‘Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent’ Cast and Creator Talk Bringing the Iconic Crime Procedural to Canada

Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent

The main 'Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent' cast, left to right: Karen Robinson, Aden Young, Kathleen Munroe and K.C. Collins. This iteration of the hit series is the first international version with original scripts and characters. Photo: Steve Wilkie

A dead body lies on the floor behind the walls of a small makeshift room. Detective Sergeants Henry Graff and Frankie Bateman are at the scene. 

“Alright guys, let’s settle down, please! Let’s settle!” someone yells, followed by some shushing. 

“Roll sound.” “Rolling.” “Quiet please.” “Camera. Action.”

It’s the final day of filming for Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent, the first time in the U.S. television franchise’s long history that there has been an international version of the iconic series with original scripts and brand-new characters, and not just a remake with cultural adjustments.

Even Mike Post’s instantly recognizable theme music – complete with the “dun dun” clank of cell doors shutting – has been licensed.

In Toronto’s spacious Cinespace soundstage complex, the set crew has built a police department, interrogation room, morgue, hospital floor and patient room, small holding or jail cell, and other needed crime  investigation areas, along with swing sets that come and go, according to the episode requirements. Props that day include photos of the deceased, tagged “evidence” on clothing racks, a white board of pinned papers and suspect photos, even blood on the floor surrounded by orange cones. 

Created and co-executive produced by award-winning Canadian screenwriter Tassie Cameron (Rookie Blue), who also serves as showrunner, Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent, premiered Thursday (Feb. 22) on Citytv and stars fellow Canucks Kathleen Munroe (City On Fire, Patriot), as Det. Bateman, and Aden Young (Reckoning, Rectify) as Det. Graff, alongside Karen Robinson (Schitt’s Creek, Pretty Hard Cases) as their boss, Inspector Vivienne Holness, and K.C. Collins (Lost Girl, Saving Hope) as Deputy Crown Attorney Theo Forrester. 

“When you franchise a show like this, they give you the elements that make the franchise, so they talk to you about how to structure the show,” says Cameron, sitting on a sofa on the set of Holness’ office. “They care very deeply. They take it very seriously too – they don’t want this to dilute the brand.”

The cast, crew and episode directors are Canadian and, perhaps most importantly, Toronto plays itself. The city is not a stand-in for Boston, New York or Chicago. The CN Tower is not out of shot, but stands tall, its concrete head held high. Proudly Canadian.

“The first thing I thought of when I was writing the first episode was about the title with the Toronto skyline behind it,” Cameron adds. “In fact, in the very opening frames of the episode, here it is. It’s a love letter to the city.”

Fans of the long-running franchise will be pleased with the way the Canadian production took care to honour the original. From the discovery of the murder to the way the two lead detectives interact with one another, Bateman as Graff’s equal, it’s unlike many cop shows that depict the female officer not taken seriously by her male peers (case in point, Griselda on Netflix). Through good old-fashioned detective work, they get to the core of the criminal’s intent to ultimately solve the case.

The debut episode, directed by Holly Dale (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: True Crime), revolves around a “ripped from the headlines” story about a crypto investor who vanishes in Lake Ontario, along with millions in digital currency, and takes the viewers to Little India, Chinatown, Bay Street and City Hall. Filmores Hotel even makes an appearance, as do Toronto’s distinct streetcars. 

“I was trying to figure out a way to highlight what makes our city such a mosaic of different places and people and cultures,” Cameron explains. “But we’re also, even down to the small details, working on the sound mixes for the shows and we keep saying, ‘More construction sounds. More streetcar sounds.’ We’re trying to really reflect what the city sounds like.”

In the script, there are references to Muskoka, Cherry Beach, the Bluffs but, thankfully, no cliched “ehs” sprinkled in. 

“We certainly wouldn’t shy away from any Canadian language idiosyncrasies,” says Cameron. “We don’t want to become a punchline, so we weren’t leaning into Bob-and-Doug-style language. But, certainly, a lot of our addresses are real addresses. We don’t shy away from anything that’s Canadian or Toronto.”

Bryn Garrison, co-location manager for season one, is used to scouting streets, buildings and angles in Toronto to replicate Chicago, Manhattan, and even Ecuador (for Ricky Gervais’ Special Correspondents), so his role for Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent was different. “As we watch the stories and experience the detectives solving crime, we end up really seeing our city – the buildings, the architecture, the landmarks, the neighbourhoods,” he says.  

Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent
Kathleen Munroe as Det. Bateman, K.C. Collins as Deputy Crown Attorney Theo Forrester and Aden Young as Det. Graff on the streets of Toronto while filming Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent. Photo: Amanda Matlovich


His job is to figure out what the scene is going to look like and how the location is going to best tell the story. “In some cases, that meant we were in an actual location. Other times, it’s something that we’d be able to interpret better to get more of a Toronto feel,” Garrison says. 

The “ripped from the headlines” storylines, meanwhile, are often disguised. This season features stories revolving around city hall, car theft, price fixing, hockey and fine art. However, none of the 10 episodes in season one is about, for example, the unsolved murders of Barry and Honey Sherman, or the originally ignored murders of men in the “Gay Village,” because the characters need to be able to solve the crimes in the end. 

Stories inspired by other older but notorious Toronto cases, such as the 1977 killing of 12-year-old “shoeshine boy” Emanuel Jaques, or the 1986 murder of 11-year-old Alison Parrott, are also left out. “We tried to stay within the last 20 years,” says Cameron.  

Lead actress Munroe, 41 – who was actually on two episodes of the recent spinoff Law & Order: Organized Crime as D.A. Rika Harold – remembers watching the original series on daytime reruns when she was home sick from school and is thrilled to be part of the Canadian version.


Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent
Young and Munroe on the set of Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent. Monroe previously appeared in the Law & Order universe as a D.A. on Law & Order: Organized Crime, and Young noted the sense of community among the Canuck actors and crew in making a Canadian version of the show. Photo: Steve Wilkie


“There’s something about the iconography and the formula and the sense of place and the characters that really feels grounded. There’s a comfort to it,” says the Hamilton native, who attended the University of Toronto to study film.

“That’s one of the things that the franchise has done really well, to take the world of Law & Order, and the tone of Law & Order, and then be really adaptive. I think that’s why it’s lasting as long as it is. The thrill for me of doing it in Toronto is that there’s a mix of it being really familiar and really iconic in its structure and its tone, but we’re doing this new thing with it.”

Her Toronto-born co-star Young, 52, feels the same way.

“I’m excited for Toronto. I’m excited for the cast. I’m excited for the producers,” he says later, on a Zoom call from Australia where he lives. 

“They took this opportunity and ran with it. There was such an enthusiasm from everyone involved to make a Canadian show in Toronto, about Toronto, not hiding Toronto.

“Actors would turn up and they’d say, ‘Oh, I don’t know how to speak with my Canadian accent anymore because they’ve been drilling it out of me for years,’” he laughs. “There was a great sense of community and pride in doing a Canadian version of Law & Order.”

Back at Cinespace soundstage, they are working on the final episode of the season. Some cast and crew have already wrapped and there are long hugs goodbye.  There is a cake for later, to celebrate. It has a photo of the cast on it.

Fingers crossed it won’t be the last time they assemble to solve a Toronto murder. With the city finally allowed to play itself in a major television drama, let’s hope there’s a season two.


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