'I am afraid': Police who killed Ont. father seek to hide their names from public in court
A Toronto-area police service is fighting to keep the names of the officers involved in the shooting death of Ejaz Choudry, a Mississauga father of four, from the public record, arguing “dangerous” consequences could befall both them and their families if their identities are released.
A Notice of Motion filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in May as part of civil proceedings in a lawsuit launched by Choudry’s family is seeking a publication ban of any information that could identify the Peel Regional Police (PRP) officers involved in the man’s death. According to the motion, publishing the identities of the five officers involved in the June 2020 death of the 62-year-old father would put them and their families at risk.
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If passed, the motion would see a publication ban put in place preventing the dissemination of any information that could identify the accused officers, including but not limited to names, physical description or likeness, vocal or speech characteristics, and visual images broadcast on television and radio, in print, and by electronic means, the motion reads.
Within sworn affidavits, the officers said individuals threatened to release their addresses, displayed ‘wanted’ posters featuring their images and names, made verbal threats at rallies, and hung banners from Highway 400 overpasses labelling PRP officers as “murderers.”
While the officers argue that their right to safety outweighs the public’s right to open court documents, a Canadian human rights organization claims the case could pose a risk to access to information at a time when questions of systemic racism and treatment of vulnerable people within the law should be top of mind.
In an interview with CTV News Toronto Tuesday, Shakir Rahim, lawyer and director of the criminal justice program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, highlighted that local police services have been involved in several incidents involving the serious injury or death of racialized residents in recent years, and that, in turn, officers’ identities are a matter of public interest.
““There is a particular importance in the public knowing about those issues – not only because that is a form of accountability, but also because there might be other cases where these officers have been implicated,“ Rahim said.
“It's important that individuals are able to assess whether that is the case.”
Peel police declined to provide a comment to CTV News Toronto this week on the decision to file the motion, citing the ongoing proceedings.
‘A HIGH RISK OPERATION‘: LAWSUIT
Choudry was fatally shot inside his apartment in the area of Goreway and Morning Star drives in Mississauga on the evening of June 20, 2020.
Just after 5 p.m., Choudry, who lived with schizophrenia, was in his residence with his family when his daughter called paramedics, requesting assistance as she said her father was not taking his medication and was in crisis.
Responding Peel police officers made a number of unsuccessful attempts to remove Choudry, who they believed to be armed with a knife, from his home, before kicking the door in, according to the SIU’s report.
The balcony police used to enter Ejaz Choudry's home is shown in an SIU image.
The officers fired a Taser, three non-lethal rounds, and then two rounds from a handgun at Choudry. The SIU said Choudry did not drop his knife after being shot and that an officer then shot two more plastic projectiles at him, before kicking his arm, causing the blade to drop.
Choudry was pronounced dead at the scene at 8:38 p.m. He was 62.
Choudry’s shooting came within weeks of three additional deaths of racialized residents struggling with mental health involving law enforcement, including that of Regis Porchinski-Paquet who fell to her death from the balcony of her west Toronto balcony the month prior during an interaction with Toronto police. It also closely followed the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis, Mn., police officer.
His death prompted outrage from both his family and the wider community, sparking demonstrations for days in his neighbourhood and calls for a full inquiry.
In April 2021, the SIU concluded its investigation, finding no legal basis to charge the officer who fatally shot Choudry. The police watchdog said the decision to open fire was "reasonable, necessary and proportional to the threat posed by Mr. Choudry.”
With no avenue to lay criminal charges, Choudry's family launched a $2 million civil lawsuit in 2022 against Peel Regional Police, its chief, and five unnamed officers, alleging they turned a “straightforward mental health call” into a “high-risk tactical operation” that resulted in the father of four's death.
In a statement of defence filed in October 2022, police denied any wrongdoing, maintaining they were dealing with an armed man who threatened them and that non-lethal measures to stop him had been unsuccessful. It is these civil proceedings, and the subsequent public court records produced, from which the Peel police are fighting to have their officers name scrubbed from.
When reached for comment, neither Peel police nor Choudry’s family opted to provide any further statement while the matter was before the courts.
Children hold signs in front of the apartment building where Ejaz Choudry, a 62-year-old man who family members said was experiencing a schizophrenic episode, was shot by Peel Police and died at the scene the previous night, in Mississauga, Ont., Sunday, June 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Galit Rodan
ONLINE THREATS MADE
In the motion, the officers argue that keeping their names anonymous became necessary due to the actions of a handful of groups, operating both on- and offline.
The officers also argue that to protect their identities would not prejudice the plaintiffs or obstruct the freedom of the press.
According to the motion, in the weeks after Choudry's death, a group dubbed the ‘Malton People's Movement’ (MPM) maintained a prevalent social media presence dedicated to raising awareness of Choudry’s death and calling for the identities of the officers involved to be made public.
Representatives for MPM could not be reached for comment before publication.
The described effort included hanging ’WANTED’ posters with the officer’s names and faces on them, organizing and holding community rallies, and threatening to share the officers personal information, including their addresses, online, according to their statements.
The document states that in July 2020, three prominent members of MPM were charged with mischief after they were observed throwing a red liquid on the walls of a Toronto area police division.
Subsequently, during a July 2020 protest of police killings, an MPM member delivered a speech in which she verbally threatened police officers, stating that if “anything were to happen to [her] daughter [...] [she] would blow up a police station.”
The same member then called on observers to “start riots” and stated she would “clap” – a word which here means to shoot someone with a firearm – a police officer with ease, the motion reads.
Smaller, auxiliary groups and individuals supported these sentiments as well, according to police.
According to the motion, one YouTube user shared videos of the officers on Choudry’s balcony, with a comment that indicated he was aware of the addresses of one of the officers and planned to disseminate that information.
’I AM AFRAID’: OFFICER INVOLVED IN SHOOTING
In sworn affidavits made to the court, the involved officers expressed that if they are publicly named, they would fear for their and their families safeties.
One of the officers, assuming the pseudonym ‘John Doe 1,’ said that, despite more than three years passing since the incident, the stress has not alleviated.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that this is frightening,” the officer wrote. “The passage of time has not helped, and I am afraid about how much worse things may get if my name is released to the public.”
Shortly after the incident in an effort to protect their family and children, the officer wrote that they requested to enter the provincial address suppression system, a program offered by the Ministry of the Solicitor General to select eligible individuals that removes their names and addresses from certain databases such as the provincial vehicle registry.
‘John Doe 3’ – an officer who had their address threatened to be released online – said the threats they’ve faced since Choudry’s have “significantly” impacted them and their family.
“Our concern for our safety was so significant that we sold our home immediately and relocated to a new area,” they wrote.
The fears have persisted throughout the move, the officer said, attesting that he has had to attend the ER “multiple times” due to anxiety spurred from threats.
“I fear that if I am identified, community members who are angry with police will seek retribution against me, or worse, my family,” they wrote.
According to an affidavit penned by Peel police Threat Assessment Unit detective Christine Robinson, there have been "no identifiable threats or concerning communications directed toward the police" since the summer of 2021.
Still, Robinson said that, while it would be “simply impossible” to predict what might happen if the officers names were publicly released, violence “invariably begins with a grievance, and grievances (such as those following Mr. Choudry’s death) can be reignited.”
“It is my opinion that publicly naming the tactical officers involved in the lethal force encounter with Mr. Choudry will enhance the risk for violence toward them and should be avoided,” Robinson wrote.
MOTION MUST BE EXAMINED CRITICALLY: CCLA
The motion is of concern to the Canadian Civil Liberties Associations, according to Rahim, who said the move “poses a risk to ensuring that information about court proceedings is available to the public.”
“I think whenever there is a motion that seeks to restrict information about a court proceeding, we have to examine that critically and closely,” the lawyer said Tuesday.
“There are all kinds of cases, both civil and criminal, that can expose information about a person that is distressing or discomforting to them or may be reputationally concerning – all of which are some of the factors cited by the police in this motion – but in those cases, the court proceedings remain public because of how important the open court principle is,” he continued.
Ultimately, Rahim said the court must recognize that its decision, whatever it may be, will “bear upon important questions of systemic racism and the treatment of people in crisis.”
The case’s next hearing date is set for April 9, 2024.
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