Federal Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews came under fire in the House of Commons on Monday over documents showing that he gave the go-ahead to negotiations for the production of a reality TV show about Canadian border agents making immigration raids.
The documents were released just days after a raid was filmed in Vancouver.
NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison said during Question Period that Canadians across the country are shocked about the government’s approval of the idea, adding the raids are not some episode of Cops.
“These are real people and real officers doing a dangerous job,” said Mr. Garrison, who called the show a “dangerous and reckless PR stunt.”
Mr. Toews defended his decision to approve the show.
“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,” Mr. Toews told the House of Commons.
The documents, obtained by Vancouver resident Helesia Luke through an access-to-information request, show that on June 7, 2011, Mr. Toews approved the release of a demo reel of Border Security and authorized the CBSA to enter into negotiations with Force Four Entertainment for a full series to be developed for broadcast in Canada.
A document signed by CBSA president Luc Portelance says that the show “would be a valuable opportunity to promote important messages about Canada’s commitment to border security and to give profile to the agency as a professional and effective law enforcement agency.”
The program airs on the National Geographic Channel.
Last Wednesday, the CBSA conducted a sweep of a Vancouver construction site in which several men were detained as a production crew filmed. Force Four said last week that the incident took place while they 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.
Five workers remain in detention, while a sixth got conditional release on Friday. The next detention review will be held on March 22.
The wife of one of the men targeted in the raid launched a petition on Thursday asking National Geographic Channel, which is owned by Shaw Media, to cancel the show. The online petition has more than 11,000 signatures.
Shaw Media did not respond to phone calls on Monday.
Zool Suleman, a Vancouver immigration and refugee lawyer, said that of all the facets of government that could be profiled in a television series, “it’s intriguing” that border security is the focus.
“The security mechanism of this country feels like they need to exhibit their robustness,” he said. “The other dimension is the hand-in-glove nature of this. ... Why is government production money going towards this? These are issues that need to be looked at.”
According to the show’s credits, Border Security received funding through the Canadian film or video production tax credit, a federal program run through Canadian Heritage, and the B.C. production services tax credit.
James Moore, the federal Minister of Heritage, declined to comment on Monday. A Canadian Heritage spokesperson deferred the matter to the Ministry of Public Safety, but Mr. Toews was not available to comment either. A Force Four spokesperson also declined to comment on Monday.
Vancouver immigration and refugee lawyer Catherine Sas said there is nothing illegal about a production company filming immigration raids, but that it goes against Canadians’ moral sensibilities.
“You don’t condone people working without work permits, but having the CBSA being accompanied with television cameras … that’s just repugnant, it’s horrid,” she said.
Ms. Sas said there are also safety concerns.
“We don’t expect that our privacy would be violated to this degree,” she said. “What if that person has only made a refugee claim, and the claim is [persecution by] their government? ... Them being identified brings them into danger.”
The CBSA has said participation in the series is “strictly voluntary” and would not affect an individual’s case.
With a report from The Canadian Press