More than a dozen Canadians have told the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office in Toronto within the past year that they were blocked from entering the United States after their records of mental illness were shared with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Lois Kamenitz, 65, of Toronto (pictured) contacted the office last fall, after U.S. customs officials at Pearson International Airport prevented her from boarding a flight to Los Angeles on the basis of her suicide attempt four years earlier.
SPECIAL REPORT A decade later, revisiting Sept. 11 Video, photos, features on terror activity, border security and moreKamenitz says she was stopped at customs after showing her passport and asked to go to a secondary screening. There, a Customs and Border Protection officer told Kamenitz that he had information that police had attended her home in 2006.
“I was really perturbed,” Kamenitz says. “I couldn’t figure out what he meant. And then it dawned on me that he was referring to the 911 call my partner made when I attempted suicide.”
Kamenitz says she asked the officer how he had obtained her medical records.
A document completed by a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer says that at a secondary inspection at Pearson airport in Toronto, it was ascertained that Lois Kamenitz had 'attempted suicide in 2006,' and a medical clearance would be required for a further attempt to enter the United States. Sarah Bridge/CBC“That was the only thing I could think of,” she says. “But he said, no, he didn’t have my medical records but he did have a contact note from the police that [they] had attended my home.”
Stanley Stylianos, program manager at the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office, says his organization has heard more than a dozen stories similar to Kamenitz’s.
The office has also received phone calls from numerous Canadians who have not yet had encounters with U.S. customs officers, but are worried that their own mental health histories may cause security delays while travelling south of the border for business or family trips.
“We get calls from people who have concerns about being stopped because they know this is an issue,” Stylianos says.
So far, the RCMP hasn’t provided the office with clear answers about how or why police records of non-violent mental health incidents are passed across the border.
Brad Benson from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says medical records aren't shared between countries. However, "if you have an arrest record, Canada would share that with us," he says.
If a police encounter includes information about mental health, Benson says front-line officers can use it.
"Mental illness is actually under our law as a reason that you may not get admitted," he says. "The issue is always going to be: could someone be a danger to someone [else]?"
According to diplomatic cables released earlier this year by WikiLeaks, any information entered into the national Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database is accessible to American authorities.
Local police officers take notes whenever they apprehend an individual or respond to a 911 call, and some of this information is then entered into the CPIC database, says Stylianos. He says that occasionally this can include non-violent mental health incidents in which police are involved.
In Kamenitz’s case, this could explain how U.S. officials had a record of the police response to the 911 call her partner made in 2006, after Kamenitz took an overdose of pills.
RCMP Insp. Denis St. Pierre says information on CPIC not only contains a person's criminal record, but also outstanding warrants, missing persons reports and information about stolen property, along with information regarding persons of interest in ongoing cases. It also can contain individuals' history of mental illness, including suicide attempts.
The database contains anything that could alert authorities to a potential threat to public safety and security, and all CPIC information is available to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, St. Pierre says. There are a few exceptions, including information regarding young offenders, which is not available to American authorities.
Friday, September 9, 2011
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Posted by BA Haller at 9:53 PM