A man detained by Canadian border agents last week at a Vancouver construction site and deported on Wednesday says he was confused when he signed a release form allowing his face to be shown in a National Geographic program.
The deportation is the latest development in a week-long saga that has sparked public outrage and raised concerns about the federal government’s role in the television production.
On March 13, the Canada Border Services Agency conducted an immigration sweep of a construction site in which several workers were detained as a production crew was filming for the show Border Security.
Oscar Mata, 28, one of the workers detained, says he signed a release form giving permission for his face to be featured in the show but didn’t know exactly what he was signing at the time. It also wasn’t clear to Mr. Mata who was asking him to sign the form.
“He [didn’t] push me to sign, but in that time I was very confused, very scared, so I just signed wherever they want,” Mr. Mata said at Vancouver International Airport early Wednesday morning, just hours before a flight to Mexico that he says the Canada Border Services Agency required him to be on. “I thought to myself right afterward, ‘Why did I do it, why sign that?’ It was too late.”
Because Mr. Mata does not want to be part of the show, his image will not be used, the CBSA said late Wednesday evening.
The agency also confirmed that Mr. Mata “is no longer in Canada.”
The company producing the show, Force Four Entertainment, says that the incident took place while it had a camera following CBSA officers seeking to arrest an individual with a criminal record who had previously been deported. On arrival, the officers discovered other people who were suspected of working illegally.
“I know the routine of these [CBSA] guys. But the bad [thing] is that they [had] a media camera and microphones for the reality show,” Mr. Mata said. “It’s too sensitive for [people’s faces to be shown].”
The CBSA said in a statement to The Globe and Mail that it requires the production company to conceal the identity of any person featured in an episode who has not consented to use of footage.
Force Four said that “very strict controls are in place to ensure that privacy rights are protected, and that only those people who agree to be on camera are identifiable on camera.” The company also said that releases were provided in Spanish to the workers at the Vancouver construction site and that they have releases in 16 languages.
At the airport Mr. Mata was flanked by supporters from numerous activist groups including No One Is Illegal. He said he had been in Canada for five years, originally on a student visa, but that it had expired.
Mr. Mata added that he hopes Vancouver will become a “sanctuary city” that allows people without legal status to access services, including health care. Toronto became the first Canadian city to do so in February.
Teresa Diewert, a volunteer organizer with No One Is Illegal who came to the airport to show support for Mr. Mata, fought back tears as she talked about his situation.
“I have children who have been allowed to grow up in really what I see are privileged circumstances,” she said. “Why are people migrating? Why are people leaving their homes? I think we need to start asking ourselves those types of questions.”
She added that the CBSA allowing a camera crew to film the raid was “abhorrent.”
On Monday, federal Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews came under fire in the House of Commons after documents surfaced showing that he approved the release of a demo reel of the show in 2011, and authorized the CBSA to enter into negotiations for a full series to be developed for broadcast in Canada. He defended his decision to approve the show.
The wife of one of the detained men launched an online petition last Thursday demanding National Geographic cancel the show. The petition has more than 19,000 signatures.
Mr. Mata’s flight back to Mexico was scheduled for 6 a.m. Wednesday. The review for the other men in detention will be held on Friday.