Parks Canada flunks its movie audition
A grizzly bear on the railway tracks in Banff National Park. (Courtesy Parks Canada/ Robert Walker)
Parks Canada is held in high regard for its ability to protect special natural spaces for future generations. The federal agency has a difficult mandate in ensuring wild areas aren't trampled by too many visitors and commercial intrusion, while at the same time making sure Canadians are aware of the wonders that await them in their backyards.
One role that Parks Canada shouldn't take on, however, is deciding whether movies are in good taste. Certainly, it would be safe in questioning a production that brings our parks into disrepute, but a recent decision has hampered the filming of Hard Powder, a crime drama that would have Banff and other mountain venues stand in for a Colorado ski town.
Liam Neeson is to play a snowplow driver whose son is murdered by a local drug kingpin. He sets out to dismantle the cartel, but his efforts spark a turf war involving a First Nations gang boss, played by Metis actor, musician and Order of Canada member Tom Jackson.
It will be up to audiences and film critics to judge the merits of the movie, but Parks Canada denied the production a permit over its concerns that the gang leader is aboriginal. A creative screenwriter couldn't make up material such as this: the film won't be given access to the park because one of the bad guys is indigenous.
Parks Canada should not be standing in the way of the movie crews. Opportunities would be pretty limited if First Nations actors could only play roles where they were on the good side of the law -- or what else, play victims?
Jackson serves as a consultant to the project, and it's a certainty he wouldn't accept the role if he felt it would cast First Nations people in a negative light.
"The Government of Canada is committed to reconciliation and nation-to-nation relationships with indigenous peoples, based on a recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership," Parks Canada spokesperson Meaghan Bradley has said in an emailed statement.
"In addition to some administrative details and outstanding documentation, Parks Canada's commitment to reconciliation and respect for indigenous peoples was an important factor in the agency's final decision on this matter."
Most people share the desire for reconciliation, but it's evident that government paternalism toward indigenous people is alive and well at Parks Canada. It quite rightly monitors use of the parks, but it shouldn't be projecting its sensitivities onto the film industry and the actors it employs.