The Detectives

The Detectives will change how you think about true crime

‘One thing we put a very strict rule around is just leave more space for emotion and less space for salacious blood, guts,’ says showrunner

‘One thing we put a very strict rule around is leave more space for emotion and less space for salacious'

RCMP Inspector Gerry Belliveau (Allan Hawco) gives his condolence to the victim's sister, Debbie Ward (Brittany Drisdelle) who found the bodies of her sister and nephew. (Karl Jessy)

The Detectives will be returning to CBC for its third season on January 9. Each episode of this gripping series features a different detective reliving an investigation that stuck with them through their careers and had an impact on Canadian lives. The true crime series brings their stories to life by blending dramatic reenactments with their emotional firsthand accounts. 

What drew retired RCMP Inspector Gerry Belliveau to share his own harrowing story was the realism and respect with which the series portrays the stories it tells. While many true crime shows are "too Hollywood" for Belliveau, he saw The Detectives as believable from his perspective in law enforcement. 

"I saw myself," says Belliveau. "I got emotional a couple times last night when I watched the show, because I saw myself there."

The real RCMP Inspector Gerry Belliveau, being interviewed about the murders of Mary Lou Barnes and her 12-year-old son, Larry Mills Jr. (Peter Krieger)

Belliveau is featured in the season premiere (portrayed by Alan Hawco) as he tells the story of how he investigated the murders of Mary Lou Barns and her young son, Larry Mills Jr. — who was around the same age as Belliveau's own son at the time. 

For many detectives who have appeared on the show, including Belliveau, their participation in the series hinged on whether or not the victims' families were consulted. 

"I just needed the reassurance from [executive producer and showrunner] Petro [Duszara] and his team that they were going to respect the family," says Belliveau.

According to Duszara, while the episodes are told from the perspective of the investigators it is the families' support that is the linchpin of the series, and they always seek permission from the family before continuing on with a case. "If the family feels comfortable and the family is supportive of telling the story, then we do it, and if they're not, then we don't," he says.

The family gets to decide how much involvement they have in the production after that. Some might send photos and speak regularly with Duszara's team, while others may ask not to be contacted after they've given their blessing. 

In either case, it is important to Duszara that each case is handled with sensitivity and purpose.

"One thing we put a very strict rule around is just leave more space for emotion and less space for salacious blood, guts, all those kinds of things that people do tend to focus on in [true crime] shows," says Duszara. "We're telling real stories of real people. That lady we're seeing dead on the floor is someone's grandmother or that's someone's sister."

In most of their episodes, the victims' bodies are either covered up or not seen at all. For Duszara and the rest of the production team, The Detectives is all about emotion and empathy. "We often cry, we often support each other. We have access to a psychologist for the stuff [we've] seen, because you can't do the show unless you put yourself into the show."

Each case explored throughout the eight-episode season was chosen because it held some kind of meaning or public value for Canadians. For Belliveau's, it was about the impact of changing technologies — in this case, advances in DNA testing — opening up new avenues of investigation. 

As Duszara says: "There is a reason for telling the story."

The Detectives will air Thursdays at 9PM starting January 9.