We need to see more of our border guards in action, not less

CBSA deal to film immigration raids allows feds to stage-manage a serious issue, writes Charlie Gillis


Graham Hughes/CP

If you’re like me, you don’t see the Canada Border Service Agency’s recent foray into documentary TV as a whole lot more exploitive than, say, this. Or this. Or this.

So why are we suddenly exercised at the idea of camera crews following CBSA officers as they raid construction sites in search of illegal immigrants? Because the suspects might be innocent? Because their alleged transgression doesn’t rise to the level of—I dunno—a guy who tries to play fast and loose with a Money Mart?

The real problem, to my thinking, is how infrequently we get to watch the enforcement arms of the state in action without those agencies filtering the message—and the dust-up over the CBSA deal illustrates the point. To get past the blue-sky planning stage, Force Four Entertainment, the production company behind the project, had to sign an agreement allowing the feds to vet the show to ensure they  won’t portray the border agency in a negative light. Which means the finished product is bound to be a whole lot different than if, say, a crew from the fifth estate went along for the raids.

These bargains for access are increasingly common in TV production, and they speak to a growing tendency within law enforcement to co-operate with media only for purposes of self-promotion. To Serve and Protect set the template: it’s the Canadian knockoff of an American show tailored to aggrandize cops. In short, we get one side of the story.

So before we declare immigration raids off limits to the media, let’s remember the public interest underlying the CBSA’s mission—quaint as that might sound. I, for one, would watch a program that juxtaposed the harsh realities of enforcement work against the human plight of Honduran migrants eking out a life in Canada’s underground economy. I doubt I’m going to get that from the production. So if the Minister of Public Safety wants to do me a favour, he’ll swing open the door to more on-scene coverage of border enforcement teams in action, by a wider variety of media, with a lot less stage management. We might see the flaws and excesses of our duly empowered authorities. We might even see their virtues.

All within the bounds of the law, of course: the potential for children to be among those being filmed is troubling (it’s not like they choose to migrate, legally or illegally). So one expects the same careful editing and pixelating on the part of Force Four we get from To Serve and Protect, where minors are conspicuously absent. A spokeswoman for Force Four says its shows will be vetted by lawyers to ensure privacy rights are not violated.

I know: dream on. Nothing about the deal Vic Toews signed off on suggests an interest in public enlightenment. It’s just a bit of politics—some theatre-of-the-living to fill the air on National Geographic channel, whose venerable brand belies the increasing hollowness of its content.

The scandal is not that we’ll see the CBSA raids on such limited terms. It’s that this is the only way we get to see them.


We need to see more of our border guards in action, not less

  1. Vic’s deal is just more of the Ministry of Propaganda at work.

    • So you agree with turning a blind eye to illegal immigration and undocumented workers?

      • Do you really think this will be an unbiased look at the issue? The premise is clearly the heroes of the CSBA busting the baddies; is there any follow-up to see what happens at trial? Is there any attempt to get the stories of the people busted?

        Unless both sides are presented, it is hardly documentary; it is a deliberate attempt to make this look like a huge problem that the government is conquering. And while I happen to support the front-line staff in doing their job, the show itself, if it is as one-sided and government-controlled as this article makes it sound (I don’t have the channel it is on so I can’t view it to judge first-hand), would definitely meet the definition of propaganda.

  2. A reasonable person might hypothesize that Elections Canada called the CBC when EC decided to raid the Conservative Party offices with the CBC apparently in tow and cameras rolling. The media didn’t seem to have any problem with that.

  3. It’s only a “scandal” because Canada’s idiotic liberal media attempts to make everything into a scandal if it involves a conservative politician or government. The same people who are labeling this a “scandal” would be in a fit of faux rage about the government lacking “transparency” if they didn’t allow the show to be filmed. But hey, it fills column-inches and gets all those lazy idiots on Twitter in a frenzy, so the status quo will continue.

    • It is tax money spent on propaganda, Rick. Why don’t you find that offensive? Or is CPC before country perfectly OK with you?

    • As frobisher says, it’s “red meat for xenophobes”. I don’t know why Conservatives feel the need to advertise to their base (it’s not like the xenophobe wing of society will vote for anyone but the Cons), but they do. This is just another example.

      • Right, it’s only Conservative’s who watch $hitty reality TV. All good liberals spend their evenings at Starbucks sipping lattes and saving the world. Thanks for the reminder.

        • I spend my time in an Ivory Tower ™, TYVM. Although I’m not a Liberal.

    • There was no show to make until Toews ‘green-lit’ it (fancy liberal Hollywood term, never mind). Nobody really knew until Cecil B. DeToews decided CBSA was ready for its close up.

      Rick, there’s no transparency here. That’s just production design. It’s the Magic Of The Movies®!

  4. More accountability among peace officers is a must, but the best way to achieve that isn’t through broadcast TV.

  5. Hard to tell where Gillis actually lands on this (I’ll blame myself) but if the point is ‘more transparency’ on the part of government forces/services/civil service via the media, well, fine. Pulling back the veil is generally the optimal effect and service of the media.

    But, as he points out, that’s certainly not the objective in this exercise. So, taxpayer money aside, the fact that Toews signed off on a blatant bit of red meat video for xenophobes, some mouth-breathers in the base and, possibly, burnishing the Kenney-slash-JUSTICE ‘brand’ is troubling. Plus, added bonus, Real Human Tragedy! – “They came for a better life…our people made sure THAT…DIDN’T…HAPPEN!

    So, where do we go next? “Real Taxpayers of Steinbach”, “Playin’ By The Rules: Real, Hard Workin’ Canadian (In)Action”, “Tax Cheats: Your CRA in The Field”, or “Economic! Action! Plan!: Real Stories. Real Canadians! Real Economic Action!”

    Probably not. But It’s a bit too far already.

    • Real Elections Canada Investigations !! .. breathless I am ..

  6. Do you really think this show won’t be filtered, Mr. Gillis? Holy naive, Batman.

  7. I would like to see more of these raids broadcast on TV. Let Canadians know what is really going on in this country instead of putting the blinders on people. I would also like to see the CBSA put more focus on stopping the importation of illegal firearms from the US. Problem with that is that much of it is done with help by first nations gangs who cross the border in their boats with impunity.

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