Plans for Yukon Mounties reality show earn thumbs down

WHITEHORSE – Yukon Mounties will soon be getting a starring role in their own reality TV show.

While filming hasn’t even started yet, the yet-to-be named show is already raising concerns with community groups.

Glenda Hersh, president of True Entertainment, the production company that will be filming for the next few months, said it’s an opportunity to tell a story that hasn’t been told before.

“There are 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,” she said.

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 said her company is in negotiations with several networks to air the RCMP show in Canada, the U.S. and hopefully overseas.

News of the show has some groups asking questions.

“Policing is not entertainment, and never should be,” Hillary Aitken, the program co-ordinator with the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, said in a statement.

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.”

David Gilbert, the director of organizational strategy for the Yukon RCMP, said in an interview Thursday that 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.”

Hersh echoed the statement, saying the show isn’t mean 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.”

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 will 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.

Gilbert said the RCMP wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, but won’t be making any money from the show.