Cancelled reality TV show still a key source of info for Canadians on border agency, report finds

A controversial reality television show that was cancelled for privacy reasons continues to be a key source of information for Canadians on the border, according to a recent report put together for the Canada Border Services Agency.

CBSA pulled out of Border Security: Canada's Front Line over privacy concerns, but show still in reruns

In this promotional image from Border Security: Canada's Front Line, CBSA staff search though luggage containing suspect packages. (natgeotv.com)

A controversial reality television show that was cancelled for privacy reasons continues to be a key source of information for Canadians on the border, according to a recent report put together for the Canada Border Services Agency.

The CBSA asked the research firm EKOS to assess Canadians' views on its services and border management in general for internal use. The firm conducted a telephone survey in late 2017 and ran a series of 12 focus groups in early 2018.

When it came to awareness, the March report noted that Canadians often mentioned the show Border Security: Canada's Front Line.

"The Border Security television program was commonly cited as a source of information that provided a window into the work that CBSA does and generally seemed to contribute to a greater appreciation of it," the report notes.

Filmed for the National Geographic Channel beginning in 2012, Border Security showed unscripted encounters between border officers and the public.

No one expects a website or other communication tools to be more popular than a television show.- Scott Bardsley, spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale

It was billed as a show "that will make you think twice the next time you consider hiding anything in your luggage."

But the CBSA ended its involvement withBorder Security after the federal privacy commissioner found the agency violated the rights of a construction worker filmed during a raid in Vancouver.

Years later, the show — now in reruns and available online —  still has an impact.

"Respondents were asked if they had ever personally done any of several things to get information about crossing the border, or about a CBSA program or service. Most often, they say they watched the television program Border Security: Canada's Front Line (43 per cent)," reads the report.

The television show was also mentioned in focus groups.

"There were scattered mentions of hearing something about CBSA in the news, but — by far — the television program Border Security: Canada's Front Line was most often mentioned as where participants had seen something about the CBSA," notes the report..

Overall, awareness of the CBSA and its activities is up. About 69 per cent of Canadians expressed an awareness of the CBSA, up from 21 per cent in 2007.

When asked about specific programs, 47 per cent of respondents mentioned Nexus, a joint Canada-U.S. program that allows low-risk pre-approved travellers an expedited journey through the border. 

"One in three don't mention any programs, while five per cent mentioned NAFTA," said the report.

When asked if there are any plans to revive the show, a spokesperson for the CBSA would only say that the agency "is always looking for ways to demonstrate its hard work."

"While the series came to an end in 2015, it was, and continues to be, an important educational tool," said Jayden Robertson.

Awareness up from 2007

Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said he wasn't surprised by the results.

"Canadians lead busy lives, and no one expects a website or other communication tools to be more popular than a television show," he said.

"During its three-season run, the show raised some privacy concerns, including from the privacy commissioner, so it was not renewed for a fourth season," said Bardsley. "While the government is always looking for innovative ways to inform the public, any future projects would need to respect travellers' privacy rights."

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which fought for the show to be canned, said it is troubling Canadians are still learning from a show that violated peoples' privacy.

"We think it's reprehensible that it was ever recorded because it was such an invasion of people's privacy," said staff counsel Meghan McDermott.

The association spearheaded a complaint from migrant labourer Oscar Mata Duran that took the CBSA to task for allowing a production company to film their examination of him following a work site raid. Mata Duran said he was presented with a consent form that he did not read, but signed out of confusion and fear.

EKOS conducted 2,310 telephone interviews with Canadian adults between Nov. 30 and Dec. 13, 2017.

About the Author

Catharine Tunney

Reporter

Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. She previously worked with CBC Radio's The House and CBC Nova Scotia. She can be reached at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca or @cattunneyCBC.