Yukon RCMP to star on reality TV show
The Yukon’s RCMP will be staring in their own reality TV show which starts filming some time next week.
Photo by Whitehorse Star
REALITY SHOW — There are conflicting opinions on the value of an upcoming reality TV show featuring the Yukon RCMP. Hillary Aitken, program coordinator with the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, is concerned how the cameras will treat complex issues while David Gilbert, director of organizational strategy with the Yukon RCMP, hopes the show will give people an interesting perspective on policing in the territory.
The Yukon’s RCMP will be starring in their own reality TV show which starts filming some time next week.
The as-yet-unnamed show is raising concerns among community groups about whether TV cameras will lead to exploitation.
“We think it’s an opportunity to to tell a story that hasn’t been told before. There’s a lot of stories about policing in big cities but not as many in a place where there are so few people and so much wilderness,” said Glenda Hersh, president of True Entertainment, the production company that will be filming for the next few months.
The New York-based company is responsible for a string of reality TV shows including The Real Housewives of Atlanta on Bravo, TLC’s Make Room for Multiples, and Doctors Without Borders on the National Geographic Channel.
Hersh, who is originally from Montreal, said her company is in negotiations with several networks to air the RCMP’s show both in Canada, the U.S. and hopefully overseas.
More information on that will be made available in about a month, she said.
News of the show has some groups asking questions.
“Policing is not entertainment, and never should be,” said Hillary Aitken, the program coordinator with the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, in a statement yesterday.
Aitken said the women’s centre is “worried that a show of this nature will not portray an accurate picture of what policing in the Yukon is, and as such, will do a disservice to the multitude and complexity of issues women in our communities are facing, including racism, sexism, poverty, addictions, mental health struggles, and housing shortages.”
In an interview yesterday, David Gilbert, the director of organizational strategy for the Yukon RCMP, said the police are very aware of concerns.
“We don’t want to be involved in something that’s making the territory, individual Yukoners or any particular group, showing anybody in a bad light. We don’t want to make anybody look bad.”
“We heard very clearly through Sharing Common Ground and through the policing review that people want to understand what police do, how they work, why we do the things we do and we’ve been looking for ways to bring that out.”
That sentiment is echoed by Hersh.
“The show is not meant to take advantage of people in a difficult situation. It’s really an opportunity to show how policing works and what the RCMP are doing,” she said.
“Many of the things they do: search and rescue stories and good policing stories….We really are not looking to create something that is going to make anyone feel uncomfortable.”
Hersh highlighted her company’s work on the reality TV show Trauma Life in the ER which centred around hospital emergency rooms.
“We found ourselves with people who were at an incredibly emotional difficult situation having been the victim of a car accident, a crime and we were at the same time making a documentary series,” she said. “Everybody wanted to take part and understood that it was important for the world and the audience to understand what the doctors did, what hospitals do. By the same token it is important for the world to understand and get a glimpse of how the RCMP really work and what’s involved in policing.”
Katherine Alexander, the executive director of the Yukon’s Elizabeth Fry Society, is skeptical of the educational value of reality TV.
“They’re not interested in showing the complexity of people’s lives, they’re interested in being dramatic, in selling commercials,” she said.
Hersh acknowledged there’s a range of shows on the air from trashy to informative. She says it’s the goal of the RCMP show to be informative.
Anyone filmed as part of the show will have to sign a waiver.
If the person does not sign, none of their footage will ever be aired, Hersh said.
But the value of any waiver is questioned by Alexander.
“How do you, in one of your worse moments, how do you make the decision for informed consent,” she asked.
Hersh insists that even after people give consent, they are free to change their minds.
Gilbert said the plans have been approved by the RCMP information and privacy department in Ottawa.
As part of the agreement, the RCMP gets to review every episode before it airs and can ask for changes if necessary.
“There are good stories to tell here, there are issues that people have been trying to draw attention to for years. This could be a platform for some of that stuff, for raising awareness and for building on work that’s been done,” he said.
Aitken said the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre (VFWC) is “disappointed that community organizations and First Nations have not been adequately consulted about the implications of this show.”
Alexander said she first found out about the show July 31st.
Gilbert said talks about a possible show have been going on for about a year, but the actual plans to go ahead with filming at the end of this summer came together very quickly.
“At the end of the process things came together very quickly and now, to be honest, we’re kind of scrambling to talk to all the people we feel we need to talk to about this,” he said.
“We know there are people out there who will have some very serious concerns about how this is. I hope that people won’t make too many assumptions or jump to too many conclusions about what this is and what it could be.
“We’re going to go ahead with something, but what that is and how it turns out, we have a lot of input into.”
Gilbert said the RCMP wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.
“It was one of those things where the opportunity is there and that doesn’t last forever. If we grab onto it, we’ve still got options about how it gets done and where it gets done,” he said.
“If we didn’t take the chance while it was available to us, we won’t have the ability to do anything.”
The RCMP is not making any money off the project.
Both Gilbert and Hersh say plans are to film in Whitehorse and the communities, but won’t go anywhere they are not welcome.
Aitken credits the RCMP with doing positive work.
“VFWC is appreciative of the work the RCMP has done in the last several years through the Sharing Common Ground implementation and the Together for Justice process to recognize the pressing problems of sexualized assault, domestic violence, and racism facing women in Yukon,” she said.
“We are pleased to be working towards an improved relationship and hope that this decision to pursue a RCMP reality TV show does not impede that process.”
Since it’s clear the process is moving forward, Alexander encourages anyone who chooses to watch the show to think critically about what they are doing.
“People really need to stop and take a moment to put yourself in the position of the person on camera…in a community of this size think about them and their family, who did not sign up to be on TV.”
Hersh said she hopes the community will give the show a chance.
“I’m hoping that, once everybody watches the show it will really win over the community and people will realize that you can have a lot of fun and make an interesting, informative and important show. A show that both the community and the RCMP are proud of.”