New police TV show “Allegiance” puts Surrey in the spotlight

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      This isn’t your typical cop drama.

      Sure, there are cops—and yes, there is drama. But Surrey-shot Allegiance is so much more nuanced than most police-focused television shows. 

      “Unlike a lot of cop shows right now,” says creator and writer Anar Ali over video from Toronto, “the cop is the hero always—and we didn’t want that.”

      Premiering on February 7 on CBC TV, Allegiance does not shy away from the complicated feelings that many Canadians have towards law enforcement. At the same time, Ali wanted to make sure it wasn’t a police-hating show, either.

      “It was: ‘How do we include the voices of the people who are being policed?’” she says. “But at the same time, we’re a cop show—what is it to be like a cop right now and today? So it has been a bit of a balancing game of being critical, but at the same time, being hopeful. We’ve tried to drive that line.”

      Allegiance follows Sabrina Sohal (Supinder Wraich), who graduates at the top of her police academy class and begins a job on the Surrey force. Partnered up with tells-it-like-it-is veteran training officer Vince Brambilla (Enrico Colantoni), Sabrina grapples with opposing views: she carries the legacy of three generations of police officers before her, while at the same time being the first woman in her family to enter the field of law enforcement. Struggling to understand her duty to her family, her community, her badge, and her own principles, she uncovers, defends, and fights against a flawed justice system.

      “We’re hoping that some of the questions and ideas for our characters—particularly Sabrina—are the kind of questions that our audience is also thinking about around power and privilege,” says Ali. “She is kind of a stubborn idealist. And that journey for her is, in a way, opening her eyes to how things really work—the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

      Filmed in Surrey, Allegiance is also unique in that it features a Canadian city actually playing itself. Surrey doesn’t stand in for Portland or small-town Washington State—instead, it firmly lets viewers know exactly what and where it is. And in doing so, puts its own struggles and triumphs front and centre.

      “I genuinely mean this: the characters chose Surrey,” says Ali, who grew up in Alberta and attended school in Vancouver, so she’s no stranger to the charms of Canada’s west. “As a writer, I start with the characters—and as I was building those characters, they took me to Surrey. I knew it had a big South Asian population, a big Sikh population. But I didn’t realize it’s the biggest diaspora of Sikh people in the world. So it was kind of as if I was being led there.”

      Ali, who is the author of the short story collection Baby Khaki’s Wings and the novel Night of Power, has built a career on telling stories that dissect experiences of belonging, selfhood, and systemic bias.

      “I usually write about home and identity,” she acknowledges. “I’m very interested in strong women, particularly strong women of color. I often situate my stories from that perspective.”

      Allegiance’s Sabrina is certainly a force, relying on her instincts just as much as her training to get her through tough days both on the job and at home. In the first episode, as she’s getting ready for her debut day on the force, her brother tells her that he doesn’t believe in the police. It’s a tense, poignant moment that many viewers will undoubtedly relate to: a hot-button issue’s opposing sides, be it within romantic, platonic, or famillial relationships, that struggle to find any semblance of common ground.

      “So much of our world has become polarized,” says Ali. “It’s like, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’ And usually the truth is somewhere in the middle.”

      The question becomes, then: can we find our way there?

      “Allegiance” has its world premiere on February 7 on CBC Gem and CBC TV. New episodes will be released on Wednesdays on CBC Gem, and will air Wednesday nights at 9pm on CBC TV.