VANCOUVER – Tearful families and immigration activists have demanded an end to what they call “American-style tactics” by officers who patrol Canada’s borders and police immigration.
Protesters gathered outside the glass doors of Vancouver’s federal immigration offices on Thursday, deploring a series of raids at construction job sites where border services agents rounded up immigrant workers who lacked proper work permits.
They allege the Canada Border Services Agency brought in film crews to document surprise blitzes against the workers for a reality TV show, called Border Security.
Harsha Walia, with the group No One Is Illegal, called the raids alarming. She said they are reminiscent of similar mass raids south of the border.
“From what we know, there were at least three raids that happened (Wednesday) at construction sites across Vancouver,” Walia said. “One in particular … was raided by anywhere from 20 to 40 CBSA officers that had a reality TV show crew filming with them.”
Walia said she was particularly shocked that producers for the television show, which airs on Global TV and National Geographic, would try to profit from “the violence of detention and deportation.”
Walia has spoken to detainees who are currently undergoing interviews, she said. A few are expected to have hearings on Friday.
She said a number of them have been asked to sign film-release waivers.
Force Four Entertainment, the company behind the show, issued a statement saying no one is filmed without advance verbal permission. It said a written release is obtained only after CBSA officers speak to the detainee.
It also said that before any program is aired, it is vetted by the agency and lawyers to ensure privacy rights are not violated.
One detainee is Pedro Banegas Rosales, a 39-year-old Honduran national who was rounded up Wednesday at his construction job site because he did not have a permit to work in Canada.
His Canadian-born partner of nine years, Angela Joseph, was at the protest with the couples’ children, aged six and two. She said the threat of deportation will devastate their family.
“It’s hard on the kids when they see their father taken away from them,” said Joseph, wiping away tears.
She only heard about her common-law partner’s arrest on Facebook, she added.
“I think it was wrong of them to ambush them for a TV program,” she said. “They have no sympathy for families at all.”
Joseph said Rosales’ case was on “shaky ground” and things weren’t looking good, based on limited information she received from an immigration officer.
“Honduras is a very dangerous country. We’ve had friends killed,” she said. “I worry about his safety.”
One lawyer said he is concerned about ensuring privacy and fair hearings for those detained, if the allegations about the film crews are true.
“The thing I wonder about is whether these (raids) were orchestrated for the cameras or if they were actions that could have been taken on a regular basis,” said Joshua Sohn, former chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s national immigration law section. “If people are all going to be rounded up, en masse, and quickly put through the immigration process.”
Sohn said footage identifying migrant workers can pose a danger to those seeking refugee status, especially if they’re being persecuted or threatened from groups or individuals back home.
Julie Carmichael, a spokeswoman with the federal Public Safety ministry, responded to queries on behalf of the CBSA.
“While we cannot comment on any specific case, a key part of the CBSA’s mandate is to remove those who violate Canada’s immigration laws as soon as possible,” Carmichael said in an email.
“Everyone ordered removed from Canada is entitled to due process before the law.”
She did not address allegations that officials participated in raids for the benefit of cameras.
A spokeswoman for the federal immigration ministry, Alexis Pavich, said she had no knowledge of a reality show.