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.
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.