Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Zika Cheer

Cheers have been a staple at events for years. As any sports fan knows, cheers are ways to show support – or derision – for a team or player and can be as witty as they are loud. For many sports, cheers provide a sound track to the game and function as a way for spectators to connect with players, coaches and even referees. While cheers are in many senses ubiquitous, in recent years, certain cheers have become synonymous with certain sports in certain locations.

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa introduced the world to the sound of the vuvuzela, a South African instrument that many came to regard as an essential part of the games. Similarly, what started out as a Spanish soccer leagues chant, “Ole, Ole, Ole”, has now been adopted by soccer fans across the world and has spread to other sports as well. What these sounds have in common is their positive connotations with the culture that generates them.

During this year's Rio Olympic games a different type of chant emerged, one that was not born of positive national pride but rather to mock the negativity that had been directed at Brazil as an Olympic host.

In the weeks and months leading up to the Rio games there was increased global concern after the Zika virus was found in Brazil. Much of this concern centered on the susceptibility of Olympic athletes and those attending the games to the virus and preventative measures were taken, including some national delegations issuing insect repellent to their athletes. The majority of athletes chose to take the potential threat for what it was – potential – and to take measures to be safe while at the same time not exaggerating the matter or being overly critical of the host nation.

Other athletes, however, were not as tactful. In one notable example, Hope Solo, goal tender for the US women’s soccer team, took to Twitter donning a scarf around her face, a facemask used in beekeeping, and holding a large bottle of insect repellent, with the caption “Not sharing this!!! Get your own! #zikaproof #RoadtoRio.” On the same day, she tweeted a photo of various forms of insect repellent cans and tools with the caption “If anyone in the village forgets to pack repellent, come and see me… #DeptOfDefense #zikaproof.”

Many Brazilians were insulted by these tweets and there was criticism of Solo before the games started. What is of note is the way that the Brazilian crowd called her to account for her statements – during the first game the United States women’s soccer team played, the crowd began to chant “Zika” when Solo handled the ball.

In the next US women’s soccer match the crowd again used the Zika cheer when Solo was on the field. From that point on, the Zika cheer became a fixture at US women’s soccer matches. And then the Zika cheer spread to other venues and sports, even when the competitions involved had nothing to do with Solo. While some of the Zika cheers were directed at other US athletes others were not. From soccer stadiums deep in the city to the open-air beach volleyball stadium on Copacabana beach, the Zika cheer became synonymous with the Rio games and took on a new meaning of national pride as well as mocking.

Ironically – and mercifully – the Zika cheer had a far greater presence and impact at the Rio games than the Zika virus itself. As the crowds have dissipated and the games are becoming a memory, the Zika cheer is something that stands out for the irony with which it was used. In this way, the Zika cheer represents a method of reclaiming pride in the face of criticism and negativity. The Zika cheer might not showcase a pre-existing sound that is synonymous with Rio in the same way that the vuvuzela was synonymous with South Africa. It might not be a stirring call to action such as “Ole, Ole, Ole.” It is, however, a way of showcasing the power of citizens in Rio and their ability to overcome negativity through a very public demonstration of societal power and pride.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bleeding Controversy

Controversy. Every Olympic games has some and the Rio games live up to this legacy. Before the games, Russian athletes were embroiled in a doping scandal that cost many the opportunity to compete and saw those who did singled out for criticism, as Amar Khoday discussed. And Irish boxer Ed Willes lost a match to a Russian boxer when everyone expected him to win. He then gave profane gestures to the judges, made similarly profane comments about the International Olympic Committee, and took to Twitter to ask Vladimir Putin how much Putin had paid in a bribe.

In each of these instances, the controversy involved was the result of some type of choice. And yet, Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui courted controversy for discussing something over which she has no control – menstruation. Yes, Ms. Fu made a statement and became the center of controversy due to an aspect of biology that still evokes cringes and misunderstanding the world over.

Ms. Fu, a well-known Chinese swimmer, competed in the women’s 4 x 100 meter medley relay and neither she nor her teammates met performance expectations. When the race was over, a reporter interviewed the team about their performances and Ms. Fu, in visible pain, stated that she was experiencing the effects of her menstrual cycle. This was a normal occurrence for Ms. Fu and indeed for female athletes regardless of their sport.
What is a normal occurrence became an online and social media sensation. Comments ranged from support for Ms. Fu’s shedding light on menstruation in a public forum to shock that a woman could swim while menstruating, with some expressing surprise that the water was not bloody. The simple answer to the latter issue is that Ms. Fu uses a tampon during competition – the more complex aspect is the acceptability of tampon use, especially in China where they tend to be viewed with disfavor.

While in Chinese society the subject of menstruation is largely taboo, it should also be noted that this topic is taboo throughout the world, even in countries where “feminine products” are advertised on television. Indeed, it was only last year that British tennis play Heather Watson discussed the same issue of menstruation impacting her playing performance to an audience that seemed not to have thought of it and was divided as to whether it should be discussed. 

In many ways, there is nothing notable about Ms. Fu’s story – menstruation is a naturally occurring phenomenon among women in every country in the world. Despite this, women have become competitive in sports at a high level and sports do not have exception clauses for female competitors due to menstruation cycles. Indeed, for those who have played competitive sports this is not even something one would think about. The community of female athletes has little choice than to accept that biology is a part of being a woman and that this does not negate one’s ability to be an athlete or to compete at any time. There might be commiseration over the physical effects of menstruation or even sharing of “feminine products” but that is where acknowledgement of the issue tends to stop.

Ms. Fu’s story is notable, however, because it highlights the tensions between the community of female athletes and larger society. Female athletes must live as part of a larger society no matter their nationality and represent that society when they compete internationally. They march in open ceremony processions, sometimes carry national flags, wear national uniforms, and win competitions for their country. The ability to represent one’s country at the international level is an honor regardless one’s gender. At the same time, the society these athletes represent often does not understand them as both athletes and women or applies conscious or unconscious gender biases to them. The tension lies in bridging the areas in which there is misunderstanding and this is what makes Ms. Fu’s actions noteworthy.

In explaining the reasons for her performance, Ms. Fu told the natural truth and started a popular reaction that provided a moment of education. This is perhaps the best controversy the Olympic games can hope for!

Monday, August 15, 2016

L'Affaire Efimova - Piercing the Villain Narrative

The Olympics are on again! As always, excitement and drama abound. A recent controversy from last week surrounded the involvement of Russian athlete, Olympic medalist and competitive swimmer Yulia Efimova in the games. As with other Russian athletes, her entry at poolside at the games has elicited an almost expected series of jeers signalling that she does not deserve to be there - in the midst of genuine and bona fide athletes. As Jamie Strashin suggests, Russian athletes have become the villains, or as Bruce Arthur states, the bad guys of the Rio games. 

                                                     Getty Images
Why has Efimova's presence generated such reactions? In the eyes of other dedicated athletes and sports enthusiasts, Efimova has committed perhaps the most unpardonable of sporting sins - she was found guilty of using unauthorized substances, not just once but twice. One of her competitors and very recent Olympic United States gold medalist Lilly King for the 100-metre breaststroke competition (Efimova came in as a very close second winning the silver) has discussed her displeasure at the presence of Efimova and others (including US athletes) who have used prohibited substances in the games. To be sure, Efimova has certainly provoked some of this when, after winning her semi-final race for the 100-metre breaststroke competition, she lifted her finger up in the air suggesting/indicating that she was number "1" (see image above). This was a move that did not sit well with King and many others. It should be noted that Efimova until very recently was barred from participating in the games until a panel of the Court of Arbitration of Sport permitted her involvement as a competitor (see Efimova v ROC, IOC & FINA, 2016).  

                                                            Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

After narrowly winning the final race, and to illustrate her disgust at Efimova's mere involvement and arrogant posturing, King "slapped the water in between [she and Efimova] in triumph. [King] shot over a stare. And Efimova didn’t raise her finger" (Abad-Santos, 2016). King later asserted "we can compete clean and still win at the Olympic Games" (Abad-Santos, 2016). She further opined (in reference to the presence of certain US athletes who were part of the Olympic team but who had tested positive in the past): "I think people who are caught on doping offences should not be on the team. No they shouldn’t" (de Menezes, 2016).

King is not alone in her views. Renowned Olympic athlete and swimming champion Michael Phelps, who has also competed phenomenally in the current games, has similarly expressed the following: "I think it's sad that we have people in sports today who are testing positive not only once, but twice, and still having the opportunity to swim at these Games" (de Menezes, 2016). He further posited: "It breaks my heart and I wish somebody would do something about it" (de Menezes, 2016).

                                           Photo: AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Is the reaction Efimova has generated deserved? Should a person such as her be barred from participating? Is it enough to say that if a person has been caught twice for using prohibited substances that they should be banned from the games? What space do we give for considering the circumstances surrounding the acts before coming to such a conclusion? With respect to her first violation, Efimova was subjected to a 16-month ban after having tested positive in 2013 for DHEA, a banned steroid prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). She served her "sentence". Furthermore, in connection with this first violation, a doping panel established by FINA (the Fédération internationale de natation or International Swimming Federation) determined that Efimova had been negligent by failing to read the label of the product concerned (see Efimova v ROC, IOC & FINA, 2016, para 2.3). However, she had not knowingly and intentionally consumed a banned substance.

In the second instance, earlier this year, Efimova  tested positive for Meldonium, a substance which has been banned by WADA as of January of this year. As told by an expert to NPR's Jon Hamilton, Meldonium is a heart medication which improves blood flow - this in turn brings oxygen to needed muscles thus enhancing performance. WADA however indicated that it was unclear how long Meldonium stays in an individual's body. As such the existence of the Meldonium detected in Efimova's test results may have been as a result of what she consumed prior to the ban taking effect. 

So, is it enough to just say that a person who has tested positive for prohibited substances should be banned for life from the games? I think the answer has to be - the magical - "it depends". If someone has been found to have knowingly and intentionally consumed prohibited substances, not once but twice, the calls for their permanent removal from the games and certainly from competing in the sport more generally may be justifiable. There is a legitimate concern about the overall reputation of the sport and its competitors. There are also valid concerns about fairness to those who do abide by the rules.

Yet, when the conduct in question falls short of this level of egregious and intentional misconduct, does a one-size-fits-all punishment (and the stigma attached to it) seem deserved or justifiable? Efimova acknowledges her first violation and the FINA doping panel characterized her conduct as negligent. This falls short of the degree of fault we typically attribute in law to someone who does something intentionally and knowingly. To provide an example, as a matter of law, we don't refer to someone who kills another person through negligence as a murderer. Or, in a different context, as the famed United States Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once stated: "even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked." 

                                        Oliver Wendell Holmes

Wearing my criminal law prof hat for a further few seconds, what does it mean to serve one's "time"? Efimova was subjected to a suspension and did so (as well as having endured the larger and continuing stigma that comes with that). I am not an athlete (actually I'm pretty much a couch potato), but 16 months seems to be a long time in the sporting world where getting older doesn't necessarily always work in an athlete's favour. 

On the issue concerning her consumption of Meldonium, assuming that she did not do so after the ban came into effect, there are significant problems with punishing her for conduct which had not previously been prohibited. While the criminal law is not involved, there is nevertheless a maxim worth noting: nullum crimen sine lege (no crime without law). Essentially, no one should be considered criminally liable for actions that were not considered criminal offences when the acts in question were committed. Adapting that principle here in a non-criminal context, it would seem problematic to say that Efimova was caught doping a second time when it is not clear that there was a "second time". Is there any clear evidence that she ingested (intentionally or otherwise) the Meldonium after the ban came into effect in January of this year?

A part of the discourse that we see here is the difference between those competing "clean" and those who do not. The dichotomy between "clean" and "unclean" may not be quite so simple. Is it merely a difference between using and not using drugs? As one NPR article written Jon Hamilton suggests, many athletes engage in what is referred to as "legal doping". According to Hamilton, legal doping "involves taking a legal prescription drug that may improve performance but hasn't been banned by anti-doping authorities." Don Catlin, an emeritus professor at UCLA who once ran the university's Olympic Analytical Laboratory indicated to Hamilton that "athletes are experimenting with an ever-widening range of prescription drugs in an effort to get an edge."[1] As such, the difference between a clean and an unclean athlete may not be the difference between those who use performance-enhancing drugs and those who do not. Rather the difference may be between the use of prohibited and non-prohibited drugs. To the extent that the latter are legal and thus more legitimate, athletes who consume them may be "clean" - that is until WADA prohibits the use of such medications. 

There is of course more to all this than just this newly televised rivalry between Efimova and King (which makes for great television). Sports and the Olympics are not a-political events. Athletes' identities in the games are (most) tied to the state which they represent (a subject on which my Jurisculture colleague Alexandra Harrington has written about elsewhere - see here and here). In the case of Russia, Efimova's country of nationality, the recent revelations concerning the government's involvement in an organized doping program of its athletes has been widely condemned - many Russian athletes have been barred from competing (including Efimova originally). Efimova's presence, as a symbol of her country of nationality (though, if I understand correctly, she has been more regularly resident in the United States in recent years), is a reminder for all present in the games of the Russian government's flouting of international norms concerning the doping program. Lying not too far in the background as well is the criticism of Russia's involvement elsewhere in world affairs - in the Ukraine and Syria. Fairly, or unfairly, the jeering directed at Efimova may very well be for more than just a criticism of her own personal behaviour but a form of opposition to a larger constellation of objections aimed at Russia's defiant conduct both in connection to sports but also to other geo-political moves.

L'Affaire Efimova invites to ask a couple of questions. First, should an athlete who has tested positive for prohibited substances, regardless of circumstances, been permanently banned from competing at the Olympics? Second, what does it mean to be a 'clean' versus 'unclean' athlete where many athletes use non-prohibited substances to possibly gain some advantage.  


[1] As an aside, what can be said of the use of treatments which have little or no scientifically proven positive effects but act as placebos? Believing that such treatments have an impact may provide some psychological advantage to athletes who use them. See Katherine Hobson, "How The Placebo Effect Could Boost An Olympic Performance" NPR (14 August 2016), online:


, "Rio 2016: How Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova became the Olympics' biggest villain" Vox (9 August 2016), online:

Bruce Arthur, "Knives out at Rio Olympics as Cold War erupts in swimming" The Toronto Star (9 August 2016), online:

Jack de Menezes, "Rio 2016: Michael Phelps says 'it breaks my heart' to see drug cheats competing in the Olympics" Independent (9 August 2016), online:

Efimova v ROC, IOC & FINA, CAS OG 16/04, Award (Court of Arbitration for Sport, 5 August 2016), online:
Olympic Athletes Still Use Some Rx Drugs As A Path To 'Legal Doping'" NPR (10 August 2016), online:

Katherine Hobson, "How The Placebo Effect Could Boost An Olympic Performance" NPR (14 August 2016), online:

Jamie Strashin, "Russian athletes emerging as villains of Rio Olympics" CBC (10 August 2016), online:

"Yulia Efimova's meldonium suspension lifted by Fina" BBC News (22 May 2016), online:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Citizenship Through Sport

Several years ago, during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic games, I wrote a Jurisculture post called Citizenship of Sport. That post looked at the many instances of athletes using dual nationality or acquiring citizenship in a state to which he/she had no connection in order to secure a spot on an Olympic team for a particular sport. The post argued that this was the result of a conception of citizenship in which an athlete dedicates himself/herself to a sport and forms an identity that is based on that sport and the international community of that sport rather than solely on nationality. 

Since that post, examples of citizenship of sport have continued. By and large, they represent active choices by athletes involved in the elite echelons of sports. These choices continue to be the result of a myriad of situations, from dual nationality to the availability of funding, support for training and the ability to participate on a national team per se.

In 2016 and prior years, there has been an Independent Olympic Athlete team for athletes who would have been able to participate in the games but cannot because of political or other differences involving the country they compete for and the International Olympic Committee. The Independent Olympic Athlete team in itself is an embodiment of citizenship of sport in that the athletes involved have chosen to compete and become part of the larger international community of their sport rather than fail to compete because of their home country. This is a choice they make due to circumstances beyond their control – a choice to join a different community. They have become citizens of this community through their choice.

The 2016 Rio Summer Olympic games present a different aspect of citizenship of sport – the newly formed Refugee Olympic Team. The Refugee Olympic Team is composed of athletes who have been designated as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. These are athletes who have fled their home countries for a number of reasons related to politics and personal safety. They currently live in other countries, where they are not citizens, and cannot compete for them at the Olympic level. At the same time, they are unable to return to their home countries and cannot qualify for positions on their home countries’ Olympic teams. These athletes made the choice to compete on this team because otherwise they would have been excluded from competing at all. This too is a choice to join and participate in a different community.

Much has been made of the members of the Refugee Olympic Team – and rightly so. They have suffered personally and professionally, and their freedom has come at great cost. They also elevate the idea of citizenship of sport by demonstrating the ability of a sports community to grant citizenship while creating and reinforcing identity.

The travails of each member of the Refugee Olympic Team are harrowing and reinforce the strength of the human spirit, human endurance and humanity. However, the Refugee Olympic Team members state that at the Olympics they want to be seen as athletes and competitors rather than refugees or those who have suffered losses and traumas. They want to be regarded as heroes for their skills rather than for their pasts. The Refugee Olympic Team members want to – and do – belong to the same community of athletes as those who compete under country flags. In this way, at a time when they are seeking to define their futures, the members of the Refugee Olympic Team are citizens of an international community through sports.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Jurisculture and the Olympics

Jurisculture is happy to celebrate the 2016 Olympics in Rio! During the next two weeks stop back for extra posts on the many informal connections between law and culture that can be made through the lens of the Olympics.

What the…Bubble?

We often think of certain professions living in a bubble or those in certain areas as living in a removed bubble. The many versions of lawyer jokes, for example, demonstrate a view that sets lawyers apart from the rest of the community based on their profession. And, as is perhaps best illustrated by the current US election, there are widely held perceptions that those in different geographic regions hold particular views. These are externally constructed bubbles created by those who are not a part of the communities to explain (or mock) behaviour that differs from their own.

The film Whiskey Tango Foxtrot illustrates the opposite situation – where individuals in a particular area come together and create their own internal bubble. In fact, set in Kabul, the characters actually refer to their location and their community as “Kabubble.” Here, the community is that of foreign journalists and their associated in Afghanistan in the early-to-mid-2000s to cover the war.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tells the story of Kim Barker, a US-based news writer who is unexpectedly given the opportunity to cover the events in Afghanistan in large part because she is single and has no children, making her less of a liability to the network in the event she were killed or injured. Kim leads a comfortable life in New York City but makes the choice to become a war correspondent because she is afraid that her life has become dull and meaningless. She finds herself at the journalist residence in Kabul, where she is quickly befriended by Tanya Vanderpoel, another female journalist. Tanya introduces her to the residence and the area, guiding her through the intricacies of Kabul life – from where to go out to how to conduct herself while out. She also introduces her to the idea of the “Kabubble,” meaning the community of journalists and other foreigners in Kabul.

Within this community, there are different norms and standards, as well as different rules of protection. These are informal standards and rules made by the community as a whole in often unspoken ways – if you want to do something that is fine but if you do not want to partake that is also fine. Conduct that tends to be viewed negatively at home, such as copious drinking, the use of illegal drugs, and random sex, is accepted as standard practice within the confines of the bubble. This is largely due to the nature of the situation and pressures in which the residents of the “Kabubble” find themselves. The need for release is personal – the availability and acceptability of different forms of release is a community decision.

There are bounds to the bubble, such as ensuring that these activities do not involve members of local populations or occur outside designated areas. There are also bounds in terms of ensuring that local customs are followed outside the bubble and that the residents watch out for each other. This is not to deny that those in the bubble frequently fight each other for stories and access to key people and information, however this is largely accepted as part of the job rather than a personal issue.

As Kim navigates her way through Afghanistan and becomes part of the bubble and its culture, she begins a relationship with another journalist, Ian. At first this is a casual relationship, however the bond soon grows deeper and she eventually uses her personal and professional resources to free him when he is kidnapped. Ultimately, however, she realizes that he lives for the bubble and the thrill of the danger associated with it while she is afraid of becoming so much a part of the bubble that she is unable to pull herself out. A trip to see her boss in New York only confirms this. When given the choice of positions at the end of the film, Kim elects to leave the bubble, returning to a prestigious news anchor position in the US. The ease of her ability to leave the bubble and return to  “normal” life demonstrates the porous and accepting nature of the bubble itself – it only exerts control on those who are inside it.

There are many comedic aspects to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. However, the way in which it depicts the functioning of an internally created and controlled society is an important aspect that is less often highlighted. There are lessons to be learned from this society – from its open nature to its ability to function and respect local customs to its necessity in situations of conflict and stress – that should make it more than just a passing bubble.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Constructing Border Security

When one thinks of law enforcement, one often instinctively conjures up images of police officers. In many ways, the work of other law enforcement officers, such as border security officials can be overshadowed. Border security officials play important and legitimate roles. For example, they keep out unwanted materials (such as firearms, controlled substances) and/or persons (including those seeking to import unlawful objects/possessions) from entering the country. They also serve as agents in the enforcement of other immigration rules and norms. In other cases, they conduct raids on workplaces to ensure that those who are working in the country are lawfully employed. 

Despite the lesser presence of border officials in popular culture, they are not invisible. In Canada, Force Four Entertainment has produced Border Security: Canada's Front Line, a "documentary" television show which features the work of Canada Border Security Agency (CBSA) officials. The show was created in 2012 and modeled off a rather successful show depicting their Australian counterparts - Border Security: Australia's Front Line - which was created in 2004. As CBSA officers confront travelers on a daily basis about their possessions, what they are bringing (back) in and the purposes for traveling from or entering the country, such interactions are showcased and made visible. 

On some level, such aired interactions may provide viewers with a certain level of assurance that without these law enforcement officials, any number of individuals would enter our country with prohibited or undeclared materials. As part of these displayed and visualized inspections, some interactions provide a level of entertainment while showing many travelers at their worst or at the very least less flattering selves. Such persons are of course caught off guard by the camera and expected to consent to being videotaped. These moments are not unproblematic. To what extent might people feel comfortable declining to be on video as they are about to be questioned. As Harsha Walia (2016) contends: "people are turned into unwitting actors during an interaction with law enforcement. Such an inherent power dynamic makes it impossible to give free and informed consent."

By contrast, border officers are always depicted as being at their best behavior. They know in advance that they are going to be on camera. On our screens, border security officers are typically cool, calm and collected individuals and apparently never really rude (if at all) unless provoked. As Peter Hughes (2010) observes in the context of the Australian Border Security show: "Border Security is characterized by calmness and reason. The staff of the different border protection agencies are generally portrayed as calm, reasonable, methodical and polite." The show presents an idealized version of reality with respect to the behavior of border officials. 

There are reasons why border security officials are always presented so positively in contrast to errant travelers. First, with respect to both the Canadian and Australian Border Security shows, the relevant government agencies have veto and editorial control over what is ultimately aired (Farrell, 2015; Hughes, 2010; Pottie-Sherman & Wilkes, 2016). Through such curatorial powers, the agencies can ensure that only the conduct they want to have shown and made public will see the light of day. This goes both for the behavior of their own officers but also those of travelers. The more abusive and intemperate the conduct of travelers, the more sympathetic the officer becomes.

Second, and connected to the first point, viewers are not privy to the less benign interactions that may not even be captured on camera. As we have seen in recent years with police interactions in the United States captured on video, many involve the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials. There may be moments where conduct of border security officials may not always be sweet and civil. As an aside, one thinks of the words of Officer Lorenz (though not a CBSA official) from the seminal Supreme Court of Canada case, Baker v Canada

What we see on screen is not purely for entertainment. What we see can have influence, particularly when it is repeated week after week, year after year. As Orit Kamir has observed in the context of law and film more broadly, visual depictions are 

overwhelmingly influential, playing a key role in the construction of individuals and groups in contemporary societies. They reach enormous audiences and, combining narratives and appealing characters with visual imagery and technological achievement, can stir deep emotions and leave deep impressions.

In a similar vein, Harsha Walia (2016) articulates :

Media representation is not neutral; those who control our media are key influencers of our cultural frames and societal values. At a time when the systemic violence of policing is being challenged every day across this continent, these shows are a propaganda tool and publicity stunt for enforcement agencies while simultaneously reproducing stereotypes of racialized and vulnerable people. 

Through the show and the agencies' editorial powers, border agents are constructed as the country's defence force. As noted above, border officials are portrayed as controlled and polite. In the Canadian version of Border Security, the CBSA is represented as a front line of defence against unwanted American migrants seeking to bring in contraband in addition to Chinese travelers bringing a variety of exotic foods (see Pottie-Sherman & Wilkie, 2016).

The more pristine and sanitized view of immigration and customs officials depicted in Border Security is not shared by other observers or travelers off camera. This includes concerns about treatment and security of individuals in detention (McMartin, 2014) to improper questioning and treatment of travelers on inspection more generally (McGregor, 2012; Canadian Press, 2012; Barmak 2010).

Critics in Canada will rejoice at the cancellation of the Canadian iteration of Border Security. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association initiated a complaint with Canada's privacy commissioner who found that "the Canada Border Services Agency breached the Privacy Act by allowing production company Force Four to film the agency's examination of the migrant labourer [Oscar Mata Duran]" (The Canadian Press, 2016). Meanwhile, the Australian version of Border Security is still going strong.

Television shows that represent and work hand-in-glove with government officials should be viewed with great circumspection.  While they may represent some aspect of reality, they are heavily curated ones. They no more represent reality than would solely depicting law enforcement at their worst or travelers at their best.



Peter Hughes, "Governmentality, blurred boundaries, and pleasure in the docusoap Border Security" (2010) 24:3 Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 439, online:

Orit Kamir, "Why 'Law-and-Film' and What Does It Actually Mean? A Perspective"(2005) 19:2 Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 255, online:

Yolande Pottie-Sherman & Rima Wilkes, "Visual media and the construction of the benign Canadian border on National Geographic's Border Security" (2016) 17:1 Social and Cultural Geography 81, online:

Emma Price & Amy Nethery, "Truth-Telling at the Border: An Audience Appraisal of Border Security"   (2012) 142:1 Media International Australia 148, online: 


Sarah Barmak, "Border rudeness: Maybe the jerk method doesn’t work" The Toronto Star (2 May 2010), online:

"Border Security TV show canned after federal watchdog finds privacy violation" The Canadian Press (13 June 2016), online:

Paul Farrell, "Border force and immigration officials have final say on reality TV show" The Guardian (22 September 2015), online:

Glen McGregor, "'Are you having your menstruation?’ and other bizarre questions asked by airport border guards" Ottawa Citizen (8 July 2013), online:

Pete McMartin, "The Canada Border Services Agency crosses the line" The Vancouver Sun (3 June 2014), online:

Ian Mulgrew, "Border Security is tabloid television at its worst" The Vancouver Sun (15 March 2013), online:

"Report details encounters with rude, accusatory border employees" The Canadian Press (3 September 2012), online:

Zool Suleman, "Privacy Commissioner slams Canadian Border Agency for 'Border Security' TV" The National Observer (13 June 2016), online:

Harsha Walia, "Good riddance to Border Security reality TV show" Vancouver Sun (19 June 2016), online: