WikiLeaks: Canadian TV Shows Mock America

U.S. Embassy cables to Washington warn of "negative popular stereotyping" by CBC comedy and drama.

Canadian TV producers and broadcasters have been left puzzled, and flattered, after popular Canadian Broadcasting Corp. series like the Little Mosque on the Prairie sitcom and The Border action drama were dragged into the WikiLeaks U.S. cable revelations.

The National Post newspaper on Thursday said it received from the WikiLeaks website cables from the U.S. embassy in Ottawa to Washington that warn about “insidious negative popular stereotyping” of Americans in Canada, thanks to unkindly depictions of U.S. border officials in Canadian primetime series.

The culprits are CBC shows like Little Mosque on the Prairie, a comedy about fish-out-of-water Canadian Muslims in Saskatchewan, and The Border, the Sofia Milos-starring action drama about an elite Toronto immigration and customs tactical team that aired for three seasons on ION Television stateside.

The revelation of U.S. Embassy cables about Canadian TV shows come ahead of an upcoming Wikileaks data dump that touches on Canada-U.S. diplomatic relations.

One document by an unnamed U.S. embassy official complains U.S. border agents persistently appear as insensitive and bullying in The Border, from Toronto indie producer White Pines Pictures.

“While the war is supposed to be against criminals and terrorists trying to cross the border, many of the immigration team’s battles end up being with the U.S. government officials, often in tandem with the CIA-colluding Canadian Security and Intelligence Service,” the cable states.

The document adds that the “clash between the Americans and Canadians got started early in the season and has continued unabated.”

Peter Raymont, executive producer on The Border, expressed surprise on Thursday that a U.S. Embassy official in Ottawa was such an avid viewer of his series, and “so carefully” reported back to the State Department in Washington.

Raymont was also stumpted that a fictional TV show could pose an apparent threat to U.S.-Canadian relations.

At the same time, the Canadian TV producer insisted “The Border” did draw on real events to create an entertaining and “deliberately controversial” TV.

“Remember it was the Bush presidency and there were rendition flights illegally transporting suspected terrorists to be tortured in Syrian prisons,” Raymont insisted.

He added the Canadian drama was as critical of Canadian border CSIS agents as it was of U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials, as it
spotlighted “anti-illegal and inhuman treatment of people who deserved to be treated fairly and legally.”

Mary Darling, executive producer of Little Mosque and ironically a dual American and Canadian citizen, said she was both “appalled and flattered” by a U.S. Embassy official criticizing the depiction of a U.S. consular official in a 2007 episode of her slapstick Canadian sitcom.

Darling said she watched the offending episode late Wednesday, where Dave Foley (Kids in the Hall) guest stars as a U.S. consular official dealing with a request from one of the Little Mosque characters, Babar, to get off the U.S. no-fly list.

“He’s (Foley) frankly the only sane person in the scene. Babar finds himself on the U.S. no-fly list because he’s afraid of flying,” she recounted.

“It’s bizarre for them to pull that out,” Darling added.

Little Mosque debuted on Canadian TV in 2007 to widespread international media attention, and impressive ratings for the CBC.

Kirstine Stewart, interim executive vice president of English language TV at the CBC, dismissed the charge of “negative popular stereotyping” against the public broadcasters’ series, given the plaudits and airtime the Canadian shows have received south of the border.

"It's an ironic comment, since Little Mosque was inducted into the Museums of Radio and Television Science, both in New York City and Los
Angeles as a groundbreaking show, and the format was sold in the U.S.,” Stewart said.

20th Century Fox TV in 2008 acquired the U.S. format rights to Little Mosque on the Prairie from its Canadian producer, WestWind Pictures.

Stewart added that the CBC does develop and air primetime series that “differentiates” Canadian culture from American culture in a bid to distinguish its TV  schedule from rival Canuck networks that air mostly popular U.S. series in primetime.

But Stewart argued that the apparently offending CBC shows would be hard-pressed to succeed stateside “if the American audience perceived them to be disparaging of their own culture.”

“Perhaps the shows were not actually watched by the persons with the concerns,” she added of the unnamed U.S. Embassy officials in Ottawa sending reports back to Washington of the CBC series, via the Wikileaks cables.