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John Doyle: Keeping Canada Safe showcases the ordinary lives of ‘everyday heroes’

'Few things matter more to us than the safety of our families, our communities and our country."

That's the opening statement in the copious news release for Keeping Canada Safe (Thursday, CBC, 9 p.m.). It's true, that statement. And the series of eight half-hour episodes is one of those ambitious snap-shot productions. For a 48-hour period in September of last year, the producers captured what they call "the everyday heroes who keep our country secure" – as police officers, firefighters and many other first-responders did their work across Canada.

The result is at times fascinating. Mainly because it certainly isn't COPS. And it often offers a starkly different picture from what is made into fiction for TV drama.

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Sure, in Calgary we see high-tech, superduper police work in action. Police in a helicopter track some guy who has been reported as violent and on the loose. They watch him attempt to break into a house, fall down and try to leg it up the street. Two police cars duly arrive and apprehend him.

The thermal-imaging used by that police chopper can see into a vehicle from seven kilometres away. And it is equipped with noise reduction technology to ensure the guy being tracked has no idea there's a chopper hovering above him. All thrilling and exciting stuff, if you go for that sort of thing. Meanwhile, in St. John's, local police on horseback are doing their own work to keep the community safe. They're heading down to George Street, where university students are packing the bars and sidewalks. What happens? Well, an officer on a horse shouts at two guys roughhousing it in the street, "Knock if off or the two of youse are going to be down in the lockup." Yes, the captioning on the screen says, "two of youse." We're not talking Criminal Minds here.

And over in Prince Edward Island, we meet the local police chief in Kensington starting his day's work. First, he buys a lottery ticket and joshes with the variety store clerk. Then he visits the grave of a young woman, a local, who died in a car crash. He does this every day. The main task he faces is road safety and we see him and his team stop cars and trucks to check on licences and the safety of the vehicle. It is all in a day's work, and it tells us there isn't much crime in that neck of the woods, but a death in a traffic accident hits the local community hard.

A community that's being hit hard but in a different context, is Winnipeg's North End. There, a grassroots community patrol assists police in searching for two young women who have been reported missing. This isn't glamorous work; stopping local people and asking for tips or clues, and finding discarded packages that contained drugs everywhere in the neighbourhood. But, in the context of what has happened to missing women in Winnipeg, it is a vital chore that might save a life.

The second episode, which airs at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, goes behind the scenes at Pearson International Airport, where a wildlife control team is at work, and we witness the intricacy of air traffic controlling, which, on this day, involved an emergency landing. And there's a glimpse of Canadian Security Intelligence Service surveillance officers getting ready for a stakeout. Simultaneously, viewers are introduced to a driving instructor who is testing teenage drivers and teaching about the danger of distractions while driving.

It's all part of the same package, and that's the beauty of the series. Yes, there are dollops of annoying background music to heighten the experience of watching police in a high-tech helicopter keep tabs on some lout on the loose, but, for the most part, it is about mundane, ordinary tasks that support the fabric of the secure and safe society we believe exists in Canada.

A good deal of TV programming of this sort – and there are many shows that chronicle border security and similar occupations – tends to flatter the subjects, giving them an importance and status that isn't always their due. Here, in Keeping Canada Safe, some perspective is maintained. Those who keep us safe are given respect but not idolized and, for the most part, the egos that can emerge when the cameras turn up are held in check.

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The series is one of those CBC shows that has a huge digital add-on component.

There are Web-exclusives and viewers are encouraged to "engage in a national conversation" on social media. That's dandy but the strength and importance is there in the TV screen in deftly-done vignettes about all manner of ordinary and extraordinary in Canada over one two-day period.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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