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Marvin Ross


Your Mental Illness May Get You Stopped at the Border

Posted: 12/11/2013 12:30 pm

I was not the least bit surprised when I read that Ellen Richardson was banned entry into the U.S. because she suffered with depression and had a history of attempted suicide. That was unconscionable, but I do have a suggestion that may help prevent this for others.

When I was involved with the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario in Hamilton a number of years ago, we took up the case for a member who had requested a police check for volunteer work and was upset with the report. While this individual had no criminal convictions or charges, the report mentioned an emergency contact with the police for hospital transport. That was because they had attempted suicide, 911 was called and the police arrived along with fire and ambulance. The responding officer had filed a report and that event made its way into the police database.

We arranged a meeting with the police and a number of relevant agencies in the city. The police explained that many, if not all, contacts with them end up in their database. However, they said, when issuing a police check, they do use discretion and will not list something like transport to hospital if sufficient time has passed and there are no other incidents that might be of concern. In fact, the individual whose report triggered that meeting has obtained a number of police checks since then and there has never been any further mention of the transport to hospital.

Where there might be a problem is if that information was entered into the Canadian Police Information Centre database (CPIC) run by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. CPIC is an integrated database where specific law enforcement data can be entered, electronically queried and ultimately shared with law enforcement partners in their crime prevention and crime fighting roles. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Canada shares data in the CPIC file with countless other countries via Interpol and likely other agencies. This might have been the source used by the U.S. Immigration officer when he/she denied Richardson entry.

According to Corporal David Falls, an RCMP media relations officer in Ottawa, information contained in CPIC is owned by the originating agency and the decision to enter information into the CPIC system is made by those contributing agencies. Those agencies also have the ability to maintain the data they submit and to modify it.

Cpl. Falls added that,

"Each police service will have its processes for determining how information is viewed and the circumstances under which it can be modified. Individuals wishing to see or discuss the information contained in CPIC, should contact the police of jurisdiction with which they had contact at the time of the incident or event."

Regrettably, it is too late to help Ellen Richardson but others who may be in a similar situation and who may be travelling to the U.S. should check with their own police departments to find out what may have been entered into CPIC and request that it be removed. And, if everyone who thinks they may be in police databases contacts their police departments, they will be inundated with requests. That may help to convince them to be a bit more cautious about what they list.


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  • Number of Canadians with mental illness

    20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Anxiety

    Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Bipolar Disorder

    About 1% of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”) - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Suicide rates

    Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Men and suicide

    The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Major Depression

    Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Schizophrenia

    Schizophrenia affects 1% of the Canadian population - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Youth depression

    The total number of 12-19 year olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is a staggering 3.2 million - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Going to the doctor

    Almost one half (49%) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Seeking help

    Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Youth suicide rate

    Mental illness is increasingly threatening the lives of our children; with Canada’s youth suicide rate the third highest in the industrialized world - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Percentage of Canadian youth affected by mental illness

    It is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder – the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • First Nations youth and suicide

    First Nations youth commit suicide about five to six times more often than non-Aboriginal youth. The suicide rates for Inuit are among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national average, and for young Inuit men the rates are 28 times higher - Mental Health Commission of Canada

  • Available mental health services in Canada

    In Canada, only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Mental illness in seniors

    Rates of mental illness for adults between the ages of 70 and 89, including but not limited to dementia, are projected to be higher than for any other age group by 2041 - Mental Health Commission of Canada

  • Mental Health and the justice system

    The vast majority of people living with mental health problems and illnesses are not involved with the criminal justice system. In fact, they are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators - Mental Health Commission of Canada

  • Mental illness and unemployment

    Among those with the most severe and complex mental health problems and illnesses, unemployment is estimated at between 70 and 90 per cent - Mental Health Commission of Canada

  • Cost of mental illness in Canada

    The economic cost of mental illnesses in Canada for the health care system was estimated to be at least $7.9 billion in 1998 – $4.7 billion in care, and $3.2 billion in disability and early death - Canadian Mental Health Association


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