'These things happen to Canadians': New documentary exposes police violence in Calgary

Elisabetta Bianchini
·7 min read

On Dec. 28, 2013, Godfred Addai-Nyamekye was the designated driver taking his friends home from a house party in Calgary, Alta. and got stuck in the snow. When a police vehicle pulled up, the officers handcuffed Addai-Nyamekye, put him in the back of their car and drove him to an area he wasn’t familiar with. Eventually, they let Addai-Nyamekye out of the vehicle, leaving him alone in -28 C weather wearing just a track suit.

Freezing and scared, he called the police for assistance and eventually Const. Trevor Lindsay arrived. That’s when Addai-Nyamekye’s became a victim of assault by a Calgary police officer.

Addai-Nyamekye is now being featured in the documentary Above the Law, produced by Lost Time Media and Big Cedar Films, which highlights three cases of excessive use of force by police in Calgary.

In an interview with Yahoo Canada, Addai-Nyamekye said what happened that night more than six years ago is still hard to talk about because of the trauma he still suffers from.

“PTSD is not a joke, it’s not easy,” he said. “Sometimes I get mood changes, I’m still going through the healing process...it takes time to go through this process.”

Addai-Nyamekye was initially charged with assaulting a police officer after the incident with Const. Lindsay. Following a trial, Addai-Nyamekye was acquitted and he has since filed a lawsuit against Const. Lindsay, the other officers involved and the Crown prosecutors.

Less than 18 months after Addai-Nyamekye’s attack, Const. Lindsay assaulted Daniel Haworth when police were called to investigate reports that a man had broken into his ex-girlfriend’s home.

Haworth suffered traumatic brain injury and memory loss from the attack and died in 2016, after being kicked out of a drug and rehab facility for missing meetings, overdosing on fentanyl that same day.

The third case featured in the documentary is from 2015. Calgary police were called to do a wellness check on 27-year-old Anthony Heffernan. He was in a hotel room, unarmed, and was tasered and shot multiple times by police, ending Heffernan’s life.

A photograph of Irene and Patrick Heffernan with their son Anthony. (Lost Time Media)
A photograph of Irene and Patrick Heffernan with their son Anthony. (Lost Time Media)

‘It just gets worse and worse’

Directors Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robiner Uppal told Yahoo Canada the film began with Addai-Nyamekye as the focus but as they continued to dig deeper into the case over the course of five years, they realized this was a much broader issue.

“It wasn’t our intention to originally do an exposé on the Calgary Police Service,” Serpa Francoeur said. “It did sort of spiral into this bigger picture and we started to see those implications of broader systemic issues coming out in case after case.”

He added that one of the “very disturbing” aspects of working on this film is how expansive these systemic issues within the Calgary Police Service turned out to be.

“The metaphor that sticks is this notion of a rotten onion where you peel back the layers and it just gets worse and worse,” Serpa Francoeur said.

The thorough and frank look at the Calgary Police Service also reveals a number of issues with the process by which these cases were handled, with little resolution to date.

In 2019, Const. Lindsay was convicted of aggravated assault in Haworth’s case. After more than two years of paid leave he is no longer receiving a salary while suspended from service and awaits sentencing.

Addai-Nyamekye is still waiting for any resolution for his lawsuit and complaints against Calgary police officers and the Crown prosecutors.

“They just keep dragging it on,” Addai-Nyamekye said. “I’m out here suffering, going through all this pain...I thought they were going to take the complaint seriously and do something about it.”

“It’s very disappointing...it’s very stressful.”

Serpa Francoeur identifies transparency as just one of the core issues addressed in the film. He explained that when someone files a complaint with the Calgary Police Service, they get a letter back indicating it is being investigated but there isn’t any information shared about how the complaint is being interpreted.

“If you’re not telling people how you’re interpreting the complaints, and they come back and say you looked at A but you forgot about B, C and D, that’s just bound to cause problems,” Serpa Francoeur said.

That lack of transparency has now resulted in even more complaints from Addai-Nyamekye that are being processed, including complaints about the mishandling of complaints.

For Addai-Nyamekye, he said it was “a battle” to even begin to navigate the justice system, and even trying to find the right lawyer to take on his case.

“There were so many resources out there that I didn’t know and nobody would tell me,” he said. “It’s been a very long battle but I’m not going to stop fighting.”

Godfred Addai-Nyamekye (Lost Time Media)
Godfred Addai-Nyamekye (Lost Time Media)

‘These things happen to Canadians’

With the release of the film following movements around the world demanding more transparency in policing, more action to stop police brutality and excessive use of force, and calls to defund police services, Above the Law is a stark reminder that these incidents certainly occur in Canada.

“When we talk about this project or when we tell people that this is set in Calgary it’s the same reaction, it was just total shock that this is happening in a place that we don’t really think of as being a place with a high crime rate or an unsafe place,” Uppal said. “It’s a safe place and to see some of these statistics, like in 2018 the fact that Calgary police officers shot and killed more people...than either the New York or the Chicago police department, this is shocking.”

Addai-Nyamekye wants people who watch Above the Law to understand that police brutality happens in Canada.

“A lot of times people don’t see police brutality and all these issues in Canada but it happens it just never comes out,” he said. “We’ve got some issues out here and we’ve got to address that...it’s about time we address all that stuff.”

“We need to get past this racism and police brutality, we need to address that before...we can move forward.”

Uppal added that the breadth and size of the recent anti-racism demonstrations in Canada show that Canadians are aware of these issues and want to see change.

“These things happen to Canadians and they happen with more regularity than we would like to believe, and people are really waking up to that fact across the country,” Uppal said.

“When people see these incidents and they see them again, and again, and again across the country, where people are being harmed, sometimes killed by the police and these responses, I think it’s really fair to question whether an armed police response is the right response.”

Addai-Nyamekye wants to see a significant reform in the police force and the justice system so others do not suffer the same way he has since 2013.

“We have to hold every individual to the same standards and everyone has to be accountable before the law,” Uppal said. “The film shows the ramifications of not taking these issues seriously, of not taking complaints like Godfred’s seriously, and the rippling damaging effects that come out of these incidents when we don’t give them the attention that they deserve.”

“Above the Law” airs Jul. 11 at 8:00 p.m. on CBC and online through CBC Gem.

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