Documentary filmmakers Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal rejoin Team Advantage to discuss their theatrical-length exploration of the deeply troubled Calgary Police Service: No Visible Trauma. Recent years have seen the Calgary Police Service shoot and kill more people than officers in any other Canadian city, and more than either the New York or Chicago police departments in 2018.
No Visible Trauma can be streamed on demand through the Calgary Underground Film Festival until December 1st. Follow the film on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Please consider contributing to their legal fund (they are being sued by Constable Christopher Harris for $150,000 in damages).
A full transcript follows the break.
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Kate: Hello, and welcome to The Alberta Advantage. I am your host, Kate Jacobson, and joining Team Advantage today is Clinton —
Clinton: Hello there.
Kate: — and returning to the show are two documentary filmmakers, Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal, makers of the feature-length film about Calgary’s police service, No Visible Trauma. They previously joined us here on The Alberta Advantage to discuss a CBC documentary titled Above The Law. Marc and Robinder, thank you both for joining us here on the podcast.
Robinder: Thank you for having us!
Marc: Thank you so much for having us back! What a pleasure.
Kate: So, this new feature-length film covers several of the cases that your shorter CBC documentary, Above The Law, covers — but, in this feature-length film, the level of detail that you’re able to cover is much more in depth and paints a, frankly, even more disturbing picture of policing in Calgary. So perhaps, to begin with, how did you find so much fucked up stuff with Calgary’s policing and police service that a 44-minute documentary with the CBC just wasn’t enough time to cover it all?
Robinder: Well, it’s because there is just so very much fucked up stuff to talk about. Everything that was in the 44 was just — we were actually restricted quite a bit in the 44 from getting into, even, detail on those individual stories, but also, specifically, the broader issues, whether it’s talking a little bit about what officer morale is like. Other whole cases that we just could not cover but that were in the news were major cases of multiple police officers acting very poorly and getting caught on camera. So, there’s a couple of those in the longer version. And then other cultural issues, whether it’s naming officers, the transition of power from Chief Chaffin, a bit of the backstory around why he came in and what his promises were when he came in and how he left, as well. And the reality is that we still — we could do far more, as Marc had said, there’s far more to cover still, but the 97 minutes felt like the right amount of stuff in terms of completing these narratives.
Marc: I think it’s not hyperbolic to say that we could do a whole 10-part series of something like that. There’s so many different instances. And actually, since releasing Above The Law, the CBC version, we’ve had numerous people contacting us with various traumatic stories that are past, present, ongoing, and many that haven’t been covered in the media. Unfortunately, there’s a really deep well to plumb, and I think that, in No Visible Trauma, we really do have the opportunity to get much more into the larger systemic issues at the provincial level, including ASIRT, the Crown, and then the internal issues at CPS to do with discipline and professional conduct — which, of course, also relates to the Alberta Police Act, which is, ultimately, the guidance for the departments in Alberta to operate under.
Clinton: One new case that is highlighted in the film is an incident with Clayton Prince that occurred in July 2016. Could you tell us what happened with that incident, what police dash cams ended up recording, and, ultimately, what happened as a consequence of this case?
Marc: It’s also a disturbing case. I mean, it was actually of the — the Anthony Heffernan incident had a fair bit of coverage, but the Clayton Prince incident had, also, a fair bit of coverage, partly because there was three officers coming out of it who were charged. In very brief strokes, Clayton Prince was a young Indigenous guy who was pulled over in a traffic stop — it’s a little bit nebulous, the circumstances, but, in any case — this was just off of MacLeod Trail and Glenmore. He ran around — there was a restaurant, and he ran around to the other side, and then, when he was cornered by several officers, he got down on the ground and quite clearly puts his hands over his head and surrendered, at which point several officers jump on and proceed to punch and hit him in various ways after he had surrendered. So, this was a rare case where this actually went to ASIRT and then ended up going to trial, and there was three officers — Constables Othen, Humfrey and Sandalack. Of those three, only Constable Oathen was convicted of an assault charge. So, we very briefly, in the opening act of the film, use some of the archival footage from the dashcam footage and then news coverage, and we sort of used this as a jumping off point to bring in some voices, including former Chief Chaffin, Meghan Grant — who covered the trial, CBC’s Meghan Grant — and then former officer Jennifer Magnus, to speak more broadly about, basically, brutality issues and a culture of silence and all that. It’s worth pointing out that, in that case, there was an officer who did testify against his peers, and that really was the big part of the Crown’s success, was that there was this officer who testified at that time. So, anyways, it’s an interesting — there’s a lot going on there, but that’s the basic strokes of the incident. But there is a little bit more in the sense of: there was also — and this was, I think, quite well established — a torture aspect in the sense that Prince had had a key jammed in behind his ear, and the judge, Margaret Keelaghan, established this in court — he seemed to have specifically gone to get his keys and then, a known pressure point behind the ear. And that became infected. So, it was quite a troubling incident, and part of us — well, we also see, afterwards, is: two officers, including a trainee and a recruit, speaking about the incident after the fact, and that also was, I think, quite revealing.
Kate: There are so many things that are troubling about the recordings of the incident that you just detailed, from the cops wanting to teach a suspect a lesson by, and I quote, “feeding buddy some cheap shots” (meaning administering a beating to someone who was surrendering into police custody), the idea that this is a routine part of police behaviour and the consequences only happened because it was recorded, or a veteran constable telling a rookie that —
Constable Christopher Harris: Now, what you saw here [for legal reasons we are not transcribing].
Kate: — and cops saying, “YouTube alert” before turning off their cameras so that their misconduct — by which, once again, I mean the merciless beating of a person — didn’t get recorded. Do you have any kind of sense of how pervasive this type of conduct is within the Calgary Police Force?
Robinder: That’s a really difficult question to answer, in terms of the pervasiveness. Well, first of all, let’s just say this — part of what happened at trial was they talked about how frequent these foot chases are, and we know that this isn’t something that happens every day. People being chased in their cars at high speeds is not something that happens every day. So, these are somewhat rare occurences. It’s not like every call is going to end in a foot chase. And, so, they happen regularly enough that there’s opportunity for this kind of misconduct, but it’s not so regular that it happens literally every day. But, if we listen to Jen Magnus — and I think she is to be believed because she’s well-experienced and understands the culture of policing and has researched this, as well — it happens far too frequently, and the culture does exist, both in training but also just as a matter of learning as you go that there is a punishment for running from the police that is clearly extrajudicial. It’s not part of the court process; it’s something that officers will deliver to you. And, having talked to people in Calgary who’ve experienced different levels of this, it’s something that happens with some regularity. And I think part of problem is that — and this is quite pernicious — is that people begin to sort of expect this, or tolerate this, as a behaviour from the police, that, “Oh, it’s a bad guy running, so it’s a good idea to then punish that person in one way or another.” But even if you’re a law and order conservative and you think that these are all bad guys and that they should be punished severely, you have to understand that, by doing this — by officers behaving like this — it totally undermines any potential court case or any potential serious ramifications for that individual who’s potentially accused of a crime because their Charter rights have been violated, and, if you violate someone’s Charter rights, there’s a precedent in the law to be lenient with any sort of sentence or to, basically, forgive certain kinds of crimes because a person’s Charter rights have already been violated; they’ve been punished extrajudiciously, in a sense. So, it’s actually very bad, even if — I think it’s something that should be across the board, everyone should be able to agree that cops administering street justice, but you still see these comments, you still hear this commentary that, essentially, is tolerant of this kind of abuse, and I think that’s actually one of the troubling things, to me, about this whole incident and incidents like this, seeing these comment on news stories that, “Oh, this guy basically — they should’ve been rougher on him,” or something. It doesn’t make any sense to me.
Marc: There’s another aspect to it — and you mentioned it, Kate, where there’s several videos in play; each car has a video — there is a question that we’ve always had as to the delay that happens when the videos are turned on where, for thirty seconds or something, there’s no audio to accompany the video, and I just cannot understand why that would be the way that those systems would be designed. It’s very strange. But one of the things that we see in the main video of the vehicle that was facing the incident — the camera was very much turned off and, as Meghan Grant says in the film, it’s hard to imagine that that wasn’t intentional. Now, to our knowledge, there was no — I don’t know what ASIRT’s conclusion — we’re actually still, we’ve been trying for quite some time, approaching a year and a half, to get the ASIRT report. We’ve just put in a fresh FOIP request for this because it wasn’t concluded before, apparently — had been denied to us the first time — but the whole issue of, well, why was there no consequence for this officer who turned the video off? It seems like that would be a pretty clear obstruction of justice or some sort of charge. And not just him, because, actually, of all the officers — and there’s approaching a dozen different officers involved in this — only the one who ended up testifying against his peers at trial (and, commendable for him that he at least did that), only he had his mic recording. So there really is, also, a question: why didn’t the other officers — our udnertsanding is the policy is that all the other officers, at least one of the officers in each car should have a mic and it should be recording, and that wasn’t the case. So that’s also a question. And we’ve seen this with several other incidents in Calgary. There was one near Eau Claire where somebody died having somehow gone over a balcony — the circumstances are opaque, but there were several officers involved in that incidence, and none of them had their body cameras on, or they were malfunctioning, or what — we’re not clear. And we could certainly speak at length about the fact that police body cams are not a panacea. That being said, in the Clayton Prince incident, in Godfred’s case and the Daniel Howarth incident, it’s really the video that led to charges or any sort of consequences — or, in Godfred’s case, him being vindicated for the fatuous charge of having assaulted an officer. So, one of the issues that we’re concerned about is that policy around videos and if there aren’t consequences when officers are not having them on or turning them off — I mean, that seems to us like a major problem.
Robinder: And just to add one more thing — the Clayton Prince incident, one of the other disturbing things about it is that, as far as we know, the only reason it was flagged was because someone at headquarters saw the video. It wasn’t as though the other officers involved reported it, even though we know there was a person who had, ostensibly, surrendered and was subject to quite a bit of beating and pain compliance techniques and then, also, this key shoved in the neck. At least two officers did testify against their peers, but they didn’t report the incident in the first place — it was only picked up through the police video review process. So, it’s also another case where the video — again, imperfect and turned off mid-incident — still was the big factor in leading the charges, because the culture of, “Well, we didn’t participate in this,” or, “We weren’t the ones beating up this guy; we don’t need to be involved, we don’t need to speak up,” is, I think, quite pervasive one way and another. And there are consequences, as Jen Magnus says, for people who do speak out, whether it’s direct or indirect, whether it’s a cultural consequence where you get shunned for being that person, that cop who speaks out and sticks their neck out, or, possibly, other consequences. I can’t really speak to that too much.
Clinton: Your film revisits the March 2015 death of Anthony Heffernan. Very briefly, he relapsed into drug use in a hotel room and hadn’t paid up. Management called the police to conduct a wellness check and to evict him, and within just over a minute of the police arriving, Anthony is shot several times in the head and chest with five officers present in a very tiny hotel room. The only thing Anthony had in his position was a syringe without a needle tip. The film includes Anthony’s parents visiting the hotel room where the incident occurred. It’s a very, very small room, and it appears that several shots were fired downward into the floor, meaning Anthony was on the ground. And the idea of having five police officers, plus Anthony, crammed into this space, is a little shocking. What did visiting the space where the incident occurred tell you and the Heffernan family?
Marc: You know, it was actually the Heffernans who insisted to us, just as, coincidentally — or, maybe not coincidentally, but also — Susan Hughson had told them about how important she thought it would be for the Alberta Crown prosecutors who were looking at the case to go to the room and see for themselves the space and exactly where things were in the room, just to understand what had happened. To our knowledge, that never happened, but we’d be keen for the Crown to prove us wrong or to inform us otherwise. So, the Heffernans were very insistent. They said, “You have to go look at the hotel room and you’ll understand.” And it’s true — this is a low-end hotel, it’s two beds, there’s just not a lot of space in there. There’s several aspects that we looked at in terms of evidence as to what had happened. As you mentioned, yes, shots had clearly been fired into the ground. And, actually, we were able to acquire, through a Freedom of Information Request from Calgary Police Service, the crime scene photos — which were heavily redacted, mind you, to remove Anthony’s body despite the fact that the request was done with the permission of Anthony’s parents, so why, on privacy grounds, his body would have been redacted from those photos is really something we also have a problem with. But, in any case, several other things emerged. Yes, we could see, as in the film, where the bullet had gone through the wall into the other room, which is also an issue that was raised, that, had there been somebody in the other room, they might have been collateral damage, and that this, as Tom Engel, the attorney, points out, this is evidence of the wild shooting that took place despite having so many officers and Anthony crammed into that room. The other key thing — and this is a huge part of the case and one that, quite frankly, was not, in any satisfying way, addressed by ASIRT in their investigation or by the Crown in their decision not to prosecute — but the entire reason, the justification, for having entered the room was based upon the word of one officer (which can be quite soundly deduced was McLoughlin) to saying that he could see Anthony in the room appearing to be pacing around and was, apparently, in medical distress. And that was the grounds by which they then kicked in the door, and the rest ensued. Now, the problem with that is: we know, from the records, that the interior latch on the hotel room door was on and that, as we were able to see ourselves in that room, you absolutely cannot see into the room through that crack in the door. So, the notion that they could have seen him out in the main part of the room, pacing around, or that McLoughlin could have seen him. It does not bear up to scrutiny. And that’s one of the things that, certainly, the Heffernans have been most disturbed by, is that apparent contradiction and the fact that that was not addressed, because that, of course, colours everything that follows and also calls into question the credibility, or the behaviour, of the shooter, Constable Maurice McLoughlin.
Kate: Some of the most interesting footage in your film involves a recording of a conversation the Heffernan family had with Alberta Serious Incident Response Team’s executive director, Susan Hughson. Could you talk a little bit more about that conversation?
Robinder: Yeah. It’s quite the conversation, and it’s very unusual, on some levels, because you have this person who’s the head of this oversight body feeling, I think, genuinely concerned about this family, wanting to keep them apprised of what’s going on with the investigation and having this somewhat frank conversation that she knew they were recording and making a recording of at the time that she was saying the thing that she was saying. And there are a few really revealing moments. One Marc mentioned already was her saying that, “I’m going to suggest to this Crown prosecutor who’s been assigned the case that she has to go down to the room — she has to check it out herself because it changes one’s view of what happened that day because of the size of the room.” So, that was an interesting moment in that conversation. But the other thing that really struck us was this seeming admission, this implication, that there needed to be: first, a distance of at least Edmonton to Calgary between the Crown prosecutor and the police service because there would be some sort of pressure — this sense that you have to be a certain distance from the police officers because, otherwise, you’re going to be under some sort of pressure to do things a certain way. And that, I think, is even itself kind of a stunning thing, but then she went a little bit further than that and basically said, “I don’t want the Crown prosecutor to have these thoughts floating around in her head, that she has to work as a Crown prosecutor for the next fifteen years in Alberta.” She gets cut off by Irene Heffernan, who says, “Well, isn’t that the problem? Isn’t that the exact problem, that you have the very same people who are responsible for bringing in charges against officers when they do something wrong have to work hand in hand with these officers, they have a close relationship in many ways?” And it’s disturbing that, when ASIRT was toying with the idea of recommending to the Crown to send the file out of province, that never happened. The file was never sent out of province. So, we’ll never know if the distance was too close to Calgary and whether pressure was applied or whether it wasn’t applied and how high up this decision not to prosecute Maurice McLoughlin, the constable, went, because she implies that it would’ve been best to send it out of province, but then they didn’t do that best practice. They didn’t create that separation that seems necessary. And I think the broader issue has been pointed to by the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association. There is a fascinating letter that they sent — it was an open letter, and they got published in the papers in Calgary and Edmonton — and it basically called for the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service to create a special pool of prosecutors, who were experienced prosecutors, to deal with matters involving police and/or other powerful, connected people, whether politicians or otherwise, that could apply pressure to prosecutors. That seems like a very reasonable suggestion in a lot of ways; you want people who know what they’re doing, who have many years of experience, who won’t be moved by implications of pressure, at yet, the response from Eric Tolppanen — and it’s quite the letter, and I wish I had it in front of me to quote, but — basically his response was (and he published this in the letter section of the Edmonton paper and the Calgary paper) was that Albertans can trust the criminal justice system because they can trust the criminal justice system. It was a very circular argument basically saying, “We’re trustworthy; therefore, trust us,” that no other rules, or — there was absolutely no sense that there was any pressure ever applied to anybody, that these were groundless concerns, and that Albertans could just have full faith. And I think that’s the kind of attitude that keeps us stuck exactly where were are, where, even though a former senior Crown prosecutor can admit that there would be some pressure, you still have people at the highest level saying, “No, we don’t need to create a better system to deal with police malfeasance.”
Marc: And just quickly, further to that whole revelation in the film, we know that the Crown prosecutor at the time — Carrie-Ann Downey — who had been assigned to the case, we don’t know what happened and why she seems to have been taken off the case and why it was that Eric Tolppanen and not her was speaking at the press conference announcing that there wouldn’t be any charges. And the notion that there’s been no explanation as to what exactly happened there is another thing that is very disturbing to the Heffernan family, surely. There is also this question, and it’s been pointed out to us by several people who work in the legal field, that we have a big difference between Alberta and, say, BC, so one of the things that we’ve wanted to have access to is, okay, well, where is the opinion letter from the Crown explaining why, exactly, the rationale that they’re not pursuing charges? And we’ve been told flatly, and that’s been denied to us, actually, via Freedom of Information, that that’s privileged information. Now, the interesting thing about that is: in BC — and this is relatively new, is our understanding — there’s now a policy where the Crown can’t do that; they have to offer some explanation as to the reason behind their decisions. And it just seems to us, and many others that have been thinking and writing about this, that that would be a model that we should really have in Alberta, something like that, to have a much greater level of transparency. Because, as it stands, there’s just not a lot of openness in terms of why the Crown does what, and it’s quite disturbing because there’s very little avenue for appeal, right? This all sort of presumes a kind of infallibility on behalf of the Crown. And that actually relates — for example, in the Godfred case, who has been, now, we’re years into a lawsuit that has been just crawling along and there has been several points at which the defendants have not complied with the norms in terms of responding, but it seems as if that the Crown, as a defendant, basically, broadly speaking, on malicious prosecution, that that’s not going to be allowed to proceed. Yeah, I think it’s tough. Even if we can sort out the issues on the local level in terms of the police and reallocation of resources and all this stuff, there still is an overarching issue to do with the relationship between the Crown and the police and whether or not we can actually be confident that the prosecutions that are happening, or are not happening, are just and well-reasoned, just because, again, there is not a lot of transparency around those decisions.
Clinton: Any of the subjects that you’ve talked to through the course of making this documentary — have they described any of the methods that can be used, or have been used, by police departments to apply pressure to prosecutors? I imagine one way would be to stop feeding them the information they require to do their jobs, but have any others been spoken about or hinted at?
Robinder: I think this has been reversed somewhat, as a practice, but the showing up in court in full uniform and four or five cops, sometimes, will show up. This is the classic example, and how much that continues to happen is — supposedly, that’s been frowned upon more and not something that happens as much, but we’re not really sure. There’s obviously other methods. You have police unions who are, in their own way, quite powerful — and that’s a whole topic in and of itself — but they can exert quite a bit of political influence, and they have their own lawyers, and there’s the kind of lobbying efforts that go on in terms of what the police unions want. And one of the other things that’s covered in the film is this pressure that came from the police union under the leadership of Les Kaminski — and he campaigned on this — was that officers shouldn’t be named. So that’s, I think, the kind of pressure that we’re talking about when it comes to the Crown Prosecution Service, is this generally-applied pressure to work with the police rather than against the police, to be for law and order and not for prosecuting the good guys, so to speak. And that, I think, is hard to quantify, and that’s why it’s so easy for Eric Tolppanen to make this claim that there’s never any pressure, but the fact that Susan Hughson can talk about, “Well, I don’t want something lingering in the back of her head —” well, if officers know that you’re one of the prosecutors that is going after cops, they may treat you very differently and make your life, day to day, much more difficult. And that could be a concerted effort or that could be an individual effort, but that’s just a reality of being a Crown prosecutor — you have to work with police officers to some extent. And so that, therefore, makes a lot of sense, to have a different pool of prosecutors or to go out of province when looking for a prosecutor to actually follow a file. Now, they have been good in the last few years about, at least, going to Edmonton if the officer’s in Calgary, or vice-versa, bringing in prosecutors from Calgary if it’s an Edmonton file, but there’s no clear policy, and it certainly isn’t communicated to the public as, “There are our principle, this is what we’re going to uphold, and this is why, so that there is no pressure.” But it’s certainly something that could be implemented.
Marc: Yeah, and I’ll just point out — back to the issue of officers showing up at trial — it was interesting to see that, during Constable Lindsey’s trial back in spring 2019 in relation to when he was subsequently, as we see in the film, convicted of the aggravated assault of Daniel Howarth, that there actually — and we were in court, we saw this with our own eyes — there was a couple of uniformed officers who showed up, and they were actually — and this was interesting to see — asked to leave by — there was another officer who was there who was sort of the representative of the executive, who was kind of monitoring the trial, and these other cops who had showed up for whatever complex of reasons — we don’t know if that was of their own accord or if they were providing support on a personal level, if they were sent by the union, or what — but they were asked to leave. So that was, at least, a positive moment in that trial, was that potential intimidation was not going to be tolerated. So, we were happy to see that, and, presumably, that was a directive from the executive.
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Kate: Your film also takes a longer look at the case of Godfred Addai-Nyamekye, who, in December 2013, was essentially abandoned at a construction site late at night in -28° weather by the police and, only having access to a friend’s cell phone, called 911. Constable Trevor Lindsey eventually responded to the call, proceeded to taser Godfred several times. There is helicopter footage that shows Godfred being dragged through the snow, punched and kneed by Constable Lindsey, and his intake makes no mention of his injuries — no visible trauma. There are several scenes where Godfred revisits the site of the incident, recalling what happens, and your film, I think, does a very good job of illustrating the long shadow that experiencing this trauma drew over his life over the next few years, but, despite a wealth of evidence about this, my understanding is that the Crown declined to proceed with charges against the officer, Constable Trevor Lindsey, and Godfred’s comlpaint about the incident still remains unresolved. So, why do you think that there has been no traction with this incident despite enough evidence to, you know, make two documentary films about it?
Robinder: That’s a really good question. You’re pointing, I think, directly at this very unequal application of the different rules of justice by the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service. And, if you look at — I mean, Godfred’s case is disturbing on so many levels, but one of the things that always gets me is the fact that — okay, so the police act poorly — they leave this guy in the freezing cold, and then another cop comes and beats him up and then they charge him with assaulting an officer, but then the Crown prosecutors, by the cold light of day, have to look at this stuff and say, “Is there enough here to proceed with this to trial?” And, “Is this in the public interest?” That’s another question that they always have to answer. And, so, it’s just outlandish to think that, after they saw the video of Godfred being beaten up, and after there’s no evidence at all that Godfred did anything wrong, and there’s never even a claim from Constable Lindsey that Godfred lifted a finger against him — just that he sort of lunged is the only thing in the notes where you could possibly draw some sort of inference of a possible assault — and it’s so absurd that the prosecution went forward with this. And it leads to this crazy moment in the court during the trial — and it’s in the transcript — where the judge is in the middle of the prosecutor’s closing statement — the submission’s what they call them in Canada — the judge interrupts and basically says, “So, where is the assault?” And the notion that you would have a trained prosecutor and his boss and the whole department decide that they’re going to prosecute this guy, only to have a judge be like, “What are you talking about? Where is the assault? Why are you here?”, basically. It really points to how I think systemic racism may have played a very large role in Godfred’s case, because you have this accused who seems like, “Yeah, we can get a case on him. He assaulted an officer. Don’t actually look at the details on this, but let’s just go forward with it.” And Godfred himself, I think one of the things that I’m really glad to include in the longer version of the film is just him talking about how bad it feels for him. He’s happy that, of course, charges were pursued against Trevor Lindsey in the assault of Daniel Howarth, but he looks at that, also, and sees injustice, because there’s a video in case and there’s a video when Daniel Howarth was assaulted, and what is so different in his case? And the only thing he can really point to is himself, that there’s some sort of racism going on, that he’s not being treated fairly and that his case is not being given the consideration that it deserves when it comes to bringing charges against officers.
Marc: There are so many aspects of Godfred’s case that are so disturbing. And, actually, this whole process started, for us, with learning about Godfred’s case, meeting him, and investigating what had happened. That was the jumping-off point for us. And I think we’ve talked a little bit about Lindsey, and I think the only reason why we’re having these bigger conversations, likely, is: there is certainly a factor, is that the video — we can see him being dragged through the snow by the handcuffs and then beaten. And, actually, it’s been pointed out — and this has never been addressed, that we’re aware of — that Trevor Lindsey was actually a right leg amputee, that, when he’s kneeing Godfred in that video, it’s actually not — presumably, if we understand the video correctly, where the amputation is; this was from a childhood, some sort of medical condition — that it’s theoretically his prosthetic that he’s using. We were contacted by a former classmate of his, that it’s theoretically his prosthetic that he’s using to hit Godfred. So the question was raised as to whether or not that would constitute assault with a weapon, which is an interesting question, and I don’t know whether or not — certainly, the Crown has not seen fit to [laughs] address that, as far as we’re aware. But, actually — stepping back, with Godfred’s case — equally disturbing, in many ways, is the initial interaction, the fact that these officers detained him — by their own admission, did not Charter and caution him, did not arrest him. Their justification after the fact was that Godfred had been intoxicated. Now, Godfred maintains that he had not been drinking. The officers did not do a Breathalyzer test on him; they did not do, even, and old-school walk-the-line sobriety test, and they certainly didn’t take him to the drunk tank. So if, in fact, that he was so intoxicated as to have to be, for his own safety and the safety of others, removed from the public realm, then how was it that they were then able to drive in the opposite direction of his house — and they knew where he lived because they’d seen his ID — and drop him off, like you said, in -28° with the windchill in a huge construction site? And that they were able to do this — our terminology has always been this is kind of like an urban starlight tour. Where are the consequences for those officers? And, as Tom Engel, who is now Godfred’s attorney in his lawsuit, pointed out, he says when you look at the original, quote, “investigation” that had been done to substantiate the charges against Godfred, that he had assaulted Constable Trevor Lindsey — if you look at the page that says “Evidence,” the entirety of the evidence listed on that page is one line, and it says, “Constable Trevor Lindsey can testify to having been assaulted by Godfred.” There was no looking, at all, at any of the circumstances that had led to him being in the situation that he did. And it actually gets worse in the sense that, when Godfred filed a formal complaint with the Calgary Police Service back in 2014 shortly after the incident, he described, in detail, what had happened. And there is a huge problem here with how the Calgary Police Service is handling complaints, because, as it wasn’t exposed for years, the way they interpreted that complaint is that it was only against Lindsey, whereas, for Godfred, he was very much under the impression that the officers who had, it would seem, very much illegally detained him and had been described by many folks, it’s like, I don’t know, how do you call that anything other than a kidnapping, to take somebody without due cause and to transport them against their will and to leave them somewhere? I mean, that sounds like kidnapping to me. But how is it that those officers — which also included a sergeant who was involved, who had subsequently tried to tell us that we should retract a statement that he had been involved in the incident, claiming he wasn’t involved despite the fact, by virtue of his own notes [laughs] he was involved — in any case, that they would be so myopic — and it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t intentionally done, but, again, we don’t know, we can only speculate — that these other officers were not going to be investigated as well. And now there’s a whole series of other complaints that have been spawned by this complaint and the mishandling of the complaint. But that’s a huge problem, and I’ve suggested that, in conversations with folks at the Calgary Police Service, that the appropriate thing would be: if somebody files a complaint, there should be some sort of correspondence that says, “Thank you very much for your complaint. This is how we’ve interpreted your complaint: bullet point, bullet point, bullet point. Is there anything missing? Is there anything we got wrong?” And then, at that point in time, that would be a great opportunity to clarify exactly the substance of a complaint, be it public or be it coming internally from the police department. But that is not something that is happening, and that seems to us a massive flaw.
Clinton: One darkly amusing part of your film involves the tension between the then-police chief Chaffin and the head of the police union, Sergeant Les Kaminski, president of the Calgary Police Association. Kaminski pushed back hard against the former chief on the matter of naming officers that were criminally charged. It was then revealed that Kaminski himself was under criminal investigation and would later be named publicly. Could you tell us waht happened there?
Robinder: That’s one of those situations where I remember reading about it at the time and just being floored that this was really happening, that the guy that — so, basically, yeah. Kaminski campaigns, and he campaigns on this tough notion that he wants to bring the Calgary Police Association, which is the officers’ union, back to the Calgary Police Commission. He wants to get them a seat at the table — he wants to be part of the conversation, he’s going to be very aggressive in advocating for their members and their rights. And one of the things he campaigns on is this idea that we shouldn’t be naming police officers who are charged with crimes because it’s very harmful to the officers, and sometimes it doesn’t always go through and they don’t always get convicted, so we shouldn’t name them when they’re charged. And, as Roger Chaffin points out, Calgary was one of the few places in the entire country that actually had this policy of not naming charged officers. Almost everywhere else, they had been doing it for years. And, so, he actually had made this push, and part of his campaign to be promoted to chief was that he would bring transparency, and one of the things was that, if you named charged officers, it has an improving effect on officer behaviour, maybe, that they don’t want to be named when they’re charged. And, as Chief Chaffin told us (this isn’t even in the film, but), he pointed out to us that when he decides to name [laughs] an officer, when a chief decides to name an officer, it’s not like it’s done willy-nilly. And he even says, “Okay, if there’s an investigation done into you, Marc, it will be maybe 12 hours or something, and then, bam, there’s your charges — you’ve been charged.” When it happens to an officer, they take up to a year, and the union lawyers look at it, everybody looks at it, the prosecutors look at it and go up to ASIRT to make sure that charging this person who’s sworn an oath to uphold the law of the land is being done in good faith. And the comment from Chaffin was, “You tell me, after this year of investigation, that we shouldn’t name that officer, after all of that work has gone into making sure that this is a valid charge, that we shouldn’t at least be publicly naming this person the same way that any other membver of the public is named when they’re charged. So, that’s the stakes. And then, basically, Kaminski is pushing, comes in, talks to Chaffin and says, “Either stop naming officers or we’re going to go to war.” And Chaffin said, “Well, I guess we’re going to war, because I’m not going to sell out that ideology.” In the meantime, Kaminski knew, while he was campaigning for this, that he was under investigation for perjury and assault in a case going by the name of Arkinstall going back many years where, when he was on patrol, he and another officer pulled over somebody who was associated somehow with the Hell’s Angels and, basically, proceeded to — and, again, this was caught on camera by somebody in an apartment, just happened to be above, filming — but they throw this suspect into the back of a police van headfirst (this is another officer who does this — Derrick, not Kaminski — but Kaminski is watching). They throw this guy into the back of the van and then slam — they throw him so hard that his legs go up in the air, and then they slam the internal door of the van on his legs until he pulls his legs in. And then, in trial, Kaminski testified that none of that happened. He also didn’t make any meaningful notes about the entire incident, which is totally contravening CPS policy, and this guy’s a sergeant at the time, so it’s a little bit like, really? You didn’t know you were supposed to make notes? You’re a sergeant and you’ve done — according to him — thousands of arrests and you didn’t know you’re supposed to make notes? Oh my goodness. Anyways. So, this is the kind of stuff that he says on the news and in public, that he learned a valuable lesson about making notes. [laughs] But you really should have known. All that to say that, at the end of the day, when it actually came to pursuing these charges, the Crown basically just dropped them before they could actually go forward. And somebody like Engel — Tom Engel, who’s this criminal defence lawyer; he appeared in the film many times and has advocated for these issues a lot — looks at that and says, “That shows me there’s something wrong with the Crown prosecution service, because it seems like an open and shut case. He testified to this, he didn’t have notes, he clearly perjured himself — why aren’t we pursuing this when it’s something so important?” And, yeah, it got dropped, and he walked away from it unscathed.
Clinton: So, Chief Roger Chaffin of the Calgary Police Service resigned three years into a five-year term to be replaced by the current chief, Mark Neufeld. What happened to his term, and why did he quit in the middle of it?
Marc: I think there’s a number of things going on. One of the things — and we see this in the film — is that there’s so much antagonism with the Calgary Police Association, which is the union, that it just — he felt that that, his continued presence, was potentially getting in the way of making progress on some of the reforms that he was trying to do. It’s tough. I think that he was very generous with his time with us, and I think he really does care about these issues quite deeply. I think he had some successes but, really, was also quite frustrated by some of the resistance within the department to these issues, some of which we touched on: naming use of force — he says in the force, “Maybe if we spend a little less time [laughs] advocating against the naming of officers who are charged with criminal offences and more trying to address the problems that are leading to those charges, that that might be time well spent.” So I think it was a number of factors, and I get the impression that it was sort of bittersweet, that he feels that things were accomplished but that it wasn’t as robust or far-reaching as he might have liked.
Robinder: I think the other thing that one has to consider with Chaffin and him going in as a reformer is that the previous chief really seems to have been, from all things that we’ve heard from people talking about this, was really happy to let officers get basically exactly what they wanted, and that included not naming anyone who was charged with whatever offences and being very, “Alright! I’m part of the team, and we’re all here together to have —” well, I wouldn’t say a good time, but he wasn’t, basically, putting any pressure on anyone, at the union or otherwise, to be accountable. And — although it’s hard to tell this as a member of the public, because they seem similar — Chaffin’s approach was a pretty hard turn from this,a and so he had to break a lot of new ground, however imperfect — and we can certainly point to flaws in how this was executed and how things played out — however imperfect, he did try to break new group on accountability in Calgary, and I think he did ultimately pay a price for that.
Kate: The UCP intends to re-open the Police Act. In your opinion, will this be good when it comes to address the crisis of policing in Alberta that your work documents, and do you think that current Solicitor General and Minister of Justice Kaycee Madu is equipped to make the changes that are needed?
Robinder: Well, I think the Police Act reform is something that everyone who’s in the know has been talking about for many years in Alberta, and it’s something that there’s really broad agreement about, that this is something that needs to be redone, because it serves, really, no one to have this very imperfect law being the thing that’s guiding everyone. And that includes the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association, but it also includes, as far as we know, the police unions are even in favour of rewriting this act. Now, obviously, the rewriting of the Act can go many different ways, and I am pretty disturbed to see Kaycee Madu’s approach to all of these issues. And it’s actually just — I personally find this so funny, that, when there was conversation at City Council in Calgary and Chief Neufeld, the current chief, Mark Neufeld, said that they would be open to considering moving some of their budget, or reallocating some of their budget, into different kinds of first response, something targeted towards mental health. He made a general statement like this — nothing concrete — but then Madu came out and said something along the lines of, “Well, we won’t defund the police. We’re against defunding the police,” which prompted Mayor Nenshi to say, “Well, you just reduced our funding last year, so I guess you’re the ones who are trying to defund the police.” So, it’s this clear playing of politics. And, even just four days ago, there was a story about Councillor Chahal calling out Kaycee Madu because he’s describing the plan to move a little bit of new budget away from the Calgary Police and to other services as a “defunding the police” and said it was prompted by socialist activists who see the concept of law and order as alien? Like, are you fucking kidding me, man? This is —
Kate: Notoriously powerful Calgary socialist activists.
Robinder: I think everyone has to be like, “Fuck off with this shit.” This is not acceptable. This is not how we want things to go in Canada. We’ve seen so much of this happen in the States, where you have this totally irrational branding of people as X or Y, as the enemy, any time there’s a progressive policy proposal. This is far from enough in terms of the funding that needs to be re-allocated, and you have this guy sticking his neck, Madu, coming in there and throwing these words around for no good reason. And it’s very scary to me, on some level, that he would be the one spearheading this whole re-write of the Police Act. By the same token, though, I’m not sure — who knows when there’s going to be something other than a UCP government in Alberta, and this Act has to be changed at some point, so we can’t wait forever. But it’s troubling, to say the least, that Madu would be the person behind, because, clearly, his head is not in a neutral place — it’s not in a good place — when it comes to addressing these issues that shouldn’t be left- or right-wing, but he’s clearly intent on making them that.
Marc: I think it’s important we touch on, too — and this is one of the aspects that we didn’t at all get to in Above the Law, but I think we do spend some time on in No Visible Trauma — the internal, the cultural side. We’ve seen a number of not only women, but a lot of women — and we’re talking numerous officers in recent years come forward — there’s lawsuits currently wending their way through the courts alleging an environment at the Calgary Police Service of a culture of harassment, bullying, intimidation, these types of things. So, former constable Jennifer Magnus, who is incredibly brave, we think, spoke to us, and she told us a number of things that are profoundly disturbing. One was: right after she had started the job, she was approached by a senior officer, superior officer, who says to her, “You a bitch, a slut, or a lesbian?” And she says she was taken aback by that. And this was the beginning of things for her. She talks about being pressured into drinking (she was not a big drinker. That became a big part of the culture, that her officers would go out in groups and would spend — she said, “I don’t know how many people were involved, but you would need a lot to justify a tab like this, like a $700 bill,” and that they would routinely, many of therse officers, drive home afterwards, intoxicated. And there’s a few other that we’re looking into. We’ve had numerous people approach us — one specifically relates to, again, officer flaunting the law and driving drunk and feeling like they’re above the law. So, that’s all very disturbing, and, eventually — well, I don’t want to spoil too much, but Jen’s story is, I think, very powerful, and I think there is lot standing in the way of somebody, a current or a former officer, of speaking out, and we don’t have very many examples of that having happened. She is one of those in recent years, and I think we can confidently presume that the issue she’s talking about in her experience is just the tip of the iceberg. And, like I said, there are numerous people involved in lawsuits — so, clearly, it’s not a single person, and she talks about having been written off, that, “Oh, you’re crazy,” and this tyope of stuff, and this really does not seem to be the case. Now, Sheila Ball was the first and only civilian HR manager at the Calgary Police Service, and this is one of the things that I think, for non-police, you look at an organization like the Calgary Police Service — there is more than 2000 sworn, there’s like 800 and something non-sworn (so, civilian employees); it’s a large organization. The notion that the person that’s running their H and R department right up until the present, other than this brief 3-month period, is just a police officer, somebody who doesn’t have any particular expertise or training in HR? I mean, that’s pretty ridiculous. I wonder if we could find another field where you have an organization with 3000 people and they just kind of rotate in senior people at that institution to run an HR department. It doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. What’s amazing is that she was hired— and she had already retired, mind you; she’d worked for years in the oil patch — and she was hired, was optimistic about getting in there and sharing some of her knowledge and imparting change, and that just didn’t happen, and she walked away within three months. And she says — and this is incredible. So, she had worked in Texas, in the oil patch, she said, between Houston and Galveston, in clan country, and it wasn’t until she came back to Alberta and worked with the Calgary Police Service that she was ever bullied. I mean, if that doesn’t say volumes about what’s going on there, I don’t know what does. So, I think Calgarians will be, definitely, very interested to see those issues explored in the film, and, again, there’s just so much more than — we, of course, just scratched the surface, but, hopefully, in the years to follow, to come, these will be issues that will be redressed. And I will just pass along — we’ve heard from the Calgary Police Service that, amazingly, they have yet to find somebody to replace Sheila Ball. So, I mean, we are talking — I don’t know, Robinder, if you remember [laughs] offhand when she resigned, but this is, I think, a couple years now that they’ve basically been without a permanent head to that department. But, apparently, they’re getting close — they are trying to, and they’re specifically looking for somebody with a background. And I also know that, in terms of — and, again, trying to give the benefit of the doubt here — that there are efforts being made in terms of the professional conduct side — i.e. the part of the organization that deals with the handling of complaints — they are trying to hire — this is another element of the force that is usually just, again, some sort of senior official, not necessarily somebody with particular expertise — they are trying to hire somebody with a legal background — so possibly, say, a retired lawyer or something like that — to come in who actually, I think, can bring a little bit more expertise, or impartiality, hopefully, to the table. I’ll add this on, just because I think people will be interested to hear this — we’re talking about — again, and especially with a podcast like Alberta Advantage, we know that folks across the country are listening to this, and they’re thinking, “Well, are these issues just in Calgary?” Likely they know, if they’re listening to this podcast, that these are not just issues in Calgary, that they are across the country although Calgary seems to be a particularly bad example of a department in crisis. But, as we’ve been doing this interview, we’ve received an email from a woman who indicates that she’s a medical professional in a province adjacent to Alberta saying, “You should do a documentary on RCMP brutality in this province. I was beaten nearly to death, falsely charged, and left permanently disabled by Constable Blank. I was once a successful medical practitioner. I lost my health, my ability to work, my reputation, nearly my life, and he has not been held accountable for his actions. So, I wish this was the only time we’ve gotten a message like this. This is coming in a lot, and I just know that, if we had a staff of twelve or something like that — and you guys, and many other outlets, are doing great work, but there really is — a reminder for all of us: the problems that we’re talking about, these are not American problems. These are very much problems here in Canada. They are widespread, and they’ve gone on way too long, and it’s time to address these. And I always relate it to: to me, it’s like — people have asked, and it’s like, “You’re so obsessed with this policing thing. Why is this so important?” And we always look at it and say: look. These are public employees. This is this country where we like to tell ourselves, “Oh, we don’t have corruption here; everything functions. This is a functional society,” etc, etc. Putting aside the loftier goals of wanting to substantively reform, or abolish or whatever, these more radical approaches to policing — if we can’t even require the police officers in our cities and our rural areas, whatever, to behave in accordance with the laws as they exist, and then, when they do not do so, to be held accountable to those, my god. How are we supposed to deal with far more challenging and important problems like climate change, or something far more substantive, when we can’t even, basically, hold our public employees to account? Here’s to continuing to keep the pressure up and to examine these, and we thank you for the work that you guys have been doing at The Alberta Advantage and the other members of Harbinger Network, etc, to do this, because I just don’t think we’ve had enough attention on these issues, and we still could use so much more. So, thank you for that.
Kate: A hundred percent. Marc and Robinder, thank you so much for joining us here on The Alberta Advantage. If our listeners want to see your new film, No Visible Trauma, where should they look for more information?
Marc: So, No Visible Trauma will be screening as part of CUFF.Docs, which is Calgary’s documentary festival done by the Calgary Underground Film Festival. It’s going to be available online, across the province of Alberta and Saskatchewan, from November 25th to December 1st. Also, barring some last-minute cancellation due to this health crisis that has been going on lately, it will be screening on Sunday at 2pm at the Globe Cinema downtown Calgary, and I think tickets are $10 for individual tickets and $8 for students and seniors. So, this will be the first time that the film is available in Calgary. We did screen earlier this month at Northwest Fest in Edmonton, but the first time it’s going to be available in Calgary and in Saskatchewan, and it’ll be the last time it’s available for quite some time. We hope to have the film be available online for everybody; that probably won’t be until the spring or the summer, unfortunately. So, if you want to see the movie and you’re in Alberta or Saskatchewan, now is the time to do it. Don’t miss it.
Kate: Amazing. Once again, thank you so much for joining us here.
Robinder: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having us.
Marc: Hey, Marc here, co-director of No Visible Trauma. Just wanted to provide a quick update about the release of the film and some legal action that’s ongoing against us. This Monday, November 23rd, a statement of claim, commonly known as a lawsuit, and an emergency injunction were filed against us in the courts in Calgary by Constable Christopher Harris, and officer with the Calgary Police Service who’s featured in the film having a brief conversation with a recruit that he was training after the violent arrest of Clayton Prince of which they were both witnesses. Constable Harris claims that we have defamed him in a variety of ways, including by mis-transcribing the word “should” as “did.” He also alleges that we have mis-contextualized his role in the incident. Now, while it’s worth noting that Constable Harris did eventually testify against the other officers and helped secure the conviction of one of them, James Othen, there are a number of troubling aspects to his choices after the incident, including the fact, as per his testimony at trial, that he did not immediately submit his notes following the incident despite being aware of instructions from a supervisor to do so, in part because, quote, “Those notes could have negative consequences for the other officers involved,” end quote. In terms of the question of whether or not it’s “did” or “should,” we are confident that we got that right after careful analysis, and, of course, we will defend our actions and our work in court as needed. Now, on Monday, an emergency injunction was filed, and this is quite unusual — it sought to prevent us from screening the film at CUFF.Docs, which is the documentary festival in Calgary that is ongoing. This is the Calgary premiere of the film and the first time that the film is available across Alberta and Saskatchewan. We went to court on Tuesday and are pleased to report that the injunction was not successful, so we have proceeded. The film is currently available at CUFF.Docs, and we invite everyone to watch it, of course. Also, I’ll mention that we have just launched a GoFundMe campaign to help us out with the legal costs, which are already in the many, many, many thousands of dollars — so, if you are so inclined and want to chip in to fight this lawsuit brought against us by Constable Christopher Harris of the Calgary Police Service, we sure would appreciate the support. You can find us on Instagram and Facebook at Above The Law Doc and on twitter at @losttimemedia. By way of parting, I just wanted to share an email of support we received last night from a CPS officer. They said, and I quote, “I respect the work you’ve done on No Visible Trauma. As a member of CPS, I am deeply disappointed in the other members’ behaviour. It is a police culture problem in the service. And, for the comment, you did (should) not see what happened — unless Constable Harris said “shid,” which isn’t a word, he definitely encouraged a junior member to look the other way.” Isn’t that something? Thanks so much, and we will catch you all down the line. Thanks again.
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Kate: If you liked today’s episode, you should check out the Harbinger Media Network, featuring shows like Tech Won’t Save Us, where radical urbanist, Jacobin contributor, and Newfoundlander Paris Marx offers a critical perspective on technology and society, pushing us to demand better tech and a better world. Find out more about the Harbinger Media Network and the entire cross-country line of podcasts at harbingermedianetwork.com.
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