'These kind of issues are out here': New doc examines 3 cases of police violence in Calgary

"Above the Law" explores three cases of excessive force involving the Calgary Police Service, including that of Godfred Addai, who was violently arrested by Const. Trevor Lindsay in the early hours of Dec. 28, 2013.

Documentary 'Above the Law' debuts Saturday on CBC Docs POV and CBC Gem

Calgary resident Godfred Addai was violently arrested by Const. Trevor Lindsay in the early hours of Dec. 28, 2013. Addai is one of three cases of excessive force involving the Calgary Police Service examined in the documentary Above the Law, which debuts Saturday on CBC Docs POV and CBC Gem. (Lost Time Media)

For years, Godfred Addai felt like he was alone in his trauma from being a victim of police violence in Calgary.

"Three years ago, four years ago, I was in the wilderness, screaming by myself," Addai said in a phone interview.

As Addai explains in the documentary Above the Law, debuting Saturday on CBC Docs POV and CBC Gem, police officers in the city unlawfully detained him when his car got stuck in the snow in December 2013.

Addai was dropped off far from his home in the dead of winter by one constable and then beaten by another officer, which was caught on video. 

He was left in so much pain he could barely stand, and with post-traumatic stress disorder that continues to this day.

Godfred Addai at his home in east Calgary. Addai says he is still waiting for justice. (Lost Time Media)

He received no compensation, but amid the release of the documentary and a global movement against systemic racism and police brutality, he said he's happy to finally see some attention on cases like his.

"It's about time that we let Canadians know that these kind of issues are out here, police brutality is out here, injustice is out here, discrimination — everything is out here," Addai said.

"Whatever issues are in the States, are out here. And it's about time that we sit back and look at all these issues, and we address them."

Three cases of excessive force

Above the Law explores three cases of excessive force involving the Calgary Police Service, including that of Anthony Heffernan, who was tasered and shot to death by an officer during a wellness check in a hotel room in March 2015.

Anthony Heffernan was shot by police at a hotel in northeast Calgary. (Submitted by Heffernan family)

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) initially found there were grounds to charge the officer with a criminal offence, but the Crown later determined a conviction was unlikely and no charges would be laid.

Also featured is the May 2015 arrest of the late Daniel Haworth, whose family says he suffered brain damage from being punched and thrown to the ground while handcuffed. Haworth died of a drug overdose several months later.

Daniel Haworth suffered a fractured skull and brain bleed at the hands of Calgary police officer Const. Trevor Lindsay. (Court exhibit)

Const. Trevor Lindsay, the same officer involved in Addai's case, was convicted of aggravated assault in June 2019 for his actions during Haworth's arrest.

According to the filmmakers, Lindsay spent two and a half years on relief from duty with pay while he was awaiting trial. He is now relieved from duty without pay and remains free while he awaits sentencing. He's expected to appeal his conviction.

"I think in Canada, for a very long time, we've been acting under the presumption that these are American problems," said Marc Serpa Francoeur, who co-directed the documentary with Robinder Uppal.

"We're so inundated with American media and films, and we watch American court cases, all this stuff, but I don't think we look internally enough."

A police officer pulls over a motorist in south Calgary with the snow-capped Rocky Mountains looming in the distance. Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal with Lost Time Media spent five years exploring systemic policing issues and accountability mechanisms within local and provincial policing. (Lost Time Media)

Serpa Francoeur said they embarked on the film five years ago and looked into systemic policing issues and accountability mechanisms on the force and on a provincial level.

But he noted: "These problems are not endemic to Calgary."

"We need to have confidence that officers are being held to account by what is required of them on a legislative level by the Police Act, what is required of them by criminal law," Serpa Francoeur said.

"There are too many instances where you're looking at a lot of double standard."

'I'm a living testimony'

Addai has launched several formal complaints about his case, and a lawsuit against Lindsay, the other officers and the Crown prosecutors — all of which have not been resolved.

He said he wonders what his fate would have been if the Calgary police helicopter had not been around to shoot video that exonerated him.

WATCH | Police helicopter footage shows the violent arrest of Godfred Addai in December 2013.

Arrest of Godfred Addai-Nyamekye

5 years ago
Duration 3:16
Police helicopter footage shows the violent arrest of Godfred Addai-Nyamekye in December, 2013.

Addai said he wants to see police, including Lindsay, be held accountable for their actions, and for members of the force to be required to undergo more training than the current period of six months.

"I want to see more transparency in that police force," he said. "I want to see a more multicultural police force, not just white."

Before the incident, Addai was a "go-getter" with no health issues, he said.

But after, he faced hefty legal and therapy bills, and was unable to work. He wound up homeless and sleeping on friends' couches, for six months.

"It's been a terrible journey, in terms of going back to the scene and having all these bad memories come back, flashbacks and PTSD," Addai said.

Lawyer Tom Engel in his office in Edmonton. Engel, the lawyer representing Godfred Addai who is featured in Above the Law, previously told CBC News that the process that has unfolded over the past six years around Addai's case has been a 'disgrace.' (Lost Time Media)

But Addai said he's hopeful the documentary will shed some light on police brutality and injustices.

And he feels a duty to talk publicly about his experience.

"I'm a victim and I'm a living testimony," Addai said. "If I don't speak up, who else is going to speak up?"

Above The Law, a documentary that examines alleged brutality and accountability issues within the Calgary Police Service, airs July 11 on CBC at 8 p.m. and online through CBC Gem.

The documentary will air at 9 p.m. in Atlantic Canada and 9:30 p.m. in Newfoundland on July 25.

With files from CBC News


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