Police brutality and policing in general has been dragged kicking and screaming under the microscope of late. A good thing, but unfortunately too late for many. Way too many. CBC Docs episode Above the Law, directed by Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal, does an excellent job exposing the abuse and that it often goes unpunished by looking at the Calgary Police Service.
We tend to sit here on this side of the border believing that things like systmatic racism and police brutality are much better here. They aren’t and the facts bear that out. We are just better at hiding it. I was shocked to find out that CPS often leads the country in police shootings. In the year that was studied 2018, there were five deaths as a result of police shootings which meant that Calgary had more than Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Chicago or New York police departments. It is time we stood up and said that this is not acceptable.
The 43 minute documentary brings to us three concrete examples of these abuses and the fact that horrifyingly enough despite the evidence against them these police officers are not being held accountable.
On a night in 2013 Godfred Addai-Nyamekye suffered twice at the hands of the Calgary Police. On evening after leaving a party with a few friends, he was the designated driver and his friend’s car got stuck in the snow leaving him stranded. First he was picked up by two police officers, driven in the opposite direction of his residence and then dropped off at a corner in the middle of nowhere with the temperature being minus 28 wearing only a track suit. Total disregard for his well being. When he had no other option but to call 911 for help what he got was tasered and a severe beating at the hands of Constable Trevor Lindsay. His back was so badly injured that he has not been able to work since.
That beating happened while he was in handcuffs posing no threat. Despite the fact that it was all captured on video the Crown said it had no case against the officer and he would not be proscecuted. Even worse, Constable Lindsay continued to work during the time he was being investigated and ended up beating another person in handcuffs.
In 2015 Daniel Haworth was arrested by Constable Lindsay after an allegation by his ex-girlfriend of theft. Again in handcuffs he was punched several times in the head and thrown to the ground head first with no way of protecting himself. All this led to a traumatic brain injury and eventually due to complications relating to his injury, the death of Haworth. Still Lindsay continued to work.
Finally, in 2015 police were called to a hotel for a wellness check on a man who had overstayed his booking. Five officers arrived, proceeded to kick in the door to his room and shoot an unarmed man four times, including three times in the head. The family of 27-year-old Anthony Heffernan has spent years seeking punishment for the officer involved only to be told by the top prosecutor in Alberta that there was not enough evidence to lay charge. An all too common response.
Above the Law shows the culture of exactly that. That those working in the police force in Canada (and elsewhere) seem to operate in a world which puts them above the law. In that rarefied air, like the present President of the United States, in which they are beyond accountability. Over the five years it took the two directors to make this documentary example after example has come to light supporting their argument.
The police are people we are supposed to trust. Often with our lives. That trust has been eroded due to the frequent abuse of their power. A whole system seems to have been set up around them to protect them no matter their conduct. Time for change is long past. As a graphic towards the end of the documentary tells us when over the first six months of 2020 there have been 20 people shot during wellness checks in Canada how can you not come to the conclusion that it is time? Something has to change before others pay the price with their well-being or even lives.
Even if you missed the documentary’s debut you can still stream it on CBC’s Gem or YouTube for free.