A trio of New Democrat MLAs have told the Straight that they don’t want a television show that some have accused of targeting immigrants filming in their neighbourhoods, or anywhere in British Columbia.
“I don’t see any point,” said Mable Elmore, MLA for Vancouver Kensington. “I would rather that it not be shot or shown. I don’t want to see it.”
Similar positions were taken by Jenny Kwan, MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, and Raj Chouhan, Opposition multicultural critic.
On Wednesday (March 13), members of Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) conducted raids on at least three construction sites, arresting and detaining people of varying immigration status. Embedded with the officers were 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 objectifies immigrants and exploits people’s misfortune. The show’s producers maintain that their cameras follow the daily activities of CBSA officials and portray those events with accuracy.
One of Wednesday’s raids took place within the boundaries of Elmore’s constituency. She said that families and members of the community have been affected, adding “I think there should be respect shown for immigrants and their families and recognition for their contributions.”
Kwan, whose constituency neighbours Elmore’s, also said that she’d rather the show not be shot in Vancouver.
“I think it is worthwhile to examine what other jurisdictions are doing and how they are dealing with such situations and to take that into consideration and formulate an approach in British Columbia,” she said.
Kwan expressed concern for potential long-term impacts the television program might have on Vancouver residents.
“When these stories are played out and sensationalized in such a way, does that create community tension?” she asked. “Are we going to create an environment where our social harmony is put in jeopardy?”
On March 14, the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) called for the production of such television shows to be banned from the City of Vancouver. According to a news release, 36 North American cities, including Toronto, have passed laws forbidding the filming of “reality television shows that harass residents or workers based on citizenship status”.
In order to film a television show or movie affecting public property in Vancouver, a permit must be approved by city hall.
B.C. NDP multicultural critic Raj Chouhan said that the City of Vancouver should “take a stand” against such a show.
“I’m really concerned,” he said. “It makes me wonder why people in authority are not sensitive to immigrants and their families.”
He continued: “It really bothers me. I hope we are not Americanizing our delivery of justice here in Canada. Canada is a country with a tradition and history of compassion and understanding, and also people recognizing the contributions of immigrants in Canada. We are a country of immigrants. And yet it seems like we are somehow forgetting that. I find it bothersome.”
In a March 15 email to the Straight, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson described BORDER SECURITY as “disturbing” and “media exploitation,” but did not call for the filming of such programs to end.
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.
“No one is filmed without their advance verbal permission and a written release is obtained only once the person has been properly cautioned by officers,” it states. “CBSA has no role in the obtaining of releases; this is done by the program's directors. Before any story appears in a program, it is vetted by CBSA and Force Four's lawyers to ensure privacy rights are observed.”
Elmore said that the show should draw attention to the realities of temporary foreign workers in Canada, of which there are more than 60,000 in British Columbia and nearly half a million across the country.
“They are often very vulnerable, working in the underground economy,” she said. “Those are my concerns. I think if we are inviting workers to come and do necessary and important work in Canada they should be treated respectfully and have a pathway to immigration.”