The Current

Family of Ont. man fatally shot by police 'can't wrap our heads' around how wellness check ended in his death

The nephew of a 62-year-old man, who was shot by police during a mental health crisis in Mississauga, Ont., is calling for the police officer responsible for the death of his uncle to be fired and brought to trial. 

'We put our trust in the police to take over peacefully, and clearly, we regret it,’ Hassan Choudhary says

Hassan Choudhary is surrounded by supporters holding signs at a press conference about the death of his uncle, Ejaz Choudry, a 62-year-old man who was killed by Peel Police on Saturday. (Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press)

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The nephew of a 62-year-old man, who was shot by police during a mental health crisis in Mississauga, Ont., is calling for the police officer responsible for the death of his uncle to be fired and brought to trial. 

Hassan Choudhary said he doesn't have the words to describe how he and his community have felt since his uncle's death, adding that family members can't sleep knowing "our uncle … was brutally murdered."

"How would you check on someone's well-being? Would you bust down their back door and put seven shots in them, shoot multiple times? That's not checking on someone's well-being," he told The Current host Matt Galloway.

In a statement released on Sunday, the Special Investigations Unit said officers were called to Ejaz Choudry's apartment at about 5 p.m. ET on Saturday to "check on the well-being of a man." 

A video taken by a bystander showed tactical units entering the second-floor apartment through the balcony. Three officers kick open the door and yell into the residence. 

Police fired a series of gunshots into the apartment before entering. Ontario's police watchdog has begun an investigation into Choudry's death. The police said in a statement they believed he had a weapon.

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.

Choudhary said the family, who knew of Choudry's history with schizophrenia and other illnesses, called a non-emergency number to help get him to take his medication. Instead, police "came to our front door, threatening him and scaring him." 

"Our question is, 'Why did you enter the residence of a man who was supposedly a threat to [only] himself, and you murder him?'" 

Choudhary told Galloway that his family wants the responding officer to be "fired and tried for what he has done." Peel Regional Police didn't respond to CBC Toronto's request for comment.

Police acting as crisis first responders 

The police are relied upon in these moments of crisis because oftentimes, they are the "only ones that work 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Insp. Dan Jones with the Edmonton Police Service.

"As a result of that, they get called to a lot of these events as the first responders." 

Choudhary said officers did not consider Choudry's mental illness despite being told numerous times by the family that he was in the middle of a schizophrenic episode and was frightened by the police.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit says an officer shot and killed a man in Mississauga after police were called to an apartment unit to "check on the well-being of a man." (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

"We put our trust in the police to take over this peacefully, and clearly, we regret it. We weren't given the opportunity to help de-escalate [the situation]," he said.

A 2018 CBC News investigation found that of the 461 people who died in interactions with Canadian police between 2000 and 2017, 42 per cent were reported to be in mental distress. 

Meenakshi Mannoe, criminalization and policing campaigner with Pivot Legal Society, said this incident highlights the disparity with current training initiatives provided to officers around mental health responses and "really failed to address systemic issues with police." 

The only treatment in "a really defunded mental health system was crisis treatment." This had created a situation where police have "effectively become front-line responders" to mental health crises, Mannoe said. 

'We just can't wrap our heads around it'

Choudhary said that checking-in on someone's well-being should be about "making them comfortable" and trying to understand and empathize with the person in crisis. If police "can't understand that," then de-escalating the situation isn't possible. 

"We just can't wrap our heads around it. We see these police reports, these statements by the constables, by the chief and the premier saying we need to get the investigation completed to get a better insight before we point fingers."

Protesters have called for the defunding of police and for those funds to be redirected to community services like mental health support. (Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press)

Calls have been made in response to the death of Choudry and the larger Black Lives Matter movement to slash police budgets and redirect some of that money toward specialists trained in responding to medical health crises. 

On Monday, police confirmed to CBC Toronto that no mobile crisis response unit was deployed to Choudry's home.

Insp. Jones said there is a "good case" for defunding the police, adding that the additional funds could supplement existing initiatives that bring social workers along with officers on calls.   

A "rapid response model" in Victoria, Australia, was an example of a program that could be implemented in Canada if mental health was better funded. Around 35 mental health nurses there are on standby in police precincts and available to "the community 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Jones said.

Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by Alison Masemann and Sarah-Joyce Battersby.