Abbotsford police ride Highway Thru Hell to deliver road safety message

Discovery Canada’s TV show is sometimes called a “polished” public service announcement for safe driving. But some have concerns about a new partnership with police.

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Expect a greater police presence on the Highway Thru Hell.

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Abbotsford police will allow film crews with the Discovery Canada TV series to follow officers at crash scenes over the next few months after police and producers connected during last fall’s flooding.

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Sgt. Paul Walker said working with Highway Thru Hell is a “natural fit” for the police department, allowing officers to create awareness and educate viewers on road safety.

But while an online post announcing the partnership on the Abbotsford police Facebook page received largely positive feedback, some Fraser Valley residents have reservations.

Dot Demerse said the agreement between a police force and a TV show doesn’t sit well with her.

“Making money off of people’s suffering for a police force and private towing company seems irresponsible to me,” she said Friday. “It’s not like the people experiencing tragedy are benefiting financially.”

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Walker said the Abbotsford Police Department is not paid for its involvement in the TV show. The department views it as a platform to share messages about road safety.

Gabriela Pudlas compared it to people who “rubberneck” as they drive past the site of a crash.

“What are we coming to if we get our thrills from watching other people’s tragedies?” she asked.

The current season, the show’s 11th, began airing in September and typically focuses on Jamie Davis, owner of Jamie Davis Motor Truck and Auto, which provides towing services from the eastern Fraser Valley up B.C.’s mountain highways, including the Coquihalla.

The docu-reality TV show features plenty of tense moments as B.C. tow truck drivers attend crashes and use heavy machinery to pull semi trucks out of snowbanks, often in wicked weather.

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Jamie Davis of Hope-based Jamie Davis Motor Truck and Auto is one of the heroes of Highway Thru Hell on Discovery Canada.
Jamie Davis of Hope-based Jamie Davis Motor Truck and Auto is one of the heroes of Highway Thru Hell on Discovery Canada. Photo by Sean F. White /Great Pacific Media

Showrunner Nicole Tomlinson said film crews are typically stationed in Abbotsford, Hope and Merritt from October to March. So when an atmospheric river swept off the coast last November, they had “unparalleled access” as the disaster unfolded.

During that time, Abbotsford police were often on the scene. Monday’s episode will focus on the Tiger Dam that was installed across Highway 1 during the flooding in Sumas Prairie.

“It grew from there,” Tomlinson said of the partnership with police. “We saw an opportunity to carry on that relationship.”

Film crews will follow road safety officers to crashes, but also during some education and prevention work.

The Tiger Dam that was built across Highway 1 at Cole Road in Abbotsford during flooding in November 2021.
The Tiger Dam that was built across Highway 1 at Cole Road in Abbotsford during flooding in November 2021. Photo by DALE KLIPPENSTEIN /PNG

Tomlinson said Highway Thru Hell is sometimes called a “polished public service announcement,” adding she is a much safer driver after starting work on the show.

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Walker said film crews are “very respectful” of individual privacy.

Typically, only vehicles are shown, with licence plates and company names blurred out. While drivers have the opportunity to be in the footage by signing a release form, if they don’t want to participate, “that’s completely fine,” he said.

Abbotsford police also has “final sign-off” on any footage involving officers.

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