2016 Hot Docs Filmmaker Interview: Lucius Dechausay (Kettle)

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More than 1,000 people were arrested during the G20 Summit in Toronto, making it the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. Through the skilful use of crowd-sourced footage, police radio, and bodycam recordings, Kettle revisits one downtown intersection to ask larger questions about civil liberties, the abuse of power and police misconduct.

We spoke with the film’s Director Lucius Dechausay about his experience of being caught up in the kettle, the process of getting the film made and the long lasting impact that the G20 has had in Toronto. ´Kettle¨screens in Toronto on April 29, May 1 and May 7.

Find more information and tickets to ‘Kettle’ at 2016 Hot Docs HERE

You have a connection to the film´s subject matter which is quite personal. Please tell me about that.
Absolutely. The documentary takes place during the G20 in Toronto and the mass arrest of peaceful protestors and citizens at Queen and Spadina. I live just a few minutes from that intersection and had been out taking pictures. By this point in the day, around 5pm, the G20 was over, most of the world leaders had left, all of the organized protests were winding down and it was so nice outside the patios and streets were full of people. While I was on my way home with my partner, we were blocked at the intersection by rows of bicycle police. They were prohibiting people from crossing and directed the crowd north without explanation. As we moved north we witnessed hundreds of riot police coming towards us pushing us back into the intersection. They came from all sides, pounding their shields, pushing and charging in a line formation until we were all shoulder to shoulder. That’s how we would stay for the next few hours as the arrests began.

Your story is different than most- you weren´t arrested, what happened?
Technically, as soon as the kettle/detention began we were all under arrest, so I was arrested just not charged. Behind the scenes, the police lacked the resources necessary to actually complete the mass arrest. They were waiting on buses to transport prisoners, but just left people handcuffed in the rain until those buses arrived many hours later. The second issue which compounded the problem was that the temporary detention centre that was set up to hold prisoners was actually at or nearing capacity. So all of the people who they had labelled ‘terrorists’ earlier, were then suddenly non-threatening enough to set free. I was in that group and left through a back alley.

When did you decide that you would be making a film about the events in the film?
The idea for the film did not come immediately. It rained so hard that day that my camera actually broke and I lost some footage. Over the months that followed, I assumed there would be lots of activity in creating a film about it as it was really insane that this unprovoked detention and indiscriminate arrests would occur in the heart of downtown without explanation, acknowledgement or apology. Former Mayor David Miller thanked the police, Blair commended his officer’s work and the public and media moved on. As time went on, I would have these weird moments, like you know when you pass someone on the street and cannot quite place where you know them from? Generally you think high school, maybe a former co-worker, but as I recovered the footage I shot and started digging through other videos I would realize that those familiar people were also kettled and now part of this community who were involved in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history, yet no one knew their story.

What kind of support did you have in making of the film? How was it funded?
The film was funded by the Ontario Arts Council. I am grateful to them for funding art that challenges the status quo. It provided me with the freedom to create a piece that is personal, political and can generate conversation on our own rights and freedoms.

Your film has good timing, the trial for Mark Fenton recently ended. I was surprised at the inclusion of the radio traffic from police officers referring to Fenton as ¨maniacal¨. How did you get your hands on this? Were you surprised at their comments?
Those were obtained through freedom of information requests. I was incredibly surprised by the comments captured in radio traffic. Many of those comments did not even come out in Fenton’s trial and directly contradict the defence put forth. For instance, not once did the police provide a dispersal route and yet every officer testified that “although they did not hear it” they are “absolutely certain” it was made. On the tapes, you can hear an officer asking permission to provide that route multiple times and then claiming that “I guess it’s fallen on deaf ears.”

The scary thing about the comment where one officer refers to Fenton as “maniacal” is that the relative chronological order has been maintained in the film, so he makes that comment before the mass arrests, before the rain, before individuals were suffering from hypothermia before the entire situation escalated. The idea of even detaining hundreds of people who posed no imminent threat and were exercising their democratic rights on a public city street was enough to spark that comment. The other scary part is that despite calling Fenton “maniacal,” they all continue to follow his commands.

It´s clear that there were officers involved in the kettle that disagreed with what was going on. How does that change your perspective on what happened?
That is true and in some ways it complicated what happened. There’s not just two sides to this story and at least a handful of officers also felt as though their hands were tied. However, after sitting through the tribunals and witnessing the many ways in which police officers deny accountability, I also question why all of it was caught on radio traffic. They knew it was being recorded. This is not The Jinx. No one forgot their mic was on. It seems as if they did disagree with the orders and knew this would lead to lawsuits and so created a record denouncing those orders to remove culpability. Even Fenton testified that “Bill Blair could have stopped the arrests if he disagreed with the method but did not” knowing that Bill Blair could not be called to testify against him. It distances them from their own actions.

As they also had weapons, the weather was terrible and only getting worse, people had no access to bathrooms or food for hours, they are lucky that their unwillingness to disregard that order did not lead to someone being severely hurt or killed.

This event has had a long-lasting impact on those who were part of it. How has life in Toronto changed for you after having gone through this?
A lot of people have asked whether it has made me fearful of activism, but it has had the opposite effect. Carding, unlawful detention, lack of access to legal counsel, intimidation and state-sanctioned violence, all of these things exist outside of the G20, especially in racialized communities, but for me in putting together this film it was the first time the city felt this collectively and in such a publicly filmed way.

What kind of reaction have you had so far at the screenings and with those who have seen it?
Screening at Hot Docs has been great. The audience is intelligent and informed about the G20 kettle, yet there is a lot of footage and audio in the film that has never been seen before. Most are shocked that this happened in Canada and upset that no meaningful change has been made since it happened.

What´s next for ¨Kettle¨? Will it be screening anywhere else soon (festivals, TV) ?
Currently, I’m working on more content surrounding the unlawful detentions and legal proceedings stemming from the G20. It is a process that most of us know little about and has serious implications on the protection of civil liberties in this country.

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– Interview by Ian MacKenzie

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