The complainant is a sled dog operator. She wrote on behalf of many in her business as well as some of the participants in the documentary “Sled Dog” to complain about bias in the film misrepresentation of its purpose to those who were featured, and the advocacy work of the filmmaker. Sled Dogs ran on the Documentary Channel and is an outside production. There is room for point-of-view documentaries, and this one qualifies, but it should have been clearly labelled that way before it aired.
Note that due to a miscommunication, the name of the complainant has been removed.
You are the owner of a sled dog operation in Ontario. You are concerned that Sled Dogs, a feature-length piece run on the CBC documentary Channel, unfairly portrayed and misrepresented the industry – the competitors in races, the breeders and those that offer tourists an experience of sled dogging. Even though your company is not featured or named in the broadcast, you said you have lost business because of it. You stated your property has been attacked twice since the film was released. You objected to the filmmaker’s continued advocacy through her website and screenings of the film:
Fern is also using this film on social media as a platform to harass and ultimately shut down all dogsled companies including the Iditarod.
You gathered information from many of those who are featured in the film, and provided many examples you believe indicate the filmmaker, Fern Levitt, misrepresented what she was doing and what the purpose of the film would be. They felt betrayed, having provided her broad access to their operations and activities. You said that Ms. Levitt approached the owner of Windrift Kennel, who breeds sled dogs, to get permission to film her operation, including the training of puppies, by telling her she was planning to show a positive side to the industry:
Fern approached them in the same way, saying she wanted to film amazing kennels and a puppy growing into and becoming a sled dog.
You cited other examples of the same approach. The musher who was filmed training and then running the 1000-mile Iditarod race in Alaska told you something similar, you said. He himself has spoken out saying he felt he was lied to and that there was no indication of what kind of production was being contemplated. He was misled by the warm treatment he received from the team:
Like the others was misled, he was told they wanted to film the amazing journey a musher and their dogs went on.
You cited some inaccuracies as well. The documentary shows a scene in which staff found a dog which had died. The camera followed Gina Pierce, owner of Windrift, as she ran to confirm what had happened. This is what you say transpired:
The dog who passed away Rachet was an old dog (14 years old) who had been fine when they did chores that morning, when Fern & crew arrived and everyone went up to get her started they were out of the dog yard for about 45 minutes. When they came back down the dog had passed of a heart attack. It was snowing hard that day and he was already covered with a dusting of snow. Fern called the Barrie Tourism Association and told them she had found a dog who died overnight of hypothermia in the kennel that morning and demanded they stop promoting Windrift Kennels. The Tourism Assoc. said as long as the SPCA had no issues with the kennel, they would still promote them.
There was a segment of the documentary that told the story of a kennel and dog sled operation in Colorado, called Krabloonik Kennels. The former owner was charged and convicted of animal cruelty a few years ago. You said the film used footage of the kennel under the former owner in such a way as to leave the impression this was the current condition of the dogs.