Canada Markets open in 8 hrs 46 mins

Judge denies injunction that would have stopped screening of Calgary police brutality documentary

·5 min read

A Calgary constable's emergency injunction to stop a documentary on police brutality from airing has been denied.

Const. Chris Harris alleged Lost Time Media, the production company behind feature-length documentary No Visible Trauma, edited an audio clip from a mic tied to his car's video system to make it seem as if he was instructing a recruit to cover up an instance of police violence. Harris is also suing the film's production company for defamation.

The film, which investigates cases of excessive force involving the Calgary Police Service through arrest footage and interviews with former officers, is set to have its Alberta premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival on Wednesday online, or Sunday at the Globe Cinema.

On Tuesday, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Richard Neufeld denied granting an emergency injunction, finding that since Lost Time Media had already made changes, blurring the officer's face and removing subtitles, the officer had not shown irreparable harm would come from airing the documentary.

Filmmaker Marc Serpa Francoeur said he and co-director Robinder Uppal were pleased to hear the injunction was rejected.

"Obviously, we feel the allegations are 100 per cent baseless," he said, shortly after the decision by a Court of Queen's Bench judge in Calgary on Tuesday afternoon.

Francoeur says he and Uppal stand by how the incident is shown in the film.

CBC News has reached out to Harris's representation for comment.

A shorter version of the film, titled Above the Law, has been streaming online on CBC Gem since July — that version of the film does not include the scene featuring Harris. Francoeur said when that version aired, no concerns about the accuracy of the shorter film were raised by Calgary police.

Concerns centre around audio following violent arrest

The concerns centre around a seven-minute clip from the full-length documentary posted online that shows an Indigenous man, Clayton Prince, running from police after a traffic stop.

The clip shows dashcam footage of Prince lying facedown on the ground and putting his hands behind his head. Officers rush toward Prince, and one officer drops to his knees and begins to punch Prince in the back of the head. Then, the dashcam video is shut off.

A later dashcam video shows Prince being taken into custody, alongside audio of Harris speaking with a young recruit in the background — but Harris disputes that the audio used in the documentary is accurate.

In the documentary, Harris says in a subtitled clip, "What you saw here did not happen." The recruit giggles and responds, "That's policy, yeah, I know."

Harris then says: "Guys decide to dispense some street justice. If that guy in the white van was videotaping us, this would not do very well because buddy is surrendering, he gets down on the ground, and he gets fed a whole bunch of cheap shots."

Harris isn't identified and is just referred to as a veteran CPS officer.

'Did' versus 'should'

But Harris said he didn't say "What you saw here did not happen," but actually said, "What you saw here should not happen."

Harris said in an affidavit that the audio from the documentary was provided to two audio experts working independently from one another, one of whom was also given the original Calgary police audio recording.

Harris said the audio experts told him the volume on that disputed word was lowered in the documentary, which makes it harder to hear.

Harris's statement of claim argues he was teaching the recruit that the officers' behaviour during the arrest was not OK, and said that the clip is falsely subtitled in a way that damages his reputation and career.

The judge, Neufeld, sided with the officer, saying Tuesday that he also believed he heard the word "should" instead of "did."

Francoeur said the filmmaking team emphatically denies that the audio was changed in any way to alter what was said.

"We are very confident that we can provide expert testimony to reject that … we take very, very seriously the onus to communicate clearly," he said.

Francoeur said the audio that Harris's team has submitted seems to have removed the lower frequencies of the word in question, something they say is misleading and intend to question in court. Francoeur said they will be launching an online fundraiser to cover their court costs.

The statement of claim said on Nov. 14, Harris's legal team sent a letter to the production company's legal team, demanding the film be edited to change that subtitle and to include commentary that indicates Harris was trying to train the recruit.

Francoeur said he and his co-director offered to remove the subtitle in question and blur Harris's face, but Harris did not consider the offer adequate.

Harris is seeking a total of $150,000 in damages, and a declaration that the clip from the movie was published "maliciously."

Prince suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung, and a key punctured the side of his neck. One officer in the case was convicted of assault, while two others were acquitted.

Harris, who has been with the Calgary Police Service for eight years, testified at the trial that during Prince's arrest he tried to get his fellow officers to stop their attack by yelling "YouTube alert" in hopes they'd be scared a member of the public was recording the violent arrest.

Francoeur said Harris also testified that he didn't submit notes about the incident at least in part because "they could have negative consequences for the other officers involved."