The director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Ontario’s police watchdog, says there aren’t grounds to proceed with criminal charges after 62-year-old Mississauga resident Ejaz Choudry was fatally shot by Peel Regional Police (PRP).
“Following a thorough examination of the evidence, I am unable to form reasonable grounds to believe any PRP officer committed a criminal offence in relation to Mr. Choudry’s death,” Joseph Martino wrote in a March 15 report that was released publicly Tuesday morning.
It was at around 5:15 p.m. on June 20 when police were first dispatched to Choudry’s home near Goreway and Morning Star drives in Mississauga after Choudry’s daughter called emergency services to ask for an ambulance.
According to the report, the woman reported Choudry was not taking medication for schizophrenia and left a hospital even though he wasn’t discharged. The caller also said Choudry had a pocket knife. The woman, along with her three brothers and her mother, were told to leave the apartment “as a precaution.”
The report said police arrived around 15 minutes later and an officer subsequently reported Choudry had a large kitchen knife, prompting the service’s tactical response unit to be called.
It was reported Choudry locked himself in the unit and police were initially unable to make contact with him. After roughly an hour passed, Choudry began briefly speaking but ultimately “was not cooperating.”
“Mr. Choudry was difficult to understand but at times responded in English, telling the officers he was not going to open the door and to go away,” the document said, noting a Punjabi-speaking officer was asked to come to the scene.
After that officer arrived, it was reported he tried to tell Choudry police were “there to help him.”
“Mr. Choudry said he was frustrated with his family and called his brother an idiot. He did not answer when asked if he had a knife but confirmed that he had no intention of hurting himself.
The report said police moved to keep Choudry in the unit. Officers put a tactical shield against the front door. Also, residents to shelter in place as officers opted to “negotiate a safe apprehension” under Ontario’s Mental Health Act. It said an officer gathered more information on Choudry’s background before 7:45 p.m. and a crisis negotiator was requested, but officers were told that person was around an hour away.
Just after 8 p.m., an officer reported Choudry was “paranoid and delusional.” After several minutes of silence, the report said police moved to go ahead with a “deliberate action plan” at around 8:25 p.m. — a plan that would see tactical response unit officers enter the apartment through the balcony (officers used ladders to get to it) followed by more officers breaching the front door five seconds later.
The report outlined how the officer who eventually shot Choudry tried to kick in the balcony door, but it didn’t fully open at first.
“Mr. Choudry moved towards the officers holding a large kitchen knife. The officers yelled, ‘Put down the knife,'” the document said, noting another officer unsuccessfully tried to Taser Choudry.
It also said a different officer fired an ARWEN (a less-lethal, rubber-bullet launcher) three times before the main officer under investigation shot his pistol twice, fatally hitting Choudry in his chest.
In the explanation of the decision to not proceed with criminal charges, Martino said the officers executed their duties in a lawful manner.
“I accept that, when Mr. Choudry brandished the knife in the presence of police and refused to cooperate, the police had adequate grounds to apprehend him because he presented a threat to himself or others and demonstrated a lack of competence to care for himself.”
It was also confirmed the officer who fired the pistol declined to be interviewed by the SIU, something that is allowed under law.
Despite the findings, Martino questioned the use of the ARWEN after Choudry fell inside the apartment.
“At first blush, this use of force is questionable given Mr. Choudry’s frailty and position on the floor; however, I am unable to find it excessive,” he wrote.
Choudry’s death came amid other high-profile instances of Greater Toronto Area residents in crisis dying after interactions with police.
In May, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black Toronto resident, fell 24 storeys from her apartment and died after Toronto police responded to a mental health-related call. Her death prompted thousands of people to protest against racism and use of force by police in Toronto and across Canada.
In April 2020, D’Andre Campbell was fatally shot by Peel Regional Police after his family said he called 911 to ask for help during a mental health crisis.
Criminal charges weren’t laid in either of those incidents.
Martino acknowledged the recent deaths of people in cases, calling Choudry’s death “tragic.”
“There have been concerns that police presence can escalate these situations and make them worse. In Mr. Choudry’s case, his paranoia about police played a significant role in his death and these concerns have obvious validity,” he wrote, noting the presence of officers escalated Choudry’s behaviour.
“While questions about police reform are of clear importance, systemic issues in policing can only play a role in the SIU’s decision-making where they are relevant to the potential criminal culpability of an individual police officer.”
Martino also said a request by Choudry’s family to speak with Choudry is “open to legitimate scrutiny,” but he wrote there were safety concerns with having them close by.
In response to the report, Hassan Choudharey, Ejaz Choudry’s nephew, said the family was “devastated” after reading the findings.
“Regardless of the sequence of events of what happened, there was zero accountability,” he told Global News on Tuesday.
“If you feel you have one of the right to pull a trigger and take someone’s life, you should have to be accountable and you should have to answer for it.”
Outside of Choudry’s apartment building on Tuesday, several people showed up with signs to protest the findings.
Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah issued a statement after the release of the report.
“We recognize that more has to be done to support those in crisis, and police should not be the primary responders called upon to manage mental health calls,” he wrote.
“While we are addressing the growing needs for mental health support, we know that gaps still exist. I have been working with community stakeholders to address the growing need for mental health services in our region.”
— With files from Kamil Karamali