Canada’s immigration system and broadcast ethics questioned in light of border security reality TV show

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A TV camera crew accompanied the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) on a March 13 raid, stirring controversy across the country. The raid, on a construction site in Vancouver that is alleged to have employed undocumented labourers, sparked a national debate on issues ranging from Canada’s immigration system to media broadcasting ethics. The CBSA agents descended on a construction site in East Vancouver and arrested eight men, all while accompanied by a film crew shooting footage for a TV show titled Border Security: Canada’s Front Line, produced by Vancouver-based Force Four Entertainment. News of the raid prompted criticism from Canadian immigration lawyers and advocates, as well as members of the public.

Diana Thompson, whose husband Tulio Hernandez was among the eight men arrested during the raid, was angered that there was a film crew present during the raid. “I feel that it makes it that much worse,” Thompson told the CBC, “that these companies are going to profit off a reality show of them basically tearing families apart.” Douglas Cannon, a prominent immigration and refugee lawyer in Vancouver, also condemned the filming of the raid, telling the CBC that if immigration agents “show up with cameras, filming potential refugee claimants at work, those refugee claimants may very well have an increased risk to return to their country.”

During a March 18 parliamentary question period in Ottawa, NDP critics admonished Vic Toews, federal Minister of Public Safety. Toews allegedly had personally authorized the film crews to accompany and film CBSA agents during their duties.

“These are real people and real officers doing a dangerous job. Filming is exploitative and could put individuals in danger,” said NDP Member of Parliament (MP) Garrison Randall in the House of Commons.

Toews responded with a brief prepared statement each of three times he was questioned regarding his role in the filming of the raid. “The privacy of individuals is protected at all times; however, it is important to remember that illegal immigrants cost law-abiding Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars each year and thousands of jobs,” Toews said in part of his response.

The raid has prompted an online petition calling for the cancellation of the Border Security series; the petition had received 23 000 signatures as of April 22. “Deportation, exploiting human suffering, coercing migrant workers and tearing apart families is not entertainment,” the petition reads. Dozens of artists and cultural producers have also signed an open letter denouncing the show, including actress Margot Kidder and writer/filmmaker Naomi Klein. The letter points to Amnesty International’s findings: that “filming and broadcasting these raids has jeopardized the basic rights of these undocumented workers, as protected under the international conventions that Canada has ratified.”

The CBSA defended the filming of the raid, saying suspects’ privacy was respected by requesting they give their written consent to film crews. “An individual’s case will not be negatively or positively impacted by their decision to participate or not,” read an official statement prepared by the CBSA. Force Four Entertainment also responded to the criticisms: “no one is filmed without their advance verbal permission,” wrote spokesman Andrew Poon in a prepared statement, adding that individuals’ names will not be used even if they give permission.

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