VANCOUVER – Illegal immigrants take advantage of Canadian taxpayers — not the other way around, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told critics in Parliament as he defended the use of reality TV cameras on immigrant raids.
The federal government is facing criticism on several fronts for its approval of the TV show focusing on border security after camera crews filmed the arrest of several men in Vancouver last week by officers with Canada Border Services Agency.
But Toews isn’t backing away from the plan.
“It is important to remember that illegal immigrants cost law-abiding Canadian taxpayers tens of millions of dollars per year and it costs our constituents thousands of jobs,” said Toews.
“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.”
Federal access to information documents show that Toews approved a demo reel by Force Four Entertainment and also allowed Canada Border Services Agency to enter into talks for a full series of programs for broadcast in Canada.
The documents were requested by Helesia Luke, a communications worker who wanted to know more she heard about the raids.
Luke, who’s familiar with production company contracts after working in the entertainment industry, said the 11-page contract seemed short.
Luke said she’s asked for more information because she believes other documents might clarify the kind of message the CBSA is trying convey with the program.
“Do they really want to send a message that people arriving at the border are going to be ambushed by a camera crew because they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to bring apples across the border?”
During question period Monday, NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison said Canadians across the country are shocked about the government’s approval of the idea, adding the raids aren’t some episode of “Cops.”
“These are real people and real officers doing a dangerous job,” said Garrison, who called the show a “dangerous and reckless PR stunt.”
“Filming is exploitative and can put individuals in danger.”
Descriptions for 13 episodes of Border Security: Canada’s Front Line on the National Geographic channel include “Officers wonder why a Korean tourist would bring his CV and school diplomas on a vacation,” and “An injured American may be too ill to enter Canada.”
Some episodes in the series have already aired and the National Geographic website promotes the program by saying: Border Security, the show that will make you think twice the next time you considering hiding anything in your luggage.
Joshua Labove, a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University who specializes in border issues, said the reality show is incredibly exploitative.
“You’re saying to someone ‘Hello, I am here to legally remove you from the country but would you mind signing this release so I can show your face on Canadian television?'”
Labove said the program is particularly problematic because it creates complicated and blurry lines between entertainment, information and typical government works.
“All of this just serves to remind people that CBSA has a very large mandate and a very large mission away from the border,” he said, adding that the fact that the show is modeled after an Australian program — Border Security: Australia’s Front Line — is worrisome.
“Australia is a country that has had a long history of deportation and immigration raids and inland enforcement. I’m not necessarily sure that’s the kind of society Canadians want.”
No one with CBSA returned a request for an interview Monday.
A lawyer for one of the men arrested in the televised raid last week in Vancouver told his hearing late Friday that the presence of a TV camera was another intimidating factor in the arrest.
Laura Best said her client’s arrest was illegal because Tulio Renan Aviles Hernandez was detained improperly and questioned without his lawyer present.
Immigration board member Michael McPhalen decided that the man’s charter rights were violated because he was questioned before he could consult with a lawyer.
McPhalen called the addition of the reality-show cameras “unusual.”