Review: John Doyle, The Globe and Mail (July 10, 2020)
“A must-see… if you want to be familiar with what happens in this country when police violence goes unchecked, you need to brace yourself and watch.”
“It’s wonderfully made and the thriller-like twist near its end is a scorcher.”
Canadians entrust police officers with an enormous amount of power, including the authority to detain a person and use force against them if necessary. But are officers being held to account if they abuse their power? That’s one of the fundamental questions posed by Calgary-born-and-raised filmmakers Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal in Above the Law, an eye-opening investigation into accountability, or lack thereof, in the Calgary Police Service.
Five years in the making, the film unravels the intertwined stories of three individuals who appear to have been the subjects of excessive force at the hands of Calgary police officers.
Godfred Addai-Nyamekye, a 26-year-old student and immigrant from Ghana, says he had his life upended one frigid night in the winter of 2013 when the car he was driving slid off the road and got stuck in the snow. Two police officers arrived on the scene, put him in their vehicle and drove him in the opposite direction of his home. According to court documents, the officers allege Addai-Nyamekye had become aggressive, which he denies.
When the officers left him at a desolate construction site, it was –28 C with the windchill, and Addai-Nyamekye was dressed in only a tracksuit and sneakers. Panicking, he called 911 for help. After nearly 15 minutes, an entirely different officer, Const. Trevor Lindsay, arrived on the scene.
“This is where he almost ended my life,” says Addai-Nyamekye in the film, returning to the site where he was tasered and beaten. Following the incident, Addai-Nyamekye was charged with having assaulted Const. Lindsay.
Although Addai-Nyamekye filed a formal complaint with the Calgary Police Service about how he was treated, the officers involved remained on duty. Const. Lindsay went on to be charged with aggravated assault in the May 2015 arrest of Daniel Haworth, the son of a former Calgary police officer. Haworth, who was suspected of theft, was handcuffed at the time of the incident, which left him with a fractured skull and traumatic brain injury.
“Growing up as a kid with my dad as a cop, they were my heroes,” says 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.”
In March of that same year, Anthony Heffernan, a 27-year-old electrician, was fatally shot in his hotel room by one of five Calgary Police Service officers who had been called to check on his well-being. Some of the officers say Heffernan appeared to be in a drug-induced state, refused to drop a lighter and syringe, and moved toward them. But the Heffernan family continues to seek justice for Anthony’s death, which they say is a clear-cut case of excessive force.
“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,” says his father Patrick Heffernan, a retired high school principal from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
Unfortunately, Heffernan’s death is not an isolated occurrence. Recent years have seen Calgary lead the country in police shootings. In 2018, Calgary police officers were responsible for five fatal shootings — more than the Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton police combined, and more than either the New York or Chicago police departments. Despite this, Alberta’s police watchdog, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, has never charged a Calgary police officer in a fatal shooting.
Featuring disturbing video evidence and powerful interviews with current and former Calgary police chiefs, lawyers, families and a survivor of alleged police brutality, Above the Law raises serious questions about the way the Calgary Police Service handles complaints, the reliability of Alberta’s police oversight mechanisms and the willingness of Crown prosecutors in Alberta to bring charges against police officers.
Big Cedar Films &
Lost Time Media
Produced in association with CBC, and with the participation of the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Fund, CMF, Ontario Creates and Canada Film & Video Tax credit
Director: Marc Serpa Francoeur & Robinder Uppal
Producer: Geoff Morrison, Marc Serpa Francoeur, Robinder Uppal
Cinematography: Daniel Froidevaux
Editor: Marc Serpa Francoeur & Robinder Uppal
Music: Christine Bougie & Joel Visentin
Production Executive (CBC): Charlotte Engel