'He was so fragile:' Protesters occupy intersection after man fatally shot by police in Mississauga, Ont.
TORONTO -- Protesters have occupied a Mississauga intersection for over 24 hours as the family of a 62-year-old man, who was shot and killed by police over the weekend, calls for answers and justice.
Ejaz Choudry, a father of four, was fatally shot by Peel police inside an apartment in the area of Goreway and Morning Star drives at around 8 p.m. on Saturday.
Peel police first responded to the apartment at around 5 p.m. when a call came in about a person in crisis. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which is now investigating the incident, said Choudry barricaded himself inside an apartment unit and officers were called to conduct a wellness check, but he was eventually shot and killed.
Protesters have occupied the intersection of Goreway and Morning Star drives for over 24 hours and on Monday they set up chairs and tents, saying they would remain there as long as necessary.
With little trust in the SIU, the family of the victim is calling for a public inquiry into the shooting, saying that before the shooting they had pleaded with police, who they never called, to let them inside the apartment unit to speak to Ejaz Choudry and calm him down.
“I spoke to the officer in charge. I’m like even if you guys tackle him, I’m scared you guys are going to kill him. I didn’t know they were going to shoot him,” the victim’s nephew Muhammad Choudry told reporters from the protest Monday.
“I was afraid that even if they tackle him he’s going to die. He was so fragile. He’s been through so many surgeries.”
The nephew said that he told the officer that his uncle, who struggles with schizophrenia, usually listens to him when he’s having an episode.
“I take him to Tim Hortons, I get him coffee, I get him whatever he wants to eat. I drop him home. He calms down. I know my uncle. I have been with him since I was a kid. I know how he is,” Muhammad Choudry said.
“He has four kids and these guys went into the back like it was hostage situation and they killed him. He was in his own house where he felt safe and they broke into his house and they killed him … The whole family pleaded with police. The whole building witnessed this.”
“He was in his house, that’s his house. He’s allowed to be in his house. He wasn’t a harm to himself either, even if he was, you guys ended up killing him. You guys went in to save him? That’s not saving. That’s murder.”
Peel police Const. Sarah Patten said this past weekend that officers believed Choudry, who had a medical condition and was not taking his medication, had access to weapons inside the apartment.
The SIU said that officers were able to communicate with him through the door of the apartment but they breached the door and entered the unit when he stopped responding.
The SIU said an interaction occurred between officers and the 62-year-old, which resulted in police deploying a conducted energy weapon and firing plastic projectiles at him.
According to the SIU, the projectiles and conducted energy weapon had no effect on the man and an officer then discharged his firearm multiple times.
Ejaz Choudry, who sustained gunshot wounds, was pronounced dead at the scene.
"We hope that with the completion of the SIU investigation and also our investigation... a lot of questions can be answered at that time,” Patten said on Saturday night.
At the protest on Monday, Ejaz Choudry’s family said they were feeling shocked and confused. They said initially the call was made for non-emergency ambulance support, a number the family sometimes contacted to help Ejaz Choudry get back on his medication.
“There was no 911 call, it was a non-emergency paramedics that were called … it’s just a routine call, you call, they come, they put an IV drip in you and you calm down and you take your meds,” the victim’s nephew Hassan Choudhry told reporters. “It’s happened before. He’s not a violent person.”
He noted that his uncle, who could barely walk three or four steps due to breathing issues, was not trying to hurt anyone else.
Hassan Choudhry said that when a paramedic noticed a knife on the floor next to his uncle, they “barged out and called police saying it was a threat.” He noted police removed everyone from the unit at that time, and Ejaz Choudry was left alone and scared and refused to come out.
The family says they can’t understand why police allegedly had not allowed family members to help deescalate the situation and why police would take such drastic measures against a frail 62-year-old man who needed help.
The victim’s brother Rafaquat Ali Choudry told reporters that when police tried to stop him from getting up to his brother’s apartment unit, he went around the back to yell and calm his brother down.
“It clicked my mind, my brother is not safe today. I know he not safe today,” he said. “Each police man I requested I said, ‘please … I see his mind and his body language.’ I tried to save him,” he said.
Hassan Choudhry said officers at the back of the building then allegedly confronted his uncle Rafaquat Ali Choudry with their guns and told him to leave.
“My uncle ran around the back and said ‘let me go and scream his name so he knows I’m here because they won’t let me go through the front. They are stopping me at the staircase,’” the nephew said. “He started screaming and police officers came with their guns and said ‘you need to leave.’
“His brother has a right to go and say, ‘listen brother I am here with you, I am standing by your side, what’s wrong? What’s the problem?’”
Instead of spending hours patiently communicating with his uncle and deescalating the situation, Hassan Choudhry said he believes police simply took the easier route.
“They took the easy way out. For them, it was the easiest thing to do, instead of wasting an extra two hours, an extra three hours that could have saved a man’s life,” he said.
“[They thought] we are just going to barge in and kill him because he’s technically just a nobody. This is just Malton, this is just another brown person in Malton, this is just another elderly person.”
“You are fully booted up in all your armour and you go and attack a 62-year-old fragile man with a kitchen knife … he’s so fragile that even the slightest push will kill him.”
Community outraged at death
Ibrahim Hindy, the acting president of the Muslim Council of Peel, said Choudry should have been alive celebrating Father's Day with his children yesterday.
"He's been robbed from being with his children. And the only reason he isn't here today is because of the horrific attack that we witnessed yesterday," Hindy said on Sunday. "He should not be gunned down by the police who are meant to protect and to serve him."
Police would not say what weapons the man may have had inside the apartment. The family told CTV News Toronto that the 62-year-old man has access to kitchen knives but not to a gun.
SIU investigators have collected a police-issued firearm, a knife, a conducted energy weapon, and an Anti Riot Weapon Enfield (ARWEN) from the scene.
“We plan to stay here until justice is served … they shot him in the back, and they killed him, an innocent man that everyone in the neighbourhood loved,” Abraar Gangat, a family friend, told CTV News Toronto on Monday at the protest. “There was no way he could have held a gun. There was no way he could have been a threat to police.”
The victim's other nephew Khizar Shahzad, who arrived at the scene around 7 p.m. on Saturday, said that police removed everyone inside the apartment except Choudry.
"When that happened, his daughter started yelling his name, saying that, 'Come outside. They want to help you,'" Shahzad said.
Hearing his daughter's voice, Choudry opened the door, according to Shahzad. But as soon as Choudry saw the officers running to him, he closed the door. Shahzad said he let the supervising officer know that Choudry was scared of their police uniform.
Shahzad said he too pleaded with police to let a family member go inside the residence to deescalate the situation, but police denied the request. Despite that, Shahzad said he went to the apartment, where he saw four officers trying to break the door open.
"There are reports in the news saying they try to deescalate the situation. I was there. There was no conversation," Shahzad said.
He noted that the officers were yelling commands in English, but Choudry did not speak the language. There was an interpreter at the scene, he said, but they only translated some words.
While officers were trying to access the front door, Shahzad said emergency task force officers scaled the balcony and shot Choudry.
Ejaz Choudry is being remember by his family as a bright, caring man who always spent time with the people he loved.
"It's sad to see that someone that genuine and beautiful is taken from us," Hassan Choudhary said.
The SIU said one subject officer and nine witness officers were involved in the incident on Saturday night.
Several witnesses have now been interviewed, the SIU confirmed Sunday, and investigators are in possession of video footage related to the incident.
Six SIU investigators and three forensic investigators have been assigned to the case.
The police watchdog is asking anyone with information or video footage of the fatal shooting to contact investigators.
The SIU is an arm's length agency called to investigate any incident involving police and a member of the public that results in death, serious injury, or an allegation of sexual assault.
Premier Doug Ford commented on the death during a news conference Monday afternoon, saying he has confidence in the SIU’s investigation.
"My heart and prayers go out to the family that lost a loved one, no matter what happened," Ford said Monday at a news conference.
"This is a terrible situation, unfortunate, but let's see what the report says because I don't believe in pointing fingers at any group, any organization, until we get the details.”
In a statement released Monday night, the Peel Police Services Board said it is "saddened" by the death.
"While united in grief, we also know that the community is angry and frustrated. Everyone rightfully wants answers – and so do we," a statement said. "That said, the Board and Peel Police Chief, Nishan Duraiappah, have requested that the SIU work as expeditiously as possible to conclude these investigations so that the public can be informed of their full findings. Where possible, the Board is also requesting that the SIU provide updates to the public on the status of the investigations."
--With files from Bryann Aguilar and Codi Wilson