Home / Border agency broke law with reality TV self-promotion, says BCCLA

Border agency broke law with reality TV self-promotion, says BCCLA

Rights watchdog files federal privacy complaint as diverse social justice, labour and migrant groups come together to oppose exploitation of vulnerable people for entertainment.

VANCOUVER – The BC Civil Liberties Association filed a formal complaint with the federal Privacy Commissioner today on behalf of a migrant worker who had been filmed for the Canada Border Services Agency’s reality television series. The complaint, brought by the BCCLA with Oscar Mata Duran, alleges that CBSA’s use of a reality TV crew to record its interactions with people is illegal and that it violated Mr. Mata Duran’s rights under the federal Privacy Act. Mr. Mata Duran was detained on suspicion of working in Canada without proper documentation, and was deported yesterday. The complaint was launched today at a press conference at which a broad range of civil society groups joined together in opposition to the CBSA’s decision to transform its operations into a source of commercial entertainment.

“Federal agents should not come crashing into people’s workplaces and homes with commercial TV crews filming their actions like some sort of action movie,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association. “That violates people’s privacy rights – in this case, the rights of a vulnerable migrant worker – and we think it violates Canada’s privacy law. The federal government must respect the rights of every person it deals with, regardless of their immigration status. Mr. Mata Duran has filed a complaint to the federal Privacy Commissioner alleging that the government’s use of a reality TV crew to film his arrest and interrogation was unlawful and we will pursue this complaint in his absence from Canada.”

More than an hour after Mr. Mata Duran’s interrogation in front of the TV cameras, he was asked to sign a consent form for the filming, without a full explanation of what he was signing or how the video footage would be used. The complaint sets out that Mr. Mata Duran was in CBSA detention and was afraid when he signed the form, and that he did not understand the meaning of the document. The complaint states that Mr. Mata Duran cannot be considered to have freely given his consent under the circumstances.

The complaint alleges that the collection of Mr. Mata Duran’s personal information from the apprehension and the interrogation by the CBSA’s reality TV crew violated the Privacy Act, which only permits the collection of information by government that is directly related to its operations. The purpose of the collection by the TV crew was to create for-profit entertainment, which is not the CBSA’s mandate.

It was revealed last week that the federal public safety minister approves of the TV series, and defended the filming on the grounds that some of the people in the show do not have status in Canada. Paterson responded: “The government can’t pick and choose whose rights it respects. It has a duty to respect everybody’s rights when it enforces the law, regardless of what someone is alleged to have done.”

The BCCLA was joined at the press conference by several other civil society groups, including the Agricultural Workers Alliance, the Council of Canadians, Sanctuary Health, the Council of Canadians and NOII Vancouver. Supportive quotes are attached below.

See our statement on CBC news.

Quotes from other organizations:
Jamie Biggar, Executive Director of Leadnow.ca: “Despite reasonable requests, the federal government and Minister Toews have not disclosed how much taxpayer money is being used to fund CBSA’s participation in this programming. Government staff time is being used to review and approve this show, and to have a communications officer attend all of the filming. This kind of tv show feeds discrimination against immigrants and refugees and it’s not acceptable for the federal government to be involved in any way.”

Gil Aguilar of the Agriculture Workers Alliance, a project of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), 604-828-0548: “This televised raid targeted some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Governments should focus their resources on dealing with employers who take advantage of workers, whether documented or undocumented, rather than on making TV shows that further victimize vulnerable people.”

Harjap Grewal, Pacific regional organizer with Council of Canadians, 604-340-2455: “The CBSA and the government should be held accountable for their participation in this disgusting reality TV show, which is profiting from the violation of privacy of migrant workers and the suffering of families. The last few years have seen the demonization of various groups – environmentalists, activists and Indigenous communities, by the federal government. Now this TV show is singling out refugees and migrants for public amusement – it’s wrong.”

No One Is Illegal member Harsha Walia, who has been working with the detainees and their families, 778-885-0040:
“It is abhorrent that the federal government has adopted a private company to turn deportation into entertainment, including providing undisclosed financial support through staff time spent on this TV show. This US-style raid and US-style reality show only serves to promote fear. Meanwhile, the government has instituted policies that make it harder for migrants and refugees to arrive and stay regularly.”

BCCLA is not affiliated with and does not necessarily endorse the views of any other organization but is happy to stand together with others in common cause on this important issue.