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On Monday, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) agreed to end its participation in the controversial reality television show Border Security: Canada’s Front Line, which began airing on the National Geographic Channel in 2012.
In a decision this week, the federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien ruled that the CBSA broke the law by participating in the show and violated key provisions of the Privacy Act, according to a press release from No One Is Illegal.
Following a March 2013 CBSA raid of a Vancouver construction site, which ended in the deportation of at least eight men and was filmed by Force Four Productions for the show, a coalition of 90 human and migrants rights groups organized a “Cancel Border Security” campaign to call for the show’s immediate cancellation.
Yesterday, the group celebrated a significant win for the “vulnerable migrants and citizens being interrogated, detained and deported.”
“The cancellation of the show is really huge and hopefully makes the CBSA accountable for their decisions for taking part in this private entertainment company that was making entertainment out of the lives of migrants,” Shireen Soofi, a member of the Cancel Border Security Campaign and the migrants rights groups End Immigration Detention and No One Is Illegal told rabble in a phone interview.
Cancel Border Security campaign
The Cancel Border Security campaign challenged the show’s ethics on informed consent and argued the show violated the privacy and dignity of those filmed.
No One Is Illegal and other groups used the slogan “deportation is not entertainment.”
The groups involved staged protests, including a March 14, 2013 demonstration outside of the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) office on Georgia Street in Vancouver, and released an open letter signed by over 250 actors, directors, screenwriters, and cultural producers.
A petition authored by Diana Thompson, whose husband Tulio Renan Aviles Hernandez was deported to Honduras following the raid, called for the show’s cancellation and the end of violent deportations.
Thompson’s petition gathered over 25,000 signatures and succeeded in forcing the raid episode off the air. In January 2016, Canada accepted Hernandez as a permanent resident and he was reunited with his family.
“CBSA should never have been involved with a show that exploits families’ pain in the first place. We are grateful for all our supporters that stood with us for three years,” said Thompson in a press release.
As part of the campaign, the Canadian Bar Association’s Chair of the National Immigration Law Section Kevin Zemp sent a letter to the Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews.
Zemp’s letter called on Toews to instruct the CBSA to “rescind its agreement with Force Four and ensure that no further broadcasts include foreign nationals or other people in control of the CBSA.”
Zemp cited lack of free and informed consent and violation of dignity as major concerns.
Border Security off the air
British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) issued a complaint to Therrien, on behalf of Oscar Mata Duran, who was one of the construction workers filmed and subsequently deported after the raid.
Zool Suleman, legal counsel for Mata Duran, is calling for immediate public oversight of the CBSA. “CBSA needs independent public oversight NOW not tomorrow. Both CBSA and the producers need to publicly apologize for their conduct,” said Suleman in a press release.
In an email to rabble, CBSA media spokesperson Line A. Guibert-Wolff confirmed that CBSA has decided to cease involvement with Border Security, but stated that the show “captured what makes us proud to work at the CBSA.”
“The show made entertainment out of the deportation, detention, and criminalization of migration by the CBSA,” said Soofi.
Soofi cited a change in the culture around the criminalization of deportations as a potential outcome of the show’s cancellation, which she considers an important step. But Soofi cautions against premature celebration. “Work remains to be done,” she said.
Soofi told rabble that No One Is Illegal and End Immigration Detention “are still calling on [the CBSA] to determine how this decision will affect the lives of people who were deported, like Oscar. He has expressed his desire to come back to Canada, and we’re demanding that his wish be fulfilled and that there is compensation for those who have been affected.”
Sophia Reuss is a Montreal-based writer, editor, and is a recent graduate of McGill University. She’s interested in how online media and journalism facilitate public accessibility and conversation. Sophia also writes and edits for the Alternatives International Journal. She is rabble’s current news intern.
Photo: flickr/British Columbia Emergency Photography