If you see the RCMP in Whitehorse, make sure to smile for the camera.
The RCMP are working with a New York-based production company to produce a reality TV show about policing in the North.
Camera crews will be riding along with the cops and videotaping them on the job, in an attempt to give the public a clearer view of how and why officers do their jobs, said RCMP spokesman David Gilbert.
Shooting for the show has already begun in Whitehorse, but the plan was raising concerns among community groups before anyone hit record.
“The women’s centre is concerned. I’m concerned for the potential of a show like this,” said Hilary Aitken, program co-ordinator at the Victoria Faulker Women’s Centre.
“I don’t think it can show the multitude and complexity of issues that women in our community are facing, especially the high rate of sexualized assault, domestic violence, alcohol abuse and the intricacies of those things, how they combine with sexism and racism and colonialism,” she said.
The women’s centre wasn’t consulted until Aug. 6, when the deal was already done and the show was going ahead regardless, Aitken said.
She’s worried that people being filmed may feel pressured into agreeing to allow the footage to be used, or could be taken advantage of if they are intoxicated. She’s also concerned that in a community the size of Whitehorse, protecting people’s identity and right to privacy is very difficult.
“A show like this is particularly more concerning in a small place like the Yukon. Anonymity and confidentiality are especially difficult when there are only 30,000 people. Even if you blur out faces you can still identify neighbourhoods or vehicles or dogs,” Aitken said.
Gilbert said that anyone filmed will be asked by a film crew member to sign a waiver, and if they don’t consent the footage won’t be aired. Officers won’t be telling people one way or the other what to do.
“We don’t collect the waivers, we don’t tell people to do them precisely because of that. It has to be their choice. We don’t want people to feel coerced into signing on to something they don’t want to be a part of,” he said.
The whole idea started with a production company that wanted to do a show about policing in the North, said Gilbert. The company approached the RCMP in Ottawa to ask if they would be open to having this happen and Ottawa approached the three northern divisions to see if the divisions were comfortable with having film crews accompany officers on patrol.
“And really, they had sort of expressed a preference for the Yukon, mainly because of the history. Audiences worldwide know about the gold rush and Sam Steele. The Yukon is an iconic place for the RCMP,” he said.
When the opportunity was presented, it was too good to pass up and they had to move quickly before the production company started looking elsewhere for its show, said Gilbert.
He said that tight timing made it difficult to do much consultation with community groups, but he would gladly welcome any input from Yukoners.
Gilbert is overseeing the show’s production personally. The RCMP will have the chance to review every episode before it airs and ask for changes.
Gilbert said he sees the project not as a reality TV show but as more of a six-part documentary series.
“We want this to be documentary. When people think of reality TV, they think of manufactured scenarios and drama that isn’t really there. We think the Yukon is interesting enough and doesn’t need that kind of hype. We want to tell a true story.”
“We know there are huge sensitivities in different communities and among different groups of people. I think the challenge in this … is finding a way of dealing with those hard issues in a way that doesn’t put anybody in a bad spot or show anybody in a bad light”
Gilbert said that the show won’t ignore challenging issues like drugs and alcohol abuse in the territory, but that it won’t dwell on them either.
“I think we have to acknowledge that that’s there, but the way to do that is not necessarily to have somebody who has already had enough difficulty in their lives then be faced with a TV camera,” Gilbert said.
Instead, he said hopes the show will focus less on the territory’s problems and more on the solutions that police and community groups are developing.
“Our folks should act as though there’s a camera on them all the time,” he said.
The company producing the show, True Entertainment, also makes Real Housewives of Atlanta, Unfaithful: Stories of Betrayal, 28 Days in Rehab, and Battle of the Bods. Company president Glenda Hersh didn’t return calls for comment by press time.
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