For understandable, if not necessarily justified, reasons, the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is often suspected to be or accused of being involved in any and every political conspiracy which involves covert interference with a government (Becker, 2020 on the historical reality of CIA political involvement).[1] In terms of more direct law enforcement operations, the American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) also tend to be referenced in contexts of criminality, especially organised crime, and contentions over jurisdiction and activity (Nadelmann, 1993; Toro, 1999). It should therefore be no surprise that Canadian drama Intelligence (CBC, 2005-2007) features the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Organised Crime Unit (OCU) of the RCMP interacting with members of both agencies who attempt to interfere with Canadian operations and (spoiler, sorry) the Canadian government. Though the series engages in some very light criticism of the Canadian government in 2.4, in which a journalist being harassed by the Canadian Department of Defence points out that CSIS/law enforcement should be protecting people like her, not helping the government cover up equipment failures of the Canadian military, the majority of the series’ ire is directed at perceived-American overreach.

For those unfamiliar with the series, it follows two parallel strands, the career of Inspector Mary Spalding (Klea Scott) as she rises from the head of the OCU to the director of CSIS Asia Pacific, dealing with both office and governmental politics as she does so and the marijuana smuggling operation of drug kingpin Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey) who must navigate similar challenges in order to prevent bloodshed. Both characters are written sympathetically, as are the majority of the secondary Canadian characters regardless of which side of the law they are on. That nuance does not extend to the various American characters who appear within the series, nor to most of the Canadians who are working with or for the DEA and/or CIA, OCU Inspector Ted Altman (Matt Frewer) excepted. Both series’ use of DEA and CIA agents and plotlines, as well as series two’s inclusion of an American drug gang illustrate several points of concern regarding the Canadian perspectives on their southern neighbour.

The first area of concern in relation to Americans relates to operations, particularly with regard to rules of engagement. In series 1, in part out of an attempt at career advancement, Altman allies with DEA agent George Williams (Aaron Pearl) on a series-long attempt to catch Reardon. Over the course of this operation, both Mary and the audience learn how corrupt Williams is (though Altman does not). More importantly, however, the ostensible contrast between American and Canadian policing methods is shown through 1.13/2.1 in which the DEA set Reardon up to be killed in a shootout, though he manages to escape. Altman protests repeatedly in the immediate run-up to the operation, at one point refusing to let the DEA kill Reardon in cold blood. Because he is in the US at the time, however, Altman has no authority to intervene when Reardon escapes and a DEA agent and civilian are both killed by friendly (i.e., DEA) fire. While it is important to note that both Altman and Williams are shown to be significantly morally injured by this (with Williams ultimately committing suicide and Altman considering it) the idea of Canadian moral superiority in comparison to the US is part of a pervasive, transnational mythologisation of Canadian progressiveness, something which can be thought of as more aspirational than fully realised (Coleman, 2006: Beattie, 2020). This is then compounded, to some extent, in series two when a group of American drug dealers who may or may not have been working with the DEA (it is left ambiguous) arrive and begin engaging in gun play during a turf war. Though Reardon tries to broker peace repeatedly, at the end of series two (and the overall end of the series) he is shot in a drive-by shooting of the sort the Americans had engaged in earlier in series two. While the drug gang may not have been responsible (or may not have been Americans at all), that Reardon focuses his arguments on keeping the Americans to their side of the border illustrates concerns over infiltration and, arguably, migration, though the fact that the Americans shown here are all politically or economically powerful ameliorates that reading somewhat.

The second area of concern throughout both series relates to this fear of infiltration but on a political level. As noted above, the CIA can function as a sort of combination bogeyman and scapegoat for governments, but in Intelligence that combination is itself combined with a glocalised conspiracy theory. The NAFTA agreement, coupled with increasing globalisation, led to a conspiracy theory based in the US focusing upon a ‘North American Union’ in which the US, Canada and Mexico would be economically and/or politically joined which would then somehow lead to the erasure of the US (Spark, 2000; Berlet, 2009; Uscinski and Parent, 2014). In series two, this is glocalised to Canada through fears over water rights being sold to American and Mexican companies due to a CIA front lobbying (i.e., bribing) Canadian politicians.[2] While there is no publicly available evidence of the CIA or any other covert group attempting to infiltrate the Canadian government (though, to be fair, there would not be), this illustrates the concerns over American cultural imports. Edwardson (2008) notes that the Canadian government defines whether or not a produced text is ‘officially’ Canadian through a series of quantitative criteria relating to the production team, filming locations, etc, rather than qualitative criteria related to the content of the text; the Canadian government also sets a required amount of airtime to be given over to domestic series. Bury (2005) notes that, at the time she was writing, which is broadly contemporaneous to Intelligence, American imports dominated Canadian airwaves. Imports in general were also something the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was attempting to regulate at the time (Beaty and Sullivan 2007). Thus, the political infiltration concerns being expressed through Canadian television can be read as expressing cultural concerns of the time as well and can arguably be connected to negotiations with regard to Canadian identity and the potentially overwhelming influence of the US and/or other geopolitically powerful actors. Canada’s settler colonialist history, which was beginning to be more widely acknowledged at that time (e.g., then-PM Stephen Harper’s official apology to Indigenous Canadians on 11 June 2008), can also be read as an underlying reason for this concern as the increasing public acknowledgement has also involved non-Indigenous Canadians recognising that their ancestors had moved into North America and taken it over with the help of the geopolitically dominant European powers at that time (e.g., England/UK and France). This type of colonialism often involves taking over territory and eliminating or reducing the Indigenous population through either physical or cultural genocide as Canadian residential schools did (Wolfe 2006; Veracini 2014).

Somewhat befitting a series about American and Canadian conspiracies, the end of Intelligence, as well as the production team’s other series, DaVinci’s Inquest/City Hall,[3] is sometimes attributed to fear of Canadian government reprisals:

…there are suggestions that Canada itself is being subtly debased by those who should be protecting it. As Jimmy knows, you deal with the Americans at your peril. At the time Intelligence was cancelled by CBC, there was a widespread belief that the theme of political corruption was what got the show killed. In those [PM Stephen] Harper-era days, the series was in dangerous territory for a beleaguered CBC. The fact that it was superb TV, widely praised, was less important than fear of government criticism (Doyle, 2017: n.p).

In essence, the CBC were being accused of self-censoring to avoid losing government support and/or out of concern for transnational relations or sales.[4] That Doyle discursively links political interference with American ‘deal[s]’ also implies that he believes that either direct or perceived-American ire would be at least part of the ‘Harper-era’ political landscape, though, again, I have not been able to find work which proves such a claim.

International relations, factual or fictional, can be difficult. This is particularly the case somewhere like Canada, whose international relations have shaped its development and whose geopolitical power can be overshadowed by its next-door neighbour. While Intelligence’s Americans are reductively brutish and its collaborating Canadians similarly without nuance, Altman excepted, they can be read as illustrating resistance to what they see as a form of cultural imperialism. While the concept of cultural imperialism (or hegemony) is far more complex and nuanced than shown in the series (or, indeed, that can be shown in a blog) and different cultures have interacted for millennia, this reduction or elision of nuance does show the pervasive concerns of a ‘small’ (media-market) nation facing what it perceives as a threat. The baddies, in this instance, are those literally or figuratively sneaking across a border and seeking to overtly and covertly take total control, analogous to those European settlers who colonised Canada centuries ago and whose actions set the stage for Canada’s aspirational but not yet fully realised multicultural ideal.


Dr Melissa Beattie is a recovering Classicist who was awarded a PhD in Theatre, Film and TV Studies from Aberystwyth University where she studied Torchwood and national identity through fan/audience research as well as textual analysis. She has published and presented several papers relating to transnational television, audience research and/or national identity. She is currently an adjunct with Southern New Hampshire University and, as of August, will join the liberal arts faculty of Al Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco as an assistant professor. She is under contract with Lexington for an academic book on fictitious countries and Palgrave for a book on Canadian crime dramas. She has previously worked at universities in the US, Korea, Pakistan, Armenia, Ethiopia and for a brief time in Cambodia. She can be contacted at



[1]     I have found over my career that in many countries simply being American and working at a university is enough to make one suspected and/or accused of being a spy; analogous pressures by Western countries sometimes occur with regard to Chinese scholars.

[2]     Canadian political thriller H2O (2004, dir. Binamé) covers much the same ground.

[3]     DaVinci’s City Hall (CBC, 2005-2006) can be read as either a sequel series/spinoff or an eighth series of DaVinci’s Inquest (CBC, 1998-2005).

[4]     The CBC are complicated. They are a crown corporation which blends governmental funding (like a PSB) and advertising revenue but ostensibly retain independence with regard to their content.


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Becker M (2020) The CIA on Latin America, Journal of Intelligence History,

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Uscinski J E and Parent J M (2014) American Conspiracy Theories. Oxford: OUP.

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