A memo and agreement between Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) and Force Four Entertainment sheds significant light on the extent to which the federal government is involved in the production of a reality television show being filmed in Vancouver.
“The CBSA would enjoy de facto executive production authorities,” the document states, “and as such, would identify scenarios, sites and storylines, as well as provide active engagement in, as well as oversight and control of, all film shoots."
CBSA; the TV show, Border Security: Canada’s Front Line; and Force Four Entertainment, the Vancouver company producing it, have drawn opposition for embedding cameras with CBSA officers conducting immigration raids.
Critics argue that the program objectifies immigrants and exploits people’s misfortune. CBSA and Force Four Entertainment maintain that the TV show merely follows the daily activities of CBSA officials.
The agreement between CBSA and Force Four Entertainment also notes that the production of Border Security requires the spending of government funds.
“While there is no financial contribution, there is an operational cost to supporting the film shoots, participating in the editing and review process and so on,” it states. “This burden is not insignificant.”
A number of provisions detailed in the agreement can be assumed to require CBSA staff time, and therefore taxpayers dollars. Those include:
- The agreement stipulated that a representative of the CBSA’s communications department be present at all times a camera is rolling.
- It is required that a CBSA-appointed escort always accompany Force Four Productions staff and contractors while on CBSA property.
- The agreement requires that CBSA review and approve all footage intended for broadcast and, if changes are required, that revised video also be reviewed and approved for publication.
- It’s specified that CBSA “may provide assistance to Force Four Productions in accessing CBSA facilities, staff and operations.”
The agreement was signed by Vic Toews, Canada’s public safety minister, on June 7, 2011, and also reviewed by a “representative of the Prime Minister’s office”.
The memo attached to the agreement encourages CBSA participation, describing the TV show as a “valuable opportunity to promote important messages about Canada's commitment to border security and to give profile to the Agency as a professional and effective law enforcement organization.”
On March 18, Toews defended the taping of the show during question period in the House of Commons.
“This show is about the situations faced daily by our front-line border officers,” he said, reading from a prepared statement. “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. We expect the CBSA to enforce Canada's immigration laws by removing individuals who take advantage of Canada's generous immigration system by jumping the queue.”
Toews refused to answer repeated requests for information about the costs of CBSA’s participation in the TV show.
Manitoba Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux called for the production of Border Security to cease.
Toews did not respond to that question either, and instead read from the same prepared statement.
Border Security: Canada’s Front Line, begins its second season on National Geographic Channel on Thursday (March 21).