When Lois Kamenitz arrived at Pearson International Airport in November, hoping to board a flight to California, she was stunned to learn that U.S. border officials were barring her entry. The reason: Years ago, she attempted suicide.
The 64 year-old Toronto woman was fingerprinted and photographed. She questioned the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer about how he accessed her medical records. He said he didn’t. Instead, he knew police had attended her Toronto home in 2006 because she had done “violence to self.”
How and why her personal information was passed to a foreign government is extremely troubling, say advocates for civil rights and the rights of psychiatric patients, who believe Kamenitz’s privacy rights were invaded.
It’s not an isolated incident, says Ryan Fritsch, legal counsel for the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office. He has heard of about eight similar cases in the past year, all involving non-criminal contact between police and people with mental health issues — records of contact that end up at the Department of Homeland Security.
Considering 20% of Canadians will have a mental illness during their lifetime, the direct and indirect costs to the economy, and the stigmatization that presents a serious barrier to care and treatment, further demonization of the mentally ill by labelling them as a “security risk” hardly seems helpful to anyone. Supposing you suffered from depression, and your employer sent you across the border on a regular basis. Would you take the risk of disclosing your depression if it would end up in the hands of government agents who may or may not arbitrarily deem you a risk?
The confidentiality/privacy issue is a whole other matter. Suffice to say, you get the feeling any meaningful protection of personal information is probably a sham, and if you care about such things, you should disclose such information bearing that fact in mind.