Vancouver /Fraser Valley (BCCLA Media Release) – Impacted families, human rights groups and cultural producers advocating for the cancellation of the “Border Security” reality TV show are celebrating a victory today. Amidst sustained public outcry and a finding by the federal Privacy Commissioner that it had broken the law, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has finally agreed to end its involvement in the controversial show.
The federal Privacy Commissioner issued its decision last week after investigating a privacy complaint. The Privacy Commissioner called on CBSA to end its involvement in the reality TV show that films vulnerable migrants and citizens being interrogated, detained and deported. The Commissioner found that CBSA broke the law by participating in the show’s production, violating key provisions of the Privacy Act. In light of the Commissioner’s recommendation and massive public pressure, CBSA has agreed to end its involvement in the show, which aired for three seasons.
The privacy complaint was brought by the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) as part of the Cancel Border Security Campaign on behalf of Oscar Mata Duran, who was removed to Mexico following a CBSA raid of his workplace in 2013. “I feel happy that my complaint proceeded and was successful after three years. I am grateful to everyone who fought for the rights of people like me. I am hopeful that Canada will be more accepting of migrants and refugees. I would love to be back. We are people seeking better and safer lives and should not be treated as illegal,” says Oscar Mata Duran.
In his decision, the federal Privacy Commissioner found that the “consent” the CBSA relied on to justify the disclosure of people’s private information was grossly insufficient. “[I]n large part due to the context in which filming occurs, individuals are not providing full and informed consent to the disclosure of their personal information, as would be required by the Act,” he wrote. “[I]ndividuals from countries with different legal systems may feel that they have to comply with uniformed individuals and have no choice but to sign documents presented to them. Moreover, individuals being detained or facing the prospect of deportation may not be in the best frame of mind to provide informed and free consent.”
In Mr. Mata Duran’s case, he was not asked for his consent until well after the filming had taken place. Confused and scared about what would happen to him, he signed the consent form without reading it. He was never given a thorough explanation as to how the footage would be used.
Zool Suleman, legal counsel for Mr. Mata Duran, notes, “CBSA needs independent public oversight now, not tomorrow. The TV show producers should be ashamed. Both CBSA and the producers need to publically apologize for their conduct.”
At least seven other men at the construction site were also non-consensually filmed and deported following the raid. “This is actually difficult news for us to hear given all the hardship our family suffered,” says Diana Thompson, an Indigenous mother whose husband Tulio Renan Hernandez was filmed and deported to Honduras after the raid. “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.”
Ms. Thompson authored a petition that garnered 25,000 signatures and forced the episode featuring the raid off the air. She was joined by 90 human rights groups including Amnesty International, Idle No More, Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Bar Association asserting that deportation is not entertainment. In addition, as part of the Cancel Border Security Campaign, 250 actors, directors, screenwriters, authors producers and musicians who released an open letter challenging the show’s ethics on informed consent.
Sozan Savehilaghi with No One Is Illegal and the Cancel Border Security Campaign: “The Border Security show represents and exploits the dehumanization of people that happens at our borders and in the immigration system. Thanks to ten of thousands of people who signed petitions, revoked their consent to be filmed, attended rallies and shared their stories, CBSA has now agreed to end their participation in this unethical show. We continue to hold CBSA accountable for their daily violence against migrants and refugees.”
Shireen Soofi, member of End Immigration Detention Network: “While this is a critical recognition of the misconduct by the CBSA in their treatment of migrants, we must not lose sight of the continued injustices against migrants like Oscar who are held in detention for months or years without charge. In 2015 there were 2,458 migrants detained in Canada for 232,266 days, and 93 percent of refugee claimants were held without any allegations of causing a threat to public safety. The detention of migrants is unjustifiable and we must end immigration detention.”
Alejandra López Bravo, Sanctuary Health: “This decision is an important recognition that everyone has human rights regardless of immigration status. Unfortunately CBSA continues to act unfairly off camera with the migrant workers who grow our food, raise our kids and build our cities, and families continue to live in fear of accessing basic services such as health, education and workplace safety. That needs to change too!”
Author Naomi Klein: “This recent news is a victory for political organization and just plain human decency. At a time when migrants are losing their lives in staggering numbers, and our governments fail to respond to this epic crisis, now is no time to turn deportation into entertainment.”
Award-winning artistic director, actor and playwright Marcus Youssef, involved with the Cancel Border Security Campaign: “This show is predicated on making entertainment out of real migrant suffering while globalization and superpower proxy wars have forced more migrants than ever before to seek refuge. It is only surprising to us that it has taken CSBA so long to join artists and migrants across this country in publicly acknowledging how deeply wrong-headed this show really is.”
Laura Track, counsel with the BCCLA: “This decision should sound the death knell for the unfortunate trend of treating law enforcement as if it’s Hollywood entertainment. Deportation is not entertainment, and neither are the stops, searches or arrests of people by police in similarly vulnerable situations. The Privacy Commissioner has said that people cannot provide free and informed consent in these kinds of circumstances involving fear, coercion and an extreme imbalance of power. We expect law enforcement across the country to heed these findings and commit to focusing on their responsibility to keep communities safe, not exploit them for for-profit ‘entertainment’.”