Above the Law on CBC Docs
(July 7, 2020 – Toronto, ON) It would be hard not to know about the lives of Black Americans and their unjust and unjustifiable treatment at the hands of U.S. law enforcement. We may think things in Canada are vastly different, vastly better, but that would be a lie. Five years in the making, Above the Law is an essential new documentary that uncovers systemic flaws in the oversight of police in Calgary, Alberta, and exposes the consequences of failing to adequately address police misconduct.
The recent killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, among other cases, has sparked outrage and mass protests around the world as people demand an end to racial inequality and police brutality, including in cities across Canada. Above the Law brings together disturbing video evidence and powerful interviews with current and former Calgary police chiefs, lawyers, a survivor, and victims’ families, to investigate the current system of checks and balances for law enforcement in Alberta, and raises critical questions about policing in Canada.
The documentary investigates three cases of excessive force involving the Calgary Police Service, two of which were perpetrated by the same officer less than 18 months apart. We hear from Godfred Addai-Nyamekye (pictured above), an immigrant from Ghana, who, in 2013, was detained unlawfully and abandoned in -28°C weather by two officers, before being assaulted by Constable Trevor Lindsay after calling 911 for help. Despite Addai-Nyamekye’s formal complaint with the Calgary Police Service, Constable Lindsay remained on duty and, in 2015, assaulted a handcuffed man in his custody, Daniel Haworth, causing him a traumatic brain injury. “Growing up as a kid with my dad as a cop, they were my heroes,” said Robert Haworth, Daniel’s brother. “I couldn’t believe that someone would be handled so aggressively when they were in handcuffs. No one deserves to have that done to them.”
A third incident, also in 2015, involved a “wellness check” that turned deadly for 27-year-old Anthony Heffernan. Viewers will hear directly from the Heffernan family, who relentlessly seek justice as the shooting goes unprosecuted despite the provincial police watchdog’s recommendation of criminal charges. In the words of Anthony’s father, Patrick, a retired high school principal from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, “We do not have a just society if police can come to a wellness check, kick in a door, and shoot an unarmed man four times.” Unfortunately, Anthony’s killing is not an isolated occurrence, with the Calgary police responsible for disproportionately high numbers of officer-involved shooting deaths in recent years. In 2018, Calgary police officers were responsible for five fatal shootings — more than the Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Edmonton police combined, and, strikingly, more than either the New York or Chicago police departments in the same year.
“This is not the film we would have liked to make about the city where we were born and raised,” said Marc Serpa Francoeur, co-director of Above the Law, “and we’ve been profoundly impacted by the stories we’ve examined and the devastating effects of police brutality on victims, families, and communities. While the problems we highlight are not unique to Calgary, it’s clear that there are extremely serious issues at the Calgary Police Service and on the provincial level that need to be addressed.”
“It’s hard to imagine a more timely moment for this film,” said co-director Robinder Uppal. “As the current uprising demonstrates, people from diverse backgrounds across the nation are realizing that systemic racism and excessive force are not distinctly American issues, but are also widespread in Canada, and we cannot afford to ignore them any longer. Like the courageous participants featured in the film, the public is demanding that police be held accountable for their actions.”
Produced by Lost Time Media (The World in Ten Blocks, 2016) and Big Cedar Films (The Missing Tourist, 2017), Above the Law premieres on CBC Docs POV, on CBC and the free CBC Gem streaming service on Saturday, July 11 at 8 p.m. Above the Law will air subsequently in Atlantic Canada and Newfoundland.