A police agency west of Toronto is fighting to secure a publication ban on the names of the officers involved in the death of Ejaz Choudry, a father of four with schizophrenia shot and killed by police, who claimed they had to act out of fear for his safety.
Peel Regional Police say publishing the identities of the five officers involved in the death of the 62-year-old in June 2020— including one who fired two bullets into Choudry’s chest after his family called a non-emergency line when he was in crisis — would put them and their families at risk.
CBC News intends to oppose the application for a publication ban.
In a notice of motion to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in May, lawyers for the force said “the officers fear for their safety and mental wellness, and for that of their family members.”
One officer involved in the shooting said he fears going out in public with his family and has faced threats and intimidation on social media and during protests, according to the police motion.
Choudry’s family members say the move for a publication ban reeks of irony.
“Despite ignoring my father’s safety and well-being in the midst of a mental health crisis, these officers have asked the courts to respect and prioritize theirs,” said Choudry’s daughter, Nemrah Ahmad.
“It’s simply an excuse to keep their names hidden from the public,” Ahmad said. “There needs to be transparency and accountability.”
The motion is set to be heard next April. The family’s lawyers, Simon Bieber and Chris Grisdale, declined to comment.
Mental health call became ‘tactical operation’: lawsuit
The motion comes as Choudry’s family prepares for a lengthy court battle after their hopes for criminal charges were dashed when Ontario’s police watchdog declined to lay charges against the officers involved.
In April 2021, Ontario s Special Investigations Unit concluded the officers acted appropriately, saying the decision to open fire was “reasonable, necessary and proportional to the threat posed by Mr. Choudry.”
Last June, the family filed a $22-million civil suit against the Peel Regional Police Services Board, Chief Nishan Duraiappah and the five individual officers for what they say was a “reckless” response to a mental health distress call that ultimately cut Choudry’s life short.
Police maintain they were dealing with an armed man who threatened them and that non-lethal measures to stop him were unsuccessful.
The civil suit, which not been reported on until now, claims the officers’ actions breached Choudry’s right to life under the Charter, amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and violated his right to equality as a racialized person in crisis.
It also alleges battery and negligence, saying the way officers treated Choudry “fell well below” the standard of care.
“They negligently allowed a straightforward mental health call to spiral out of control and become a high-risk tactical operation,” the lawsuit says, adding the police “deployed deadly force without justification.”
“The subject of the operation was a frail, racialized, elderly man who was suffering from non-life threatening mental health issues who did not speak English fluently.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Shot within 11 seconds
As outlined in the claim, Choudry’s family called Peel paramedics around 5:30 p.m. on June 20, 2020 concerned he wasn’t taking his schizophrenia medication. Choudry appeared confused, they said. It wasn’t the first time they’d seen this happen and previous incidents were dealt with “without incident.”
But instead of receiving medical attention, Choudry would die that day.
Choudry’s daughter told the dispatcher he had a small pocket knife with him, but that he wasn’t dangerous. Paramedics contacted the police for help, who told Choudry’s family to leave the home.
When police arrived, they asked in English to see Choudry’s knife, a request his daughter had to translate. Choudry then revealed a 20-centimetre kitchen knife from under the mat he was sitting on and told police to leave.
According to the lawsuit, Choudry said he “would not leave his home because he was afraid that the officers would shoot him.” Later, when a Punjabi-speaking officer arrived, Choudry told him he had no intention of hurting himself, according to the family’s civil claim.
Nevertheless, rather than waiting for a mobile crisis unit, officers assembled in front of Choudry’s door and on his balcony with a plan to apprehend him under the Mental Health Act. Choudry stopped responding to police around 8 p.m., after which police forced their way into the home and shouted at him in English, the suit said.
Within 11 seconds of breaking down Choudry’s door, police Tasered him, shot three rubber bullets at him and fired two bullets into his chest, killing him.
Police later confirmed no mobile crisis response unit was deployed to Choudry’s home, saying there were none available at the time. Had police waited for the crisis team, his family believes, Choudry might still be alive today.
In a statement of defence, lawyers for the police denied the allegations, saying they made the decision to enter his apartment “out of imminent concern for his safety given the medical history provided by his family, the elevated potential for self harm as he was in crisis and in possession of two knives, and the fact that police had lost complete contact with Choudry for a lengthy period of time.”
The statement argues that once police entered the home, Choudry approached them “in a threatening manner” with the knife and non-lethal options to stop him from advancing were unsuccessful.
It adds any losses or damages the family suffered were of “their own negligence,” arguing they failed to ensure Choudry took his medication and got timely medical attention, and that in having a kitchen knife, Choudry should have known there would be a police response.
The statement also says the officers believed Choudry understood English and that Chief Durappiah should not be personally named in the lawsuit.
That defence was filed in October 2022.
‘I am afraid’: officer who shot Choudry
In a motion filed May 19, 2023, lawyers for police argue that after Choudry’s death, officers faced multiple threats in the form of social media posts calling for their names to be made public, “vitriolic” comments made at protests and a physical banner hung on a major highway calling Peel police “murderers.”
The motion claims those threats came from a community group called the Malton People’s Movement that emerged in the wake of a string of deaths involving Peel police; an Instagram account called Eyes on Blue Lies; and individuals including a YouTuber who threatened to publish the home address of at least one officer.
Choudry was one of four racialized people with mental illness to die at the hands of Peel police in the span of just a few months close to the time of the police killing of George Floyd in the U.S, his daughter notes. Those deaths included Clive Mensah in November 2019, Jamal Francique in January 2020 and D’Andre Campbell in April 2020.
At one demonstration after Choudry’s death, three members of the Malton group were charged with mischief after allegedly throwing red liquid on the walls of a police division, the motion says. At a July 2020 protest, the motion says a relative of a man killed by Peel police in 2014 allegedly made verbal threats, saying, “Why can they just shoot us like this? What if we start strapping up and shooting them back?”
Choudry’s daughter said the immediate family had no role in the protests and no family members, immediate or extended, were ever charged in connection with them.
Also included in the motion are affidavits from the officers involved, speaking about their fears in their own words. Among them is the officer who opened fire on Choudry — identified as John Doe Officer 1.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that this is frightening. 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,” the officer says, adding he’s added extra locks and video surveillance at his home and taught his family to be vigilant about their surroundings.
The officer adds that going out with family “has become more of a chore than an enjoyment because of the steps we take to protect ourselves,” and that he worries for his wife, her business and their children.
Family says it ‘shouldn’t have to fight’ for transparency
A threat assessor on the Peel police payroll concluded in a report included in the motion that publicly naming the officers involved in Choudry’s death will “enhance the risk for violence toward them and should be avoided.”
The assessor, who said her remuneration “is not tied” to her conclusions, notes that there have been “no identifiable threats or concerning communications directed toward the police” since the summer of 2021.
Asked about police linking Choudry’s death to threats made against them, his daughter told CBC News, “I have a right to know who murdered my father and for them to use things that are beyond anyone’s control as evidence to suppress their identities is nonsense.”
“I shouldn’t have to fight to know the names of the people who changed our lives for the worst.”