No charges in death of 62-year-old man shot by police while in crisis

Ejaz Ahmed Choudry

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has ruled there will be no criminal charges against police in the death of Ejaz Choudry,  a 62-year-old father of four who was shot and killed by an officer last summer after his family called a non-emergency line for help while he was in crisis.

In its decision released  on Tuesday, the SIU’s director, Joseph Martino, concluded  that the Peel Regional Police officer who fired two bullets into  Choudry’s chest, acted reasonably when he opened fire from the balcony of Choudry’s locked Mississauga, Ont., apartment on June 20 last.

Choudry, the report says, was armed with a 20-centimetre-long kitchen knife when police kicked in his balcony door and shouted at him in English — a language his family has said he didn’t properly understand — to drop his weapon.

The officer in charge was concerned that Choudry, who had schizophrenia and was not taking his medication, was at risk of self-harm, Martino said.

Two of the three officers on the balcony who spoke with investigators claimed Choudry moved toward them, knife in hand, after the balcony was breached  -a claim for which Martino notes they are the only source of direct evidence. After a stun gun and plastic bullets failed to subdue Choudry, the report says, the third officer opened fire (the SIU doesn’t name the officer).

“Police officers are bound by a duty to protect life, which extends to the general public and not just victims of crime,” Martino says in his decision. “The law is clear that police officers are not required to measure the force they used with exactitude or to a nicety.

“As such, I believe [the officer’s] resort to his firearm was objectively reasonable, necessary and proportional to the threat posed by Mr. Choudry, notwithstanding the tragic loss of life it caused.”

After he was shot, the report says, Choudry fell backward onto the floor with the knife still in his hand. The officers again commanded him to drop the knife, the report says, with one officer firing rubber bullets at him when he did not appear to comply. Another then kicked his arm, “resulting in the knife falling to the floor.”

Earlier that day, Choudry, who had been hospitalized for psychiatric care, decided to leave the hospital against medical advice. Around 5 p.m., his daughter called a non-emergency line requesting medical assistance for her father, who appeared confused and reportedly had a pocketknife.

Paramedics arrived at the apartment first, followed by police, who tried to speak to Choudry through the apartment door. Choudry told the officers to leave.

Choudry’s family has said he was a frail man who suffered from diabetes, had a history of heart issues and recently underwent a lung surgery. The report says the officer in charge was advised “Choudry could barely walk or breathe.”

As for whether Peel police’s mobile crisis unit, consisting of a police officer and mental health professional, should have been called in, Martino writes that they were “busy at another incident.” Regardless, the officer in charge told the SIU the mobile crisis team would not have been deployed in this case because a knife was involved — a theme that has also come up in other recent deadly interactions involving police.

Commenting on the SIU’s decision,  Brampton East MPP Guarratan Singh said his (Choudry’s) family and community “were denied the justice and closure they deserved by an appalling, utterly broken police oversight structure that routinely fails racialized Ontarians and people living with mental health issues. ”

Noting that ” the subject officer in Mr. Choudry’s killing has not been identified, and refused to be interviewed by SIU,'” Singh said ” this toothless investigation is not an isolated incident, but part of a longstanding systemic failing.

“That’s why for generations, legal experts, community leaders, judges, and racialized families in Ontario have been calling for comprehensive reform of this system, that lacks even the bare minimum of accountability, independence and transparency.”

Singh said “it is long past time to completely overhaul these broken systems and give all Ontarians confidence that police will be held accountable, so no family ever faces what Mr. Choudhry’s family has today.

“We must also shift responsibility for mental health calls to alternative first responders equipped to de-escalate and resolve mental health crises safely.

“Lastly, we must urgently invest in community health, including critical mental health infrastructure ,to keep all our loved ones safe and healthy.”