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The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has been on board for a third season of Border Security: Canada’s Front Line since receiving approval from Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney in January. What wasn’t known until recently is that CBSA President Luc Portelance had recommended against continued involvement with the popular National Geographic Channel reality show back in October of last year. This new information has reopened debate about the propriety of the CBSA’s participation in the sometimes controversial series and raised questions about who made the decision to proceed with it.
Portelance has serious concerns
In a four-page memo to Blaney dated October 9, 2013, Portelance detailed his thoughts in response to an inquiry from the producer of Border Security, Force Four Entertainment of Vancouver, about the possibility of filming another season. Portelance noted the program’s popularity, said it was helping Border Services Officers take pride in their work, and allowed that the cost to the CBSA of around $200,000 per season was not excessive. But because he thought the show was not a key CBSA priority and found it difficult to measure its impact, Portelance questioned the “risk/reward ratio” in light of controversies about privacy, exploitation, and informed consent. In the end, he was “unable to recommend that we consider a third season.”
Human rights activists have been critical
Human rights organizations including the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and No One is Illegal have been critical of Border Security, particularly after it showed an immigration raid conducted in Vancouver in March of last year. Several allegedly undocumented construction workers were arrested on camera, leading to a complaint still under investigation by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. (The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is also investigating a complaint about government involvement in the show, which is entirely in English.) Now, some are asking why the CBSA ended up going along with a third season when the head of the agency advised against continuing the project.
Why haven’t the CBSA followed it’s president’s recommendation?
BCCLA executive director Josh Paterson, a staunch opponent of the series, has wondered publicly why the CBSA failed to follow Portelance’s recommendation and who had the final say if not the CBSA President. Portelance hasn’t commented, and the CBSA isn’t saying whether Blaney had anything to do with the reconsideration. The agency has stated that there was a “thorough internal discussion” which led to a consensus that there were enough positives to Border Security to make continuing it worthwhile. Among these, the statement mentioned improved public awareness of the CBSA’s mission and respect for the professionalism of its Border Services Officers.