Living without status in Canada is a reality of abuse and exploitation, not a reality show

By Vilma Filici

Toronto. I have never liked reality TV. I find such programs to be humiliating to the people taking part in the shows and therefore I cannot find any amusement in watching people being denigrated for the benefit of entertaining an audience. But I have to recognize that some people choose to participate in these shows of their own free will be it for a chance to win a trip, money or whatever they may hope to get out of it.

But the worst is when a person is forced into a program by way of intimidation. It is an act tantamount to an attack on the individual and the TV program and anyone involved should be held legally responsible for their actions.

Last week the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) conducted a raid at a construction site in Vancouver. The CBSA claims they were looking for a person with no status in Canada who had several criminal convictions. They did not find him at the site, but instead they found and arrested eight undocumented workers. This is a common occurrence in Canada since the government is actively seeking and arresting undocumented people for deportation. However, what is not a common occurrence is that a television crew accompanied the CBSA officers and that the cameras were on people’s faces while the arrests were being carried out and the detainees were being interrogated.

Most of the construction workers arrested were from the Latin American community, but they could be from any other community.

“Border Security” people explained that they have the written consent of the detainees to air their arrest. What they failed to mention is that they obtained the consent right after the people were arrested, when they were in a very fragile and vulnerable state and that perhaps they did not realize that they had a choice. Possibly they may have thought that if they cooperated with the show, they would have a better chance of not being deported. In fact, a young man who was arrested will be reversing his decision and refusing to allow the program to show his arrest.

That the crew was allowed to tape the arrest is particularly troubling when considering that when counsel, a friend or family member wishes to inquire about the situation of a person in detention no information will be provided by any government department without first having a signed authorization from the person concerned. Privacy legislation requires such an authorization and even in emergency situations the information of the person cannot be disclosed without consent. It is then more striking that during the arrest of the migrant workers their privacy rights were ignored. There was permission from Mr. Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety to allow the camera crews to be present during the raids.

The program, Border Security, aims to show how the Canadian Border Services Agency works to protect the Canadian People from criminals entering and remaining in the country. In this situation, the workers are not criminals and showing their arrest does not serve any purpose other than to sensationalize the story and to increase xenophobia.

When a program called “Public Safety” shows the arrest of construction workers at their job site, they are sending a message that the workers are dangerous criminals, when the opposite is the truth. Undocumented workers are some of the most honest and vulnerable people in our country. Their status makes them the perfect pray for exploitation and abuse by employers and anyone who knows their situation. They work hard because they know it is not easy to find work and they cannot afford to make any mistakes let alone any illegal act.

But in light of the events in Vancouver, I have a few suggestions for “Border Security”.

Please do air the arrests, but do not stop there. Also send a crew to the job site where eight workers were arrested and will be deported. Show the difficulties the company will have to replace the workers. British Columbia, as the rest of Canada is in desperate need of skilled workers. 

Other suggestions are to please follow the family of the deportees around. Some of the workers are married to Canadian citizens and they have Canadian born children who were being supported by the worker. Show the Canadian people how these Canadians families will cope without the breadwinners.  Show the women having to apply for social assistance or having to go to food banks to feed their children. Who knows, you may get lucky and be able to film the eviction of a family because they are not able to pay the rent. That will most certainly increase your viewers.

Your viewers may also enjoy the suffering of children crying because they miss their father and do not understand why they were sent away from them.  And since you are looking for sensationalism, please do not forget to send a camera crew to the country where the person will be deported to. If he was a refused refugee claimant you may be lucky enough to be there right at the moment when he is beaten up or killed.

Undocumented workers live a life of abuse and exploitation as it is. They do not need to also be humiliated and exploited for the benefit of a TV audience.


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