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Open Letter to The Honourable Vic Toews

    March 22, 2013

    The Honourable Vic Toews
    Minister of Public Safety
    House of Commons
    Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6

    March 21, 2013

    Dear Minister,

    We are writing to you regarding decisions made by the Ministry of Public Safety with respect to the recent Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) raids at construction sites in Vancouver. According to federal access to information documents, on June 7, 2011 your signature and approval were given to Force Four Entertainment’s proposal to produce a reality television series focused on the work of the CBSA. On March 13, 2013, the arrest of several undocumented workers in Vancouver was filmed and broadcast.

    Amnesty International is deeply concerned that filming and broadcasting immigration raids may endanger the lives of some of the people in question, as well as those of their families.  Some of the individuals who are filmed in the course of these raids might have attempted to seek asylum in the past, or may be intending to seek refugee protection in the future. If such individuals are subsequently removed from Canada, they may face an even greater risk upon return to the countries they were fleeing, because of the publicity of their case through the television broadcast. This risk could also apply to family members who are deported, or who had remained in the country of origin. In AI’s view, because of the possible presence of refugee claimants or other individuals who may face a risk of human rights violations in their country of origin, filming and broadcasting immigration raids is inherently and unpredictably dangerous.

    We also have serious concerns about the privacy issues associated with CBSA raids being filmed for a reality TV series. It has been reported that the production company had the filmed individuals sign translated consent forms.  However, for consent to be meaningful, it must be fully informed and freely given. We do not have details about how the consent was granted, but a number of troubling questions arise.  Did individuals understand what they were agreeing to, and the risks they were taking? Did the presence of TV cameras intimidate people into granting their consent? Were armed CBSA officers present when consent was sought? All of these considerations would be relevant to assessing whether consent in these and any future cases is free and informed.

    More generally, Amnesty International believes that filming and broadcasting these raids has jeopardized the basic rights of these undocumented workers, as protected under the international conventions that Canada has ratified. All human beings – including people in Canada without proper authorization – are guaranteed certain fundamental rights.  Matters relating to risk and privacy raise concerns under a number of key international human rights treaties and other instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and the Convention against Torture.

    Finally, Amnesty International is worried about the CBSA, whose mandate is to protect Canadians’ safety, collaborating closely with Force Four Entertainment, whose interests are entirely pecuniary. The divergence between the goals of a government agency and a TV production company calls into serious question the ethics of such a collaboration. For example, we are troubled by the possibility that the presence of TV cameras altered the manner in which these raids were conducted. The CBSA should not be devoting its resources towards (as stated in the May/June 2011 proposal signed by yourself and Luc Portelance) the “operational cost to supporting the film shoots, participating in the editing and review process and so on.” Likewise, Force Four Entertainment should not be granted express government permission to reap economic benefits from the human suffering and family breakup that are very often caused by immigration detention and deportation.

    Given these concerns, we urge you to retract your permission for CBSA raids to be filmed for television, and ensure that Ministry of Public Safety’s decisions and policies with respect to the conduct of immigration raids are in full compliance with Canada’s national and international human rights obligations.

    Sincerely,
     
    Alex Neve                                    Béatrice Vaugrante
    Secretary General                       Directrice générale
    Amnesty International Canada     Amnistie internationale Canada francophone(English branch)