Seven people were arrested on Saturday at a demonstration in response to Ontario's police watchdog's ruling to not lay criminal charges against the officer who shot and killed Ejaz Choudry, a 62-year-old man with schizophrenia.
Choudry's family and community members gathered in Mississauga around 1 p.m. outside his apartment building, at the intersection of Morning Star Drive and Goreway Drive, where he was killed while having a mental health crisis last summer.
The demonstration happened days after the release of a report by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) into Choudry's death.
"The SIU keeps letting the cops who do their jobs terribly off with no warning, no consequences, leaving families and communities reeling and with questions and then no answers," said Asher Hill, who was at the gathering.
Ahead of the planned demonstration, Peel police in a tweet Saturday morning recognized people's right to peacefully protest.
A few hours later, they tweeted that demonstrators were occupying the roadway of the intersection of Morning Star Drive and Goreway Drive. They encouraged drivers to use alternate routes.
At 4:30 p.m., protestors made it clear that they were going to move the demonstration onto the nearby train tracks, said Peel police spokesperson Akhil Mooken.
In response, officers created a police safety line to prevent people from occupying the tracks. That's when some demonstrators tried to push their way through them, Mooken said.
As a result, he said, seven demonstrators were arrested. As of Saturday night, charges were still pending.
The demonstration was organized by the Malton People's Movement (MPM), a group that was formed in response to Choudry's death, to fight against police brutality and support families of those killed or injured by police.
Advocacy group demands answers from Peel officials
On Tuesday, SIU director Joseph Martino said that the Peel Regional Police officer who fired two bullets into Choudry's chest acted reasonably when he opened fire from the balcony of the man's locked apartment on June 20 of last year.
Choudry's family had called a non-emergency line requesting medical assistance for him.
They said he was in crisis and reportedly had a pocketknife, the SIU's report said.
After an approximately three-hour encounter, Choudry was shot and killed by police after they found him wielding a large kitchen knife and shouted at him in English — a language his family has said he didn't properly understand — to drop the weapon, the report said.
Speaking to CBC News at the demonstration Saturday afternoon, MPM member Vijay Balasundaram said there have been too many incidents of police violence, and the group is taking to the streets until they get some kind of justice.
"We have no choice," he said, pointing to other cases where the SIU has cleared police in fatal encounters involving people in crisis, such as Regis Korchinski-Paquet, D'Andre Campbell and Clive Mensah.
"Enough is enough," Balasundaram said. "The community needs justice, the community needs accountability."
He said rallies and protests like the one on Saturday have catalyzed instances of police reform, such as officers being made to wear body cameras while on duty and Peel police suspending a program that put uniformed officers in schools.
The advocacy group is demanding that officials in Peel Region, such as Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie and Peel Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah, respond to their actions. They also want to know the name of the officer who killed Choudry, which was omitted in the SIU report.
Police need more help in mental health response: officer
Police spokesperson Mooken said because the SIU did not lay any charges, the officer has a reasonable right to privacy under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"As an organization, we do have to respect that," he told CBC News Saturday afternoon.
Mooken said as a result of Choudry's death, Peel police started a pilot project where officers are trained with body cameras. He said they will begin using them while on duty later this month, but said they need more support in responding to people with mental health issues.
"Police should not be the primary responders to a mental health crisis," he said.
"We need to work to find an alternative solution to how we can support those that are suffering a mental health crisis and will continue to work with our partners and continue to advocate for them."
Loss of hope in police force, SIU
Sean Akan, another MPM member, says something more needs to be done when it comes to holding police accountable for their actions.
"We have multiple Black men killed, we have brown men killed ... No matter what the context, everyone has the officers cleared," Akan said. "That's the most frustrating thing."
He said he has lost hope in the police force and the SIU.
Aruna Sharma was Choudry's neighbour for two decades and described him as being very nice and gentle.
"He [had] some problems. It doesn't mean police can come and shoot him. And [the police officer] was not punished," she said, becoming visibly emotional in an interview with CBC News.
Sharma said she is angry with the police watchdog's decision regarding the death of her friend.