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People gather at a protest against the June 20 shooting death by Peel Regional Police of Ejaz Ahmed Choudry, 62, who family members say had schizophrenia, in Malton, Ontario, Canada on June 22, 2020.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

The older brother of a schizophrenic man shot and killed by police is demanding to know why police opened fire when more peaceful options were readily available. Rifaquat Choudry said on Monday that police seemed to be in a hurry to confront his sibling with armed officers rather than taking up offers from family to talk to the 62-year-old father of four in his own language.

On Saturday night, police opted to enter Ejaz Choudry’s Malton, Ont., apartment by force, kicking open a balcony door, yelling at him to “drop the knife” and then shooting him dead.

“Why were they in such a hurry to get him out?” Rifaquat Choudry said. “I said, ‘I will help you.’ Nobody listened. Now, we need justice.”

The family said they originally called a non-emergency line to request that Ejaz Choudry, who spoke only Urdu and Punjabi, be taken to a hospital. When paramedics arrived to find him armed with a knife, police became involved.

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On Monday, the province’s Official Opposition joined the Choudry family in calling for an independent inquiry into the shooting, which has drawn parallels to other recent police-involved deaths that began as mental-health calls.

Chantel Moore, 26, was shot by police in New Brunswick earlier this month who were responding to a request for a wellness check. 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.

The Peel Police Service Board issued a statement late Monday saying members were “saddened” by the death of Mr. Choudry and D’Andre Campbell, a 26-year-old schizophrenic man shot dead by Peel police in April during a mental-health call, and urged the province’s police watchdog, the Special Investigation Unit, to “work as expeditiously as possible to conclude” investigations into both deaths.

The outcry over the deaths fed into mass protests around the globe calling for governments to defund and even abolish police departments after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis.

“When there’s a health care crisis, we need to have a health care response,” said NDP MPP Gurratan Singh, who joined members of the Choudry family for a virtual press conference.

It’s a familiar demand to address a growing source of police work. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of calls to Peel police requesting assistance with a mental health crisis climbed by 25 per cent.

In light of that figure, the Peel police launched a new unit called the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Teams (MCRRT) earlier this year. Two teams comprised of a crisis support worker from the Canadian Mental Health Association and a specially trained police officer serve the region with the assistance of a mental-health co-ordinator, who helps officers to connect people in need with community agencies and mental health service providers.

The Peel-Dufferin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association also partners with police in a program called the Crisis Outreach Assessment Support Team (COAST), made up of four seconded Peel constables who team up with crisis support workers. COAST offers in-person mental health assessments and creates safety plans for people vulnerable to experiencing a mental-health crisis.

Peel police did not respond to questions about whether either team responded to the Choudry incident.

Police do receive training for dealing with people in mental-health crises, but the effectiveness of those programs is uncertain, said Jennifer Lavoie, an associate professor in criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to fund training just for the sake of saying these officers had mental-health training,” she said in a June 12 interview about her research. “We have to be absolutely objective in looking at the results. It’s just as useful to know that it doesn’t work, because why continue on that trajectory?”

Prof. Lavoie and her multidisciplinary research team – including psychiatric nurses, police trainers and people who have experience with mental illness – are nearing the final stages of a four-year study that probes whether problem-based scenario training incorporating actors and high-intensity scenarios can improve how officers respond in mental health crisis calls.

Seventy Durham Regional Police officers, most of whom are recent police college graduates, are volunteer participants in the federally funded project, with about a year remaining.

The pandemic has caused research delays, but Prof. Lavoie is encouraged by the preliminary results, which have shown an improvement in de-escalation skills in the first group out of the study cohort.

“Of course, it’s wonderful news. It gives us a direction as one of the first studies that provides an empirical basis for using that kind of a method,” she said, and to support developing standardized training across the province.

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