Freedom of information request nets documents signed off by Vic Toews

Posted by admin on Mar 18th, 2013

By Denise Ryan, Vancouver Sun March 18, 2013

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews personally signed off on the production of a reality TV show featuring the Canada Border Services Agency, according to government documents obtained by a Vancouver woman through a freedom of information request. Helesia Luke, a former music and entertainment producer who now works in communications, said she was deeply disturbed by the TV cameras that accompanied CBSA agents during a bust last week.

“I was very upset. I understand that border services agents have to do their job, but ambushing people and asking them to sign a waiver while they are in detention is a power imbalance so skewed it’s offensive.

“I thought how could this happen? Who signed off on it?”

Luke went online, found a phone number for freedom of information requests and made a call on Friday, explaining she was a concerned citizen and that she wanted to see any government contracts authorizing the filming.

“I said I wanted to know what kind of public resources are being invested so a private production company can make and sell television programming.”

Within hours she had an 11 page contract signed by Toews on May 27, 2011.

Contract between CBSA and Force Four

The document states that the show is based on a similar production in Australia, one that country’s border services department considers “its most significant communications vehicle.”

The CBSA reviews the footage before it goes to air, something Luke suggests raises concerns about government resources being used for the benefit of a private company — Vancouver-based producer Force Four Entertainment.

“The documents describe the costs of staff time as ‘not insignificant’ but the next couple of lines appear to be whited out,” said Luke.

The document also refers to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s “robust program to engage the film and television industry” as an example, and states that a Canadian version would be “a valuable opportunity to promote important messages about Canada’s commitment to border security.”

If the show was supposed to be a public relations exercise relaying “important messages” about border security, it may have backfired.

Doug Cannon, a lawyer who specializes in immigration and refugee law, said “Canada immigration and CBSA have an important job to do — the law is the law — but this is unprofessional, highly manipulative and I have great difficulty (with) the manner in which this raid occurred.”

So do more than 7,000 members of the public, who signed an online petition this weekend at demanding that National Geographic Channel cancel the show.

Comments on Force Four’s Facebook site and on Twitter were also overwhelmingly negative.

“My reading is the public is, generally speaking, not happy about this. They don’t like to think about enforcement officers running around with cameras on their backs,” said Cannon.

People come to Canada to seek protection, to try and improve their lives and the issues are too complex and varied to characterize along the lines of black and white, good and bad, said Cannon.

“It really feels wrong. It feels American. It is not the way anybody deserves to be treated, regardless of what they’ve done.”

Luke has filed further freedom of information requests on the matter.

Neither minister Toews nor Force Four Entertainment responded to interview requests from The Vancouver Sun.

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