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Sharing Information across the border poses concerns for individuals with mental health and addictions issues

January 30, 2014

In late January, it was reported that the Canada Board Services Agency (CBSA) is ready to begin sharing personal information with the United States Department of Homeland Security under the new Entry/Exit Initiative. This $139-million project has been in the works since 2011 as part of the Beyond the Border agreement between Canada and the United States. In the third and final phase of this initiative, the CBSA will expand the scope of monitoring to all people passing through land border crossings including, Canadian citizens by June of 2014.

In the wake of the Ellen Richardson case and similar stories like the one told by Amanda Box, increasing information sharing at the border could pose risks for individuals with mental health and addictions issues who have come into contact with police or have called 911 because of a health emergency. The CBSA has stated that data will be stored in a secure way and that Canada’s privacy laws will be upheld. However, Canada and the U.S. have different privacy and immigration laws and there has been no mention of how exactly these will be reconciled under this agreement.

For example, the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act says that individuals with a history of mental illness may be “ineligible” for admission into the U.S. (see section §212(a)(1)(A)(iii)). Depending on what a border crossing guard decides to do with this information, individuals with mental health and addictions issues that are with family, friends and even co-workers may be unnecessarily stopped at the border and their mental health police record may be disclosed. This can result in further stigmatization and discrimination of individuals with mental health and addictions issues.

The disclosure of this information can negatively impact a person’s mental health and wellness and impede their recovery, because:

  • the mental health police records create barriers to accessing job placements, volunteer positions, schools and school-related placements.
  • the records often prevent people with mental health and addiction issues from securing professional qualifications, as well as accessing services, facilities and travel.

Mental health police records are created as a result of medical intervention, not criminal contact. In other words, mental health police records are not criminal records and should not be treated as such. Mental health police records are helpful when the information is used internally by police to help a person in mental health crisis. But the disclosure for other purposes and to other entities is discriminatory and increases the stigma around mental health and addiction issues when the information is shared in a manner that doesn’t directly help an individual but instead creates barriers for that person.

CMHA Ontario is a co-chair of the Police Record Check Coalition, a group of more than 30 people comprising health law and human rights legal experts, the mental health and addictions sector and representatives from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Ontario Association of Patient Councils, the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario and the John Howard Society of Ontario.

For more information, please visit the Police Record Check Coalition webpage on Cross-Border Travel.

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