Mayor Gregor Robertson describes reality show filming Vancouver immigration raids as “disturbing”

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      Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has come out against a television show filming searches and arrests of immigrants in the city.

      “I’m very concerned about the CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency] raid that took place in conjunction with a reality tv show,” read an email attributed to the mayor. “It’s disturbing to see that kind of media exploitation take place—that personal suffering shouldn’t be treated as entertainment. Even if people have not come here legally, they deserve to be treated with basic dignity.”

      On Wednesday (March 13), CBSA members conducted raids on at least three construction sites, arresting and detaining people of varying immigration status. The officers were accompanied by camera crews filming a documentary series for National Geographic Channel.

      According to a National Geographic website, the network is working with CBSA to produce a documentary program called BORDER SECURITY: Canada’s Front Line.

      Critics argue that the program exploits immigrants’ misfortunes. The show’s producers maintain that their cameras follow the daily activities of CBSA officials and portray those events with accuracy.

      News of the television show’s involvement in Wednesdays’ CBSA operation sparked some public backlash. A protest attended by roughly 80 people took place outside a Citizenship and Immigration office in Vancouver on Thursday (March 14). And an online petition calling for the show’s cancellation received more than 4,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

      Toulio Renan Aviles Hernandez (right) was arrested in an immigration raid recorded by a reality television show. He is pictured here with his wife, Diana Thomson, who was born in British Columbia.

      Diana Thomson, that petition’s creator and the wife of one of the men detained in the raids, told the Straight that “it felt unreal” to learn that a camera crew was present for her husband’s arrest.

      “I was just informed that my husband was picked up,” she said in a telephone interview. “And then to come home later that night, to read that [his arrest was filmed for television], it was very tasteless and disgusting, that they wanted to tape that and make a reality show out of it.”

      Toulio Renan Aviles Hernandez immigrated to Canada from Honduras and was in the process of applying for Canadian citizenship through a sponsorship application, Thomson said. She recounted that the two were legally married in November 2012, and that Aviles Hernandez was helping care for her daughter from a prior relationship.

      “This is a really tough situation for me, my daughter, and my family,” she said. “If this [television program] was to air, it would make the situation a lot harder for us, to see what he had to go through.”

      Thomson, who was born and raised in British Columbia, added that the experience has given her an understanding of how difficult it is for many immigrants to relocate to Canada, even if they have family already in the country.

      The television show is produced by Force Four Entertainment, a Vancouver-based company. A representative could not be reached for comment.

      In a March 14 statement published on Facebook, Force Four states that the March 13 raids “occurred as we were documenting the day-to-day activities of the CBSA's Inland Enforcement team and were in no way planned or staged.” It continues: “We would not sensationalize any situation for this series. Border Security is a documentary, not a reality series."

      The message claims that Force Four receives people’s consent to film before a camera is put on them.

      Mayor Robertson’s email emphasized that there are services available for people new to Canada. Those include SUCCESS, MOSAIC, the Immigrant Services Society of BC, and the Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture.

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      Mar 15, 2013 at 7:49pm

      illegal immigration isnt just an american problem and people need to be informed.

      Disgraceful Production

      Mar 15, 2013 at 8:04pm

      It's hardly fair or decent to approach people who are under duress, and asking them to sign a "release". Force Four Entertainment needs to recalibrate its sense of entertainment.

      true north strong and free

      Mar 15, 2013 at 9:05pm

      Force Four Entertainment might have a more revealing documentary with more reality impact on what's going wrong in Canada by going to the source of Canadian problems.

      Force Four Entertainment could document the day-to-day activities of the Senate and Parliament in Ottawa ensuring their cameras follow the daily activities of all levels of government officials and portray those events with accuracy, as Canadians are stripped of our Canadian Constitution by the Harper government, and assure the Canadian people that these omnibus bills were in no way planned or staged.

      There you were have a documentary that would dare to go where no man has gone before. Now that would be more disturbing on all levels.


      Mar 15, 2013 at 9:09pm

      First it was side arms like our friends to the south and now a sleezy T.V. show. Sounds more like a Harper show wanting to be more American. Too bad we just didn't stay true Canadian and treat everyone one with respect.

      Concerned Canadian Citizen .. CCC

      Mar 15, 2013 at 9:18pm

      I wonder if the documentary will caputure positive stories ... I would sure like to hope, there are successful immigration stories to be told. I hope the people get to see the compassionate and fair side of Border Crossing Officials.


      Mar 15, 2013 at 9:48pm

      The censorship of documentarians the Mayor is calling for is far more disturbing than anything that occurred here. They recorded law officers enforcing the law by arresting people breaking the law.

      There is absolutely nothing illegal or unethical that the documentarians from Fource Four did here. However, what Gregor Robertson is calling for is both illegal, and the suppression of basic rights to freedom of expression.

      Shane Matthews

      Mar 15, 2013 at 10:04pm

      Robertson has nothing more substantial to remark upon concerning this than his own feelings? Well, that's...typical.

      DP, criminals have no right to complain on grounds of either fairness or decency. They've already demonstrated they have respect for neither.

      TrueNorth, the fact that there are weightier matters abroad than illegal immigration is not grounds for not covering illegal immigration.

      DK, bigotry is so 19th century. That includes bigotry against Americans. We haven't fought with them for over 200 years, and we won. So get over it, already. There's more to determining whether something is right or wrong than simply asking if the Americans are doing it. They breathe oxygen; does that mean we should stop?

      CCC, expecting this show to document successful legal immigrants is like expecting "To Serve and Protect" to document law-abiding churchgoers.

      Get Real

      Mar 15, 2013 at 10:17pm

      Robertson, nothing wrong with a TV raid of imported workers in Vancouver. This is what your city looks like. The law must be followed and don't take jobs from Canadians.


      Mar 15, 2013 at 10:34pm

      Mayor Robertson's policies are keeping housing as unaffordable in Vancouver as possible. This puts undue hardship on recent immigrants and migrant workers. To work for social justice you need housing that doesn't take up more than 30% of your income. Vancouver has a long, long way to go...

      Invisible Hand

      Mar 15, 2013 at 11:51pm

      This type of 'reality show' is definitely in bad taste but the key message is that new immigrants (non Canadian citizens) must follow employment laws in Canada or face deportation and/or penalties.