‘Above the Law’ Exposes Police Brutality in Canada

Godfred Addai-Nyamekye in Above the Law
Photo: Lost Time Media / Big Cedar Films

By Pat Mullen

As the Black Lives Matter protests wage in response to systemic racism and police brutality, Canadians cannot convince themselves that these problems are exclusive to the USA. This week’s episode of CBC Docs POV, Above the Law, challenges the convenient narrative that Canada is immune. Directed by Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal (The World in Ten Blocks), Above the Law is an eye-opening doc five years in the making. The film features unflinching accounts of police brutality in which three Canadians suffered horrible acts of violence involving the Calgary Police Service. Two assaults were perpetrated by the same officer. The doc should inspire Canadians to ask deeper questions about how we hold to account the officers sworn to protect us.

Godfred Addai-Nyamekye, a Ghanaian immigrant, for example, recalls the terrifying night that upended his plans to make a better life in Canada. He tells about the night that he volunteered to be the designated driver for his friends in winter 2013. Addai-Nyamekye recalls in Above the Law how officers pulled him into their vehicle following an altercation, took him for a ride, and abandoned him in the middle of the night. The temperature was a frigid -28°C. When Addai-Nyamekye called for 9-1-1 for help, Constable Trevor Lindsay arrived on the scene and beat him to near death. The footage from the scene is chilling, while the half-hearted investigation into the case by officers of the law will leave a viewer deflated.

Addai-Nyamekye is alive to tell his story in Above the Law, but other victims are not so lucky. (It admittedly feels trite to call someone “lucky” when an attack left him with injuries that prevented him from working and rendered him homeless, with other lingering traumas.) The family of Anthony Heffernan, for example, speaks on behalf of their son who was fatally shot during a wellness check in 2015. Each crime leaves further victims as the individuals and their families find themselves disillusioned with a criminal justice system that is willing to look the other way to protect its own. Coupled with the headlines today from both sides of the border, the stories couldn’t be more relevant or timely.

Above the Law shatters the naïve belief that Canada is innocent. But it also asks a deeper question: at a time when Canadians are taking to the streets with calls to defund the police, why aren’t the names of Godfred Addai-Nyamekye, Anthony Heffernan, and Daniel Haworth (the third victim featured in the film) more widely recognized? If it takes the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis to mobilize (more) Canadians to address police brutality and systemic racism at home, that’s a problem. How much are Canadians willing to comfort themselves with a lie? That question underlies Above the Law as these survivors and families seek to hold a broken system to account.

Above the Law premieres on CBC Docs POV on Saturday, July 11 at 8 p.m. on CBC and the free CBC Gem streaming service.

(And stay tuned to read more about Above the Law in Marc Glassman’s interview with directors Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal!)