Volunteers Unleashed Film: The Controversy Behind the Scenes

BC filmmaker Brad Quenville created a documentary to highlight some of the controversies behind voluntourism, volunteering abroad. The film, Volunteers Unleashed, was inspired by his daughter's own trip to Tanzania. "The way that the voluntourism industry operates," he told the Delta Optimist, "is that it's trying to cater to the volunteer. It isn't necessarily catering to the needs of the local people as much as it's catering to the needs of the volunteer, making sure they've got a wonderful experience." 

But the subject matter wasn't the only controversy; the film itself became part of a debate on journalistic freedoms.

Volunteers Unleashed title card 

Volunteers Unleashed title card 

The documentary was scheduled to air on CBC on Thursday, March 19 of this year, and was actively promoted that day.

But at the last minute the programming was switched to another documentary, and viewers became suspicious due to the controversial subject matter. CANADALAND documented the unfolding drama.

CANADALAND first reported that the CBC stated there were copyright issues and the film "require[d] some re-editing" to rid the film of its unauthorized footage, but writer Jesse Brown took issue with that statement. "Volunteers Unleashed includes critical coverage of Me to We, the for profit counterpart of Free the Children, the massive charity run by Marc and Craig Kielburger," Brown wrote.

Days later, Brown reported that CANADALAND had acquired the footage that had been edited out of the documentary, which at this point had yet to be aired. Brown wrote that CANADALAND "had information suggesting that Me to We may have also raised the spectre of libel with the CBC over how they were portrayed in the documentary." 

Later, writer Sean Craig reported that the CBC licensed the "unauthorized footage" in question from its owners, Global News, and thus the situation could not have could a copyright issue. He states that, in fact, the request to re-edit came from the film's insurance company. Craig sums it up: "Under pressure from its insurers, the CBC...edited the documentary for a later broadcast and removed criticism of the company [Me to We], who claim the CBC told them the doc would be free of criticism." 

The re-edited film, which finally aired on April 2, is worth a watch. Click here to go to the CBC's Doc Zone page and watch Volunteers Unleashed (Canada only).