To the Small Screen

Crave Releases Thunder Bay Docuseries

Story by Matt Prokopchuk,



Superior Outdoors

Film Theatre

“I just want people to know they deserve to be safe,” says Ryan McMahon of what he wants people to take away from his new investigative docuseries about Thunder Bay. “More directly, I want young Indigenous people to be safe, and I want people to want that too.” The four-part series, Thunder Bay, is now streaming on Crave and is not only based on the critically acclaimed, two-season podcast of the same name, but picks up where its second season left off, something McMahon says was “really important for us.” In addition to serving as host, McMahon, an Anishinaabe journalist, and writer, is also the TV series’ executive producer, writer, and co-director. The podcast was largely driven by the deaths of numerous Indigenous youth in the city (including the seven whose deaths were the subject of a 2015–2016 inquest), the 2017 killing of Barbara Kentner, and the city’s notoriously high homicide and reported hate crime rates, as well as complaints against—and investigations into—the city’s police force and oversight board. It also examined how all that fit within the context of colonialism and ongoing mistreatment of Indigenous people in Canada. “When you turn on this television series, and you stream it, you will understand why it is important to continue to follow this story,” McMahon says of the new series. “Because most people that I talked to when we came back with cameras had stopped following the story. They thought that the story had ended.” That, he charges, is because those in local leadership positions strive to “control the message, squash the message.” Consequently, he says, that meant it was extremely difficult to get onthe-record answers from them, despite every effort to do so. “It’s really important for people to understand I have a lot of empathy and compassion for the people in Thunder Bay, and my goal has never been to napalm the place,” he says. “My goal has always been to get to the truth.” McMahon adds that, despite knowing he was returning to “a small town where people are already mad at you” to make the series, “people really wanted to talk and people had a lot to say.” “We have so much tape that will never be seen. There’s so many people that wanted to have their voice heard this time; we just can’t use all those stories,” he says. And while the series continues to take aim at the failings of the Thunder Bay Police Service, McMahon says that is directed at leadership. “We don’t have a problem with the rank and file in Thunder Bay. There was no time ever while making this show that I wanted to go after individual cops or take a look at the actions of any one individual police officer.” The Crave series is McMahon’s “first kick” at directing, he says, and telling the stories visually came with its own rewards. “It was really important for me to represent Thunder Bay as it is: one of the most beautiful places on Earth, truly,” he says. “[In] the visual treatment, we wanted to create a really intimate story using the big world of Northwestern Ontario, and I think we’ve done that.” The series is available on Crave, with the first two episodes released on February 17 and the final two on February 24.