POLITICS

RCMP suspends production of reality TV show in Yukon amid concerns

08/15/2013 05:20 EDT | Updated 10/15/2013 05:12 EDT
WHITEHORSE - The RCMP has suspended production of a reality TV show documenting the work of the force in Canada's North amid complaints about the privacy of citizens featured on the show and suggestions it's inappropriate for police officers to star in a television program.

U.S.-based production company True Entertainment began filming the show in Whitehorse earlier this week, though community groups had already been raising the alarm about it.

Last week, RCMP spokesman David Gilbert was publicly defending the show as a chance to tell "good stories," adding the force was aware of the concerns but had taken steps to ensure proper oversight before the program went to air.

But on Thursday, after complaints surfaced in media reports about an arrest of a distraught woman who was taken into custody under the watch of television cameras, the force abruptly announced filming had been suspended.

The RCMP issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying it would be discussing the concerns with the production company and there would be no filming in the meantime, though it wasn't sure how long that would take and when, or if, production would resume.

Gilbert said discussions planned for Thursday with show producers to "very carefully look at what's going on."

Former Yukon MP Audrey McLaughlin, who was an MP from 1987 to 1997 and was once leader of the federal NDP, said she was out walking her dog in downtown Whitehorse on Wednesday evening when she saw a woman being arrested by the RCMP.

"I looked back and I saw a guy with a clipboard crouching behind a vehicle, and then I noticed a sound system and cameras," she said.

McLaughlin said she had no problem with how police officers handled the arrest of the woman, who was clearly distraught, angry and yelling, but she questioned the value of allowing TV cameras to film their work.

"How can she possibly give permission for them to be filming her?" said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin said she has written a letter to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson detailing her concerns about the force's participation in show.

Both the RCMP and True Entertainment have previously said that if a person does not sign a waiver after he or she is filmed, the footage will not go to air.

Several community groups spoke out against the TV show last week.

The Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre condemned the show for depicting policing as entertainment, while Yukon's Elizabeth Fry Society questioned whether a member of the public who is dealing with the police can really make an informed decision about whether to sign a waiver consenting to being on TV.

Similar concerns have been raised about the reality TV show "Border Security," which follows the work of the Canada Border Services Agency. The B.C. Civil Liberties Society has led the charge against that show, claiming the RCMP is violating privacy legislation by allowing members of the public to be filmed without their consent.

On "Border Security," members of the public, including people who are arrested or turned away from the border, still appear on the show if they don't sign the waiver, but their faces are blurred.

The border agency and the federal government have both defended "Border Security," which is now in its second season of filming.

(Whitehorse Star)