schizophrenic episode, was shot by Peel Police Saturday. (Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press)

The family of a 62-year-old man who was fatally shot by police during a mental health crisis in Mississauga, Ont. over the weekend is demanding the firing of the officer who opened fire at his home.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), the Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR) and Muslim Council of Peel held a news conference Monday afternoon calling for the officer who shot Ejaz Choudry be taken off the force "immediately."

"The police need to be held to the same level of justice as the rest of us are. There is blood on their hands and the officer who pulled the trigger should never be trusted with a gun or badge again," said UARR's Mohammed Hashim.

Peel Regional Police did not respond to CBC Toronto's request for comment. But Chief Nishan Duraiappah issued a statement on Monday evening in which he expressed his condolences to Choudry's family and sought to assure them that he was consulting with the force's "Muslim Advisory Committee" as well as mental health experts.

"I ask for calm and patience as we sketch our path forward and as the investigations unfold what transpired," he wrote.

At a news conference Monday, Rafaquat Ali Choudry said his brother's seven-year-old son, the youngest of four children, still believes his dad is in hospital and has been asking when he can visit to give him a present for Father's Day.

'What answer can I give my nephew? I can't give any answer," Rafaquat Ali Choudry said.

'No faith' in investigation by police watchdog

The family was joined Monday afternoon by Mississauga-area imam Ibrahim Hindy who echoed calls for a public inquiry into Choudry's death.

"We have no faith in an investigation that is conducted" by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the province's police watchdog, said Hindy.

Ejaz Ahmed Choudry, a 62-year-old father of four with schizophrenia was the third Canadian in a mental health crisis to be killed by police in June alone.
Ejaz Choudry, 62, was shot and killed by police in his apartment in Mississauga on Saturday night. His family says he suffered from schizophrenia and other illnesses. (Submitted by Choudry family)

That message was reiterated by New Democratic Party MPP Gurratan Singh, who pointed to the shooting death of 26-year-old D'Andre Campbell, also by Peel Regional Police. The SIU has said the officer who shot Campbell has not turned over his notes to investigators, nor has he participated in an interview.

Exactly what form a public inquiry should take, Singh didn't specify, but he emphasized the need for transparency and accountability. He also stressed the need for a restructuring of the system that responds to people in crisis, calling for health-care workers to be on the front lines, rather than armed police officers. 

Choudry's family has said it called a non-emergency helpline with concerns he wasn't taking his medicine — but instead of getting medication, he ended up dead. Choudry suffered from schizophrenia and a number of other medical conditions, they say, but wasn't a threat to others. 

"What's crazy is that they didn't call police," nephew Hassan Choudhary said, adding the family hoped paramedics could "come down, strap him down, put him on an IV drip and get some medicine in there."

When paramedics arrived, Choudhary says, they spotted his uncle's pocketknife — something he kept with him because he felt police "were out to get him."

Crisis team tied up in 'other incidents,' not sent to scene

"He was saying, 'I'm going to kill myself,'" said Choudhary, who wasn't present at the time of the incident, but relayed what those at the scene that night told him.

What happened next is now the subject of an investigation by Ontario's police watchdog. Police have said they deployed a stun gun and fired plastic bullets with no effect. "When these had no effect, an officer discharged a firearm and the man was struck," the SIU said.

Choudry died at the scene. 

WATCH | Ontario man shot, killed by police during wellness check:

Ontario man shot, killed by police during wellness check

3 years ago
Duration 3:03
Family members are expressing anger and grief after a police shooting killed 62-year-old Ejaz Ahmed Choudry in his Mississauga, Ont., apartment. He's the third Canadian in a month to be killed after police carried out what's called a wellness check.

Peel police told CBC Toronto Sunday that a crisis negotiator was contacted, but officers decided to enter the victim's residence without the presence of a negotiator. 

The force's Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team was launched in January 2020, and consists of a crisis worker, such as a nurse or social worker, paired with a specially-trained police officer to respond to situations of crisis. The program consists of two cars per day operating from noon to midnight 365 days a year.

But on Monday, police confirmed no mobile crisis response unit was deployed to Choudry's home.

"The ... units were not present as they were involved in other incidents in the region," the force said in a statement to CBC News. 

"They should have let us go and speak to my uncle and say, 'Listen we're here for you, Ejaz... Don't be scared,'" his nephew told CBC News.

The family has also said that responding officers were shouting at Choudry in English, a language he didn't understand.

3rd Canadian in past month to be killed during wellness check

"You have this man with all these medical conditions who can barely stand up and instead of helping him and prevent him from killing himself,  you go in and kill him?"  Hassan Choudhary said.

His death also comes amid growing anger and demands for answers, not only in the death of D'Andre Campbell, but also that of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her family's Toronto apartment balcony after her family called 911. Her relatives say she was in mental distress at the time. She fell to her death while police officers were in the apartment.

The SIU is investigating the circumstances of both cases. But in neither case was a mobile crisis team deployed to the scene.

In the case of Korchinski-Paquet, Toronto police chief Mark Saunders has said police received multiple 911 calls about an assault.

"There's no way I would put a nurse in the middle of a knife fight," Saunders said after the 29-year-old's death, when asked why a crisis intervention team had not been sent to the scene.

John Sewell, coordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition and a former mayor of Toronto, recalls first calling for changes in how the system responds to people in crisis in 1979.

That August, Albert Johnson, a Black man with a mental illness was "chased into his home by two officers and shot in front of his two children," Sewell told CBC News.

'Let's take this function entirely out of the hands of police'

"I was vilified, I was called a cop hater and nothing has changed in 41 years. So the point is this is a very long-stemming systemic problem," said Sewell, who says he wants to see the province lead the effort for a plainclothes officer and mental health nurse team to be sent in in cases like Choudry's. 

"Let's take this function entirely out of the hands of police," said Sewell. 

University of Toronto criminologist Julias Haag agrees.

"Their primary competency is not to work as counsellors or to work with people in distress," he said, adding that seeing armed police officers could in fact provoke a "heightened response" with a person in crisis feeling more frightened than comforted.

At a news conference Monday, Premier Doug Ford said he had full confidence in the SIU to conduct an investigation, saying his heart goes out to the family of Choudry, but that he doesn't want to "point" fingers without all the details.

Asked if it would support calls to free up money from police budgets for more health-care-driven response teams, or removing police from the role of responding in crisis altogether, a spokesperson for Ontario's Minister of the Solicitor General pointed to $6.95 million in funding for new mobile crisis teams announced over the past year.

"We have confidence in police services to make the appropriate decisions and take the necessary steps to keep their communities safe," the ministry spokesperson said in part.

"Our government will continue to take action to better support those with mental health needs."

With files from Talia Ricci