News that a reality television show’s camera crews were "embedded" with law enforcement teams that arrested immigrants working on Vancouver construction sites Wednesday (March 14) has sparked some public backlash.
About 80 people gathered outside a Citizenship and Immigration office on Georgia Street today (March 14) to protest what happened, event organizers with No One Is Illegal (NOII) told the Georgia Straight.
NOII’s Harsha Walia described the involvement of the televison show—which is under production for National Geographic Channel—as “vile.”
“The fact that we have essentially embedded journalism in law enforcement is something that should alarm everybody,” she said in a telephone interview. “People are making money and we are consuming entertainment based on the violence of deportation and detention.”
Members of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) conducted raids at at least three construction sites, arresting and detaining people of varying immigration status. The exact number remains unknown. Family members of those arrested reported that some of the men have since been moved to Vancouver International Airport.
Walia added that at least some of the men arrested were asked to sign release forms that would allow them to be identified on television, possibly under duress.
She said that she met with two of the men's wives, and expressed sympathy for those picked up in the raid. Walia described them “hard workers” and “men with families.”
“All these guys, they live in East Van,” she said. “They’re familiar to the community, they use the community centers, their kids are in the school system.”
Meanwhile, the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE)—which held two city council seats from 2008-11—issued a press release calling for a ban on the filming of reality shows that “harass residents or workers based on citizenship status.”
“COPE believes that the City of Vancouver should not issue permits for film productions which involve targeting residents and workers on the basis of immigration status,” the release states.
CBSA did not respond to a request for an interview. Other media outlets have reported that their requests for comment have also gone unanswered. In a response sent to CBC News, the office of Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews issued a statement noting CBSA’s mandate to remove from the country individuals who violate immigration laws.
According to a National Geographic website, the network is working with CBSA to produce a reality television show called BORDER SECURITY: Canada’s Front Line.
“Follow Canadian border services officers as they intercept suspicious characters and contraband from around the world in an effort to keep us safe, and our health, workforce, and ecosystem secure,” it advertises. “In every episode of Border Security, cameras shadow CBSA officers as they interrogate suspicious passengers who may or may not be hiding something.”
BORDER SECURITY: Canada’s Front Line is scheduled to premiere on the National Geographic Channel on March 21.