TORONTO - Ontario's privacy watchdog is probing reports that private health information is being shared with U.S. border services, saying it's a matter "of grave concern" to her.
Her office "will investigate the matter and ensure that the personal health information of Ontarians is not being compromised by any organizations under my jurisdiction," Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian said in an email to Ontario's New Democrats, who requested her help.
Cavoukian added that she's already contacted the Health Ministry to confirm that no personal health details are being provided to U.S. border services.
NDP provincial health critic France Gelinas said she's been contacted by three people who have been denied entry to the U.S. based on their personal health history.
One woman she spoke to, Ellen Richardson, has gone public with her story, saying she was turned away Monday at Toronto's Pearson airport by a U.S. customs agent because she was hospitalized in June 2012 for clinical depression.
Richardson attempted suicide in 2001 by jumping off a bridge, which left her a paraplegic. But her mental health has improved with medication and professional help from a psychiatrist, she said.
She said she travelled through the United States several times in recent years and never had a problem.
This time, the agent cited the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which denies entry to people who have had a physical or mental disorder that may pose a "threat to the property, safety or welfare" of themselves or others, she said.
"It's ridiculous. It's utterly ridiculous," she said.
"I was never a threat to others. I would never harm anyone."
Richardson, who takes medication to combat depression, said she provided the U.S. agent with the name and phone number of her psychiatrist, but it wasn't enough.
She was told she would have to get "medical clearance" and be examined by one of only three doctors in Toronto whose assessments are accepted by Homeland Security, she said.
Richardson, who has a website and wrote a book about her struggle with depression, said she has no recollection of police being involved in her 2012 hospitalization.
She said she had become suicidal, wrote a suicide note and called her mother, who came over and called 911.
"I wasn't a threat to anyone, other than myself," Richardson said.
Gelinas said another person she spoke to told her that they had been turned away at the border over a physical ailment that had nothing to do with mental health.
She wouldn't provide any details to protect the person's privacy, but Gelinas said she was told that the U.S. agent in that case also mentioned a fairly recent, specific medical episode that happened in an Ontario hospital.
Gelinas said at first she tried to find some explanation for why U.S. authorities might have the information, such as police records. She asked many questions, but nothing seemed to explain how the Department of Homeland Security got the information.
"The amount of their personal information that is spit back at them is astonishing," she said.
"I have no idea how this could happen, but it did. I believe those people. They have given me physical, tangible proof that this happened."
A person's medical history must remain confidential, she said. To hear that specific details of a person's medical history is being shared with a foreign government is "extremely alarming."
Health Minister Deb Matthews owes Ontarians an explanation, Gelinas added.
U.S. authorities don't have access to medical or other health records for Ontarians travelling to the United States, said Samantha Grant, a spokeswoman for Matthews.
Government officials referred all other questions to police services, saying it was an operational matter.
Federal law allows personal information to be transferred outside Canada, even without the consent of the individual to whom the information relates. Once the information is in foreign hands, the laws of that country will apply.
Canada's privacy commissioner has called for the federal government to re-examine the circumstances under which it allows personal information about Canadians to be processed outside Canada.
Mike Sullivan, the New Democrat MP who represents the Toronto riding where Richardson lives, says he has sent a letter to the federal privacy commissioner's office asking for an investigation into the matter.
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Next: The Most Canadian Words
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> A toonie is a $2 Canadian coin, which followed the cue of the loonie (named after the image of the aquatic bird that graces the $1 coin). <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "Hey buddy, can I borrow a toonie? I need to get a Double Double (see the next slide)."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> A Double Double refers to a coffee (often from Tim Hortons) with two creams and two sugars. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "Yes, hi, I'd like to order a Double Double."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> When food, however unappealing it is, is all you <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/05/10/newfoundland-tourism-video-gutfoundered_n_3254578.html" target="_blank">crave at the end of the day. Or, you're just very hungry.</a> <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “Your mind wanders when it’s gut-foundered. Is it going to be take-out? Is it going to be pizza?”
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong>Shit-Kickers are nicknames for cowboy boots. Hee Haw! <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "I can't go to the Calgary Stampede without my shit-kickers."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Something that is in a diagonal direction from something else. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "The grocery store is kitty-corner to the school."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> A warm wind that blows east over the Canadian Rockies, warming up Calgary in the winter. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "This chinook is giving me a headache."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> A slang term for cigarettes <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "Get your darts out."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Stagette is another name for bachelorette party. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "Are you heading out to that stagette this weekend? There's going to be a stripper."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Cowtown is a nickname for Calgary. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "I've been living in Cowtown my entire life."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Another name for underwear used mainly in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and often referring to men's or boys' briefs. A gotch refers to women's underwear. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "Pull your pants up, I can see your gitch."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> According to the Dictionary of Newfoundland, a bedlamer is a <a href="http://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/azindex/pages/291.html" target="_blank">seal that is not yet mature.</a> <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "This harp seal is giving me a hard time, it's such a bedlamer."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> A toque is a hat most people wear during winter months. And sometimes, you will see this hat reappear in the summer. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "Listen son, don't go out into this weather without your toque."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> No, no one is getting married. In Western Canada, a matrimonial cake is another term for a date square or tart. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "I wish this coffee shop had matrimonial cakes."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Someone who loves spending time on an ice rink. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "I can't get any ice time, I have to deal with all these rink rats."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Slang for homogenized whole milk, but shockingly, this term is actually used on milk packaging. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "When you go to the grocery store, don't forget to pick up the homo milk."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Common slang for a case of 24 beers. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "Are you heading to the beer store? Pick me up a 2-4 of Molson."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> The Canadian way of saying coloured pencil. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "Do you have a pencil crayon in that pencil case?"
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Another word for soda. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "That can of pop has 200 calories."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Another word for bathroom or restroom. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "This washroom doesn't have any toilet paper."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Slang for "what are you doing" in Newfoundland. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "Did you just get in? Whaddya at?"
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> For the most part, a mickey is a flask-sized (or 375 ml) bottle of hard liqueur, but on the East Coast, a mickey is an airplane-sized bottle. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "We're going out tonight, can someone grab a mickey."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Not a slang term, but this is how Canadians pronounce the letter "Z". Not zee.
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> A hockey (surprise, surprise) technique when a player gets past their opponent by "faking it." It can also be used to replace the world detour. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "I am going to deke into the store after work."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Hydro refers to electricity, particularly on your energy bill. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "My hydro bill went up $10 this month."
<strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> A mountie is a nickname for a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> "Stop speeding, a mountie will catch you."
NEXT: 50 Of the Best Canadian Foods
Poutine — French fries generously slathered in gravy and cheese curds — is a classic Canadian treat that is said to have originated in Quebec in the 1950s. Since then, it has been adapted in many weird and wonderful ways from <a href="http://crownsalts.com/gardemanger/" target="_blank">gourmet versions with lobster</a> and <a href="http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca/menu.html" target="_blank">foie gras</a> to —believe it or not — a doughnut version. It's also inspired <a href="http://smokespoutinerie.com/" target="_blank">a crop of trendy "poutineries"</a> and a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/14/doughnut-poutine-psycho-donuts_n_2875921.html" target="_blank">"poutition"</a> to make it Canada's official national dish.
There are some snacks that define a nation, but not many that taste good to only those who live there. What do we love? The fact they leave our fingers dyed red after we've had a whole bag. Ketchup has never tasted so salty, non-tomatoey and outright good. Our U.S. friends may go nutty over Doritos, but we love our ketchup chips. Did you know that <a href="http://www.thestar.com/business/2013/02/28/heres_why_you_cant_buy_chicken_and_waffle_chips_in_canada.html" target="_hplink"> Lay's dill pickle and Munchies snack mix are also exclusively Canadian?</a>
What could be more Canadian than syrup that comes from the maple tree, whose iconic leaf has come to symbolize Canada and its national pride? Quebec is the largest producer of maple syrup in the world, accounting for about 75 to 80 percent of the supply. Maple syrup — <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1372549/Maple-syrup-joins-ranks-broccoli-blueberries-new-stop-shop-superfood.html" target="_blank">recently elevated to "superfood" status</a> — is a classic sweet topping on pancakes and waffles. Still, that hasn't stopped some people from thinking of surprising savoury pairings such as <a href="http://www.toromagazine.com/lifestyle/food/toro-tv/c3df4a2e-74ba-c154-9172-99d497567a76/Caplanskys-Maple-Bacon-Donuts/" target="_blank">maple-bacon doughnuts</a>.
It's no secret that Canadians are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/15/tim-hortons-new-bacon-taste-test_n_2884834.html" target="_blank">obsessed with bacon</a>. The delicious cured pork product can be made oh so many ways, including ever popular strip bacon and peameal bacon, often referred to as "Canadian bacon" abroad. In fact, Canadians are so passionate about their favourite food that <a href="http://bacontoday.com/the-people-of-canada-choose-bacon-over-sex/" target="_blank">many would probably choose it over sex.</a>
A butter tart is a classic Canadian dessert made with butter, sugar, syrup and eggs — filled in a buttery (yes, more grease) pastry shell, and often includes either raisins or nuts. They can be runny or firm — so it's hard to mess them up when you're baking. <a href="http://www.canadianliving.com/food/baking_and_desserts/best_butter_tarts.php" target="_blank">Also, they never seem to go out of style.</a>
BeaverTails, or <em>Queues de Castor</em> in French, is a famous trademarked treat made by a <a href="http://www.beavertailsinc.com/" target="_blank">Canadian-based chain of pastry stands</a>. The fried-dough treats are shaped to resemble real beaver tails and are often topped with chocolate, candy, and fruit. These Canadian delicacies go hand in hand with skiing, and even <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/01/17/beavertail-at-inauguration_n_2495957.html" target="_blank">gained White House recognition during U.S. President Barack Obama's 2009 trip to Ottawa.</a>
These legendary Canadian no-bake treats originated in (surprise!) <a href="http://www.nanaimo.ca/EN/main/visitors/NanaimoBars.html" target="_blank">Nanaimo, B.C.,</a> and are typically made with graham-cracker crumbs, coconut, walnuts, vanilla custard and chocolate. Need we say more? Common variations include peanut butter and mint chocolate.
No one likes to think of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as dinner, but game meat is abundant in Canada and can be found in butchers, restaurants and homes across the country. Among other popular Canadian game is boar, bison, venison, caribou and rabbit.