Border Services officers Erin Steeksma and Kevin Charlton inspect a vehicle at the Peace Arch (Douglas) border.

New documentary crosses the line

Border project highlights day-to-day drama at land, air and marine ports.

A show that producers say will “make you think twice the next time you consider hiding anything in your luggage” is to begin airing on the National Geographic channel today (Thursday).

And Canada Border Services Agency officer Erin Steeksma is confident it will open a few eyes.

Steeksma, stationed at the Peace Arch (Douglas) border since 2008, was among several officers who were shadowed to create the series, Border Security: Canada’s Front Line, which was filmed over several months at air, land and marine ports.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to kind of show the general public what we do every day,” Steeksma said, of why she volunteered to participate.

“Most people only have a very limited perception of Canada Border Services Agency, because they usually only have the one- or two-minute interview at the booth, or maybe a routine examination.

This show is going to show them all the stuff they don’t get to see and will probably never get to see.”

Highlights of the day-to-day drama revealed in the series include the officers’ dealings with all manner of illegitimate travellers – from Canadian citizens with undeclared food to international drug smugglers, phony immigrants, impaired drivers and sex offenders.

Those who tune in will be surprised at the lengths people go to conceal their misdeeds, Steeksma said. The TV cameras document officers finding – among many other things – toys packed with drugs and weapons disguised as cellphones.

Episode summaries hint at discoveries of mysterious white powder and “medicine” hidden in a child’ stroller; of travellers whose past makes them ineligible to enter the country and of a surfing souvenir that raises officers’ eyebrows.

Even with eight years on the front line under her belt – she started her career in 2004, at the Abbotsford-Huntingdon border crossing – Steeksma, 28, said she is still surprised on a daily basis by what she comes across.

“Some people do go very far to hide things from us,” she said. “Almost every time I find something, I’m slightly surprised. People are innovative and they find different ways to do it.”

Steeksma – whose dad, Colin, is a CBSA intelligence officer –  described the job as “exciting, diverse and challenging.”

Border Security: Canada’s Front Line is based on the format of a similar Australian series that is now in its eleventh season. Produced by Vancouver’s Force Four Entertainment, executive producer Rob Bromley said it is how the officers get to the bottom of travellers’ stories that is particularly fascinating.

“The CBSA officers rely on technology and instincts to uncover the truth,” Bromley said in a statement. “Viewers witness real-life situations that are tense, dramatic and at times even bizarre. And of course, sometimes, they’re just legitimate travellers who have had something unfortunate in their story that triggers the officers’ interest or requires their assistance.

“It’s the investigation that’s so compelling.”

The half-hour episodes are to air every Thursday at 10 p.m.