Whitehorse RCMP have put their controversial reality TV show on hold after an emergency meeting with the show’s production company yesterday.
The meeting took place after a number of Whitehorse residents complained about the film crews.
“We do think there is value in it. There are good stories to be told, but ultimately we still have to live here and work here and work with the community,” said David Gilbert, the Yukon RCMP’s director of operational strategy. “We’re going to take a step back and have some discussions and figure out what the best and most responsible way forward is.”
The show isn’t cancelled yet, but on hold until the RCMP does more consultation with the community, something critics said should have been done before filming began.
“We want to talk to the people we work with and the people who are concerned, and see if there’s a way we can go forward with this,” Gilbert said.
In one incident, officers had cameramen in tow when they arrested an intoxicated and visibly distraught woman Wednesday night in the southern end of downtown.
“There was a producer with a clipboard crouched behind a car,” said former Yukon MP Audrey McLaughlin, who witnessed the event from the street.
“I asked him how she could possibly give permission to be filmed. And he said, ‘Oh well, they wouldn’t use her face.’
“Then I asked the RCMP officer and she said, ‘Oh well, we’ll ask her in the morning.’
“So then a second producer came in a second police car and I asked him, and he said, ‘Oh well, we won’t use the film.’ So clearly they don’t know what they are doing,” she said.
Both the RCMP and the production company told the News that footage would not be used unless a consent waiver is signed.
Neighbours who witnessed the arrest also became upset at the police, said McLaughlin.
“They were saying, ‘This is disgusting.’ I mean, they were yelling off the balcony, too.”
McLaughlin said that her concerns are not with how the police handled the situation, but with the presence and behaviour of the film crew.
“It was just very disturbing. As someone said, it’s American-style bullshit. And it is. I think it is very demeaning to the police. It trivializes the justice system,” she said.
The News has also learned of two other incidents where people say they were filmed without their consent.
At Chadburn Lake on Wednesday evening, Krista Reid said she saw police questioning a young Mexican family with the cameras rolling.
Reid said after the family – in tears – declined to sign a waiver, they were pressured by one of the film crew members for 15 minutes. When one of her friends started filming the incident herself with her cellphone, the producer got visibly upset, Reid said.
The presence of the film crews may deter people from calling the police at all, said Hillary Aitken, program co-ordinator at the Victoria Faulkner’s Women’s Centre.
Aitken said she’s already had one call from a client who said that she has called the cops in the past, but now she wouldn’t because she’s afraid of being filmed.
“This is a major red flag for us, as it is a huge risk to women’s safety, especially in domestic violence or sexualized assault situations. Regardless of the plans the RCMP or the production company make to improve the filming, if women feel so afraid of being publicly filmed that they do not call the RCMP in a dangerous situation, that is a huge problem,” Aitken said.
Canada’s office of the privacy commissioner is also looking into the show after concerns were raised about its possible privacy implications.
“Our office learned about this program through media reports. It does indeed raise potential privacy issues,” said Anne-Marie Hayden, a spokeswoman for the privacy commissioner’s office.
“We have very limited information about the show, so we can’t say at this time whether it’s a violation of the Privacy Act, but we do intent to follow up with the RCMP to learn more about the program, the RCMP’s role and that of the production company involved,” said Hayden.
The RCMP did not seek any guidance from the privacy commissioner’s office during their year-long negotiations and planning with the production company, New York-based True Entertainment, Hayden said.
Hayden pointed to a similar controversy in British Columbia, where the privacy commissioner’s office is investigating the Canadian Border Services Agency over a reality TV show it was involved in.
In that case, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint with the privacy commissioner on behalf of a migrant worker who says he was coerced into signing a waiver after CBSA officers and a film crew raided a construction site where he was working.
Micheal Vonn, the association’s policy director, called the RCMP show a “blunder” and said she’s stunned that the cops would make the same mistake on the heels of the CBSA fiasco, especially without consulting the privacy commissioner’s office.
“Whenever you are, as a federal body, undertaking a new program that has clear privacy implications – and it’s hard to imagine one that doesn’t have more than this – you are supposed to vet your program proposal with the office of the privacy commissioner so that you can receive guidance in terms of how you are going to colour within the lines in terms of the legislation,” Vonn said.
“Of all of the miscreants who frequently seem to forget this important step, sadly the police are number one on the list,” Vonn said.
But Gilbert insists this is all a misunderstanding, and that the RCMP take privacy concerns very seriously.
“We still think there are a lot of good things that can be done with this. Some of the concerns are people jumping to conclusions that may not be founded,” Gilbert said.
While Gilbert said the RCMP didn’t seek any guidance from the federal privacy commissioner, they did look at similar programs and how they had managed privacy concerns.
The CBSA border guard show was one of their main examples, Gilbert said.
In a previous interview, Gilbert said that the show is meant to be a more documentary-style production, not as sensational as what people typically think of as reality TV.
True Entertainment’s president, Glenda Hersh, echoed Gilbert’s sentiments.
Hersh argued that, while many of True Entertainment’s shows do focus on drama and sensationalism – among its productions is The Real Housewives of Atlanta – they have a strong documentary focus on others, like Trauma: Life in the ER.
“This is meant to be documentary. This is not gotcha TV. We’re not trying to capture something that nobody wants captured. We’re tying to do something very positive and very informative,” she said.
Just because True Entertainment isn’t a professional journalistic outfit, Hersh said there is still room in entertainment TV for informative, journalistic work, and that’s what she hopes this show could be.
But that doesn’t fly with Vonn.
There is a whole suite of journalistic ethics that reality television is not bound by, Vonn said.
“When federal bodies partner with private companies in what is essentially a public relations exercise, we can’t pretend that constitutes public interest journalism,” she said.
The biggest issue for her is that the RCMP are in a contractual relationship with True Entertainment, making the film crew essentially agents of the police.
“They aren’t there to monitor the police. They are not there in the public interest. To say this is a journalistic endeavour is highly dubious,” Vonn said.
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