Toronto screenwriter Anar Ali (Transplant) had no intention of making another conventional cop show. In creating Allegiance, which launches on CBC TV and CBC Gem on February 7, she aimed to explore identity and alternative ways of policing through the eyes of a rookie female Sikh officer of Punjabi ancestry. The other cops aren’t all heroes and Ali, the executive producer, doesn’t wrap up every episode in a heartwarming bow.
“We’re not afraid to be critical of the police,” Ali, also a short-story writer and novelist, tells Pancouver over Zoom. “But at the same time, we want to be aspirational about what policing could be.”
The central character, Sabrina Sohal (Supinder Wraich), polices the streets of Surrey with her veteran colleague, Vince Brambilla (Enrico Colantoni). According to Ali, Vince represents old ways of policing, but he also has a good heart and develops a strong rapport with Sabrina.
“In many ways, the show is shining a light on the biases in the justice system,” Ali emphasizes. “And one of those things is race. Class is another privilege.”
In her interview with Pancouver, she cites various justice-related initiatives that inspired her as the show’s writer.
She also mentions Ontario justice centres and the Gladue Court at Old City Hall in Toronto as other initiatives focusing on restorative justice. Ali recognizes the importance of offenders taking responsibility, yet she’s keenly interested in incorporating forgiveness and compassion into the healing process.
“Those are things I threw together in a mix to build the show,” she says.
Ali draws on duality in shaping Sabrina
Ali acknowledges that as a woman of colour, she sometimes feels like an outsider in Canadian society. But as an educated middle-class woman, Ali often feels like she’s on the inside.
Her character, Sabrina, shares this duality. Her father, Ajeet (Stephen Lobo), is a high-profile federal politician and turbaned Sikh who faces a major legal challenge.
“The hope with Sabrina is as a woman of colour, she’s in some ways on the outside looking in—for instance, in a male-dominated police force as a woman,” Ali relates. “But on the flip side, she’s educated and middle class, and has power because of her family. So, what are the things that she doesn’t see herself? And what are her own privileges and biases?”
Watch the trailer for Allegiance.
Characters led Ali to Surrey
As a writer, Ali has addressed ideas of home and belonging from the perspective of new immigrants. Her award-winning Baby Khaki’s Wings, for example, revolved around Ismaili Muslims who’ve built a home in Canada after being dislocated from East Africa. While these stories are important, she points out that many Sikh families have been in Canada for generations and helped build the country.
Even though Ali has a master’s in fine arts from the UBC creative writing program, she didn’t initially plan on setting Allegiance in Metro Vancouver.
“It was the characters who led me there,” she says. “I always start, as a writer, with the characters. As I started building them, especially Sabrina and her family, it naturally took me to Surrey because of the huge Sikh Punjabi population there and the long history in the Lower Mainland of the community.”
CBC TV and CBC Gem will launch Allegiance on February 7. New episodes will be available to watch every Wednesday on the free CBC Gem streaming platform and air every Wednesday night on CBC TV at 9 p.m. For more information, visit the CBC Gem website. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.