Peel Region police shot and killed 62-year-old Ejaz Ahmed Choudry on Saturday, June 20, 2020. He was reportedly shot five times in the back. Mr. Choudry, a Muslim man, was experiencing mental health crisis and needed support and care, not police primed to shoot to kill. He was a husband and father of four, the youngest of whom is only seven.
According to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario, reports that police were called to an apartment unit at 3425 Morning Star Drive, near Goreway Drive, at around 5 PM, to “check on the well-being of a man.” Family members have since said that Mr. Choudry suffered from schizophrenia as well as other illnesses. He was alone in the unit and did not pose a threat to the public or others. Family members have described him as harmless.
For an older man in crisis alone in his room, posing no threat to others, police sent multiple officers and a canine unit. A video taken by a witness and posted on twitter, shows police tactical units putting climbing a ladder and breaking into Mr. Choudry’s second floor apartment from the balcony. Three officers are shown kicking open the door and shouting into the residence. One can imagine the awful impact this might have on someone said to be in crisis. Several gunshots can be heard before all three officers even enter the apartment, again raising issues of the shoot first approach by police officers. This is one reason that they should not be sent out on mental health related calls.
Incredibly, police have sought to explain killing Mr. Choudry by suggesting they were concerned about his safety. Peel Constable Sarah Patten claims: “The state of crisis that he was in and the belief that he had access to weapons, yes, we believe that he was a danger to himself” (quoted in CBC News 2020). Patten makes the absurd statement that officers broke into his apartment “to check on his well-being” (quoted in CBC News 2020).
According to the SIU, police claim that once police entered the apartment unit, “an interaction occurred which included officers deploying a conducted energy weapon at the man, as well as firing plastic projectiles from an Anti-Riot Weapon Enfield” (quoted in CBC News 2020). Again, we must ask why police were doing a supposed wellness check with anti-riot weapons?
The mentality of police is reflected in this statement by Peel Regional Police Constable Akhil Mooken, who said, tellingly: “Communication was initiated with the man to try to communicate a peaceful surrender” (quoted in Yuen 2020). Surrender. This is the language of war. For someone needing health care supports.
Family Members Not Allowed to Help
Family members who were present say that Mr. Choudry had come to the door when other families had been removed from the unit but was frightened back in when he saw officers coming toward him. An entirely understandable response to seeing police coming at you.
Khizar Shahzad, a nephew, reports that he informed the supervising officer of the severity of his uncle’s condition and told the officer the man was frightened: “I said, ‘Hey, he’s scared of your uniform, he’s not scared of you’” (quoted in CBC News 2020). The family pleaded with police to allow them to speak with their loved one who did not speak English. Police refusal to allow this is common in cases where police have been called about someone in mental health distress. Family who know the person and how best to interact with them are removed and kept from participating. This often plays a part in deadly police actions.
Muhammed Choudry, also a nephew, implored police: “Let me go upstairs, let my dad go upstairs, let my brother go upstairs. Because we’ve done this before where he listens. He listens to us” (quoted in CBC News 2020).
Family members say Mr. Choudry had difficulty breathing and walking. Mr. Choudry died at the scene.
Demands for Review and Inquiry
The Muslim Council of Peel has called for an immediate review of police use of force, particularly during mental-health calls. They also want publicly available race-based demographic data on police shootings. As they note in a media release:
“A disproportionate number of racialized individuals including Black, Indigenous and Muslim are the victims of police shootings across Canada and right here in Peel Region” (quoted in CBC News 2020).
The council and family are demanding an independent public inquiry into the police killing of Ejaz Choudry. In their words:
“Given the video evidence and the testimony of family members, Peel police’s conduct in this matter was clearly excessive and requires nothing short of an independent inquiry unconnected to the SIU” (quoted in CBC News 2020).
Police are heard in the video shouting at Mr. Choudry to put a gun down. No gun was retrieved at the scene.
The SIU has assigned six investigators and three forensic investigators to examine the police killing of Ejaz Choudry.
CBC News. 2020. “Family Identifies Man, 62, who was Shot and Killed by Police in Mississauga as SIU Investigates.” CBC News June 21. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/siu-police-shooting-mississauga-1.5621243
Yuen, Jenny. 2020. “Family Demands Inquiry into Shooting of Mentally Ill Man.” Toronto Sun June 21. https://torontosun.com/news/local-news/siu-to-investigate-fatal-police-shooting-in-mississauga