Is “Border Security: Canada’s Front Line” Crossing the Line?

The Canadian Border Services Agency is the organization that defends Canada’s front lines and plays an integral role in national security–they combat illegal immigration and stop criminal activity at the borders. Recently, the CBSA has decided to delve into the brave new world of mass media and reality tv.

Border Security: Canada’s Front Line is a reality television series aired on the National Geographic Channel that documents the everyday activities of the CBSA. Mirroring the Australian version of Border Security: Australia’s Front Line, the series is produced by a Vancouver-based company, Force Four Entertainment, in collaboration with the CBSA.

The every-day operations of the CBSA and the fraudulent activities of those who do not respect the law are both captured on camera. Although the show requires consent from individuals in the film before it is broadcasted on national television,  the show Border Security has raised much controversy over matters of respect and privacy for those being televised. The show is now being accused of victimizing, disrespecting, and humiliating suspects or criminals who have been filmed.

“The fact that watching people being detained, arrested, humiliated, and interrogated becomes something that we consume as part of our nightly entertainment–there is something deeply troubling about this and very dehumanizing.” Harsha Walia, a Vancouver immigration activist, told the CBC.
It must be taken into account, however, that documenting the activities of CBSA actually puts the practices of the agency under greater scrutiny.  The increased visibility of the CBSA would inevitably propel it to strictly follow proper law-enforcement procedures—if they treat suspects unfairly, the public would find out immediately.

In addition, producing a reality show on the crackdown of illegal immigration and smuggling can be effective in deterring potential criminals from carrying out illegal actions, as potential law violators can see the adverse consequences of breaking the law. Instead of being a form of entertainment, the show can be a form of education for Canadians who can learn more about how the issues that concern the country. In addition, while Canada is a generous and welcoming country in immigration, it is important for it to demonstrate that it definitely is not lenient on crimes.

“The show provides the government with an opportunity to show the world that, while we are a great and welcoming country, we are serious about border security,” as Marisa Feil, a Canadian immigration lawyer, puts it.  “Individuals need to be smart and aware that bringing narcotics across the border or lying on declarations cards is a serious offence.”

On the other hand, in a sense, publicizing criminal cases on national television also unjustly adds to the punishment of those who commit crimes at the borders. On top of regular punishments such as submitting fines, spending time in prison, and facing deportation, these perpetrators are further shamed via the televising of their misconduct. Based on the belief that the punishment assigned should be proportional to the crime, one may argue that maybe making a mockery of these people who have real lives is a little too much.

Furthermore, some members of the public are concerned that reality shows like Border Service may breed xenophobic, anti-immigrant sentiments. They suggest that Canadians may be likely to make generalizations and form a negative perception of immigrants at large, or mistakenly believe that these acts of criminality are more common than they actually are. There is nothing unjust about the police capturing the criminals with adequate respect to their rights, but some insist that border security is a serious matter that should not be sensationalized and used as means of entertainment.

In the end, the controversy boils down to how the CBSA wants to portray itself, and what kind of image does the Canadian government wish to project to the prospective immigrant population. The show undoubtedly generates publicity to the CBSA. The question is whether it is for the better or the worse.Prospective immigrants should know that there are numerous ways to move to the country under the Canadian immigration system, and that,  in exchange for being entitled to the welfare and protection of Canada, they need to follow legal and pre-established immigration paths.

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