Ontario’s police watchdog is investigating after a Peel Regional Police officer shot and killed a 62-year-old man with schizophrenia whose family had called a non-emergency line hoping he would be taken to hospital and helped through a mental-health crisis.
Ejaz Choudry, a father of four, died Saturday night after police burst through a door on his second-floor balcony and into the apartment where he was alone, armed with a knife and suffering a mental breakdown, according to his extended family.
“He wasn’t a danger to anyone else. He was by himself in his home where he felt safe,” said Hassan Choudhary, one of Mr. Choudry’s nephews. “He can’t think straight, he’s schizophrenic, and [police] are going and killing him because he’s going to kill himself? Where’s the logic in that?”
Mr. Choudhary spoke at a news conference on Sunday outside his uncle’s apartment in Mississauga’s Malton neighbourhood, west of Toronto, where about 40 family and friends gathered to call for a public inquiry into the shooting. Some waved signs demanding “Justice for Ejaz” – an echo of the banners carried at recent protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism in the United States, Canada and Europe.
Mr. Choudry was shot amid a barrage of calls for police reform following the slaying of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and after the police-involved deaths of several Canadians during what were supposed to be checks on their mental well-being.
Rodney Levi, 48, and Chantel Moore, 26, both Indigenous people, were shot by police in New Brunswick in separate incidents this month. Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Black woman, fell from a 24th-floor balcony in Toronto while in the company of police who had been called to help her with a mental-health crisis at the end of May.
Their stories have all contributed to calls in Toronto and across North America to defund police departments – or to at least cut their budgets and redirect the money to social workers and experts in defusing mental-health crises.
Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, which steps in whenever a police officer is involved in a death or serious injury, said the incident that led to Mr. Choudry’s death began just after 5 p.m. on Saturday when Peel Regional Police officers visited an apartment at 3425 Morningstar Dr. to “check on the well-being of a man.”
“The man barricaded himself inside the unit, and for a period officers were able to communicate with the man,” the SIU said in a statement Sunday morning. “Shortly after communication stopped, officers breached the door and entered the 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]. When these had no effect, an officer discharged a firearm and the man was struck.”
The SIU is investigating one subject officer and nine witness officers. It has obtained video footage related to the case, according to the Sunday statement.
Part of the incident that led to Mr. Choudry’s death was apparently captured in a 19-second clip posted to social media on the weekend. The Globe and Mail could not immediately confirm the veracity of the video, which showed three police officers on a second-floor balcony with weapons raised, yelling, “Police! Put down the knife! Put it down!” Five shots ring out before the officers enter the apartment through the open balcony door; two more shots can be heard afterward.
Khizar Shahzad, another of Mr. Choudry’s nephews, said he arrived at the apartment building around 7 p.m. Saturday, hoping to help calm his uncle, an immigrant from Pakistan who spoke no English and had struggled for years with schizophrenia.
Mr. Shahzad said that a few hours earlier the victim’s daughter had called a non-emergency crisis line, not the police, because Mr. Choudry was suffering a breakdown and needed to be taken to the hospital to be given medication.
Mr. Choudry’s wife and his children, who range from the ages of 7 to 18, were cleared out of the apartment, Mr. Shahzad said. When the team that responded first – Mr. Shahzad believed they were paramedics – realized Mr. Choudry had a knife, the initial responders called police.
Mr. Shahzad said he pleaded with officers on the scene to allow someone from the family to go upstairs and try to speak to Mr. Choudry. The officers rebuffed him, Mr. Shahzad said, after which he went upstairs to find four officers trying to break down the door to his uncle’s unit. “While they were doing that, me and my brother were yelling, ‘Don’t hurt him!’ Because he’s so frail that even a tackle, I was afraid, was going to kill him.”
Mr. Choudhary, the nephew, said he was stunned to learn later, on Twitter, that police had entered through the balcony door and shot his uncle to death.
“Where’s the assistance that would help him in this kind of situation? A cop doesn’t have that kind of training,” he said.
Peel police have been responding to a rising number of calls for assistance during mental-health crises. In 2019, officers responded to 6,360 such calls, compared with 5,090 in 2016, a 25-per-cent increase. As of May this year, the region has responded to 2,309 mental-health calls, according to data provided by police on June 15.
Peel police also responded to 2,279 attempt-suicide help requests between 2016 and May, 2020, with 326 people dying by suicide during a call.
With reports from Vjosa Isai and Greg McArthur
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.