12/11/2013 12:30 EST | Updated 02/10/2014 05:59 EST

Your Mental Illness May Get You Stopped at the Border

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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