Last week at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Ellen Richardson was told that she couldn’t enter the United States because she was hospitalized for clinical depression in 2012 and would require a medical evaluation. This medical evaluation would need to be done by 1 of 3 physicians approved by U.S. officials and not Ellen’s regular psychiatrist.
How could this happen?
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened. The Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office has received reports from more than a dozen Canadians who have been denied entry into the U.S. because their records reveal they have a mental illness. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security obtains individual health information through the following process:
- Police create a mental health record when they are actively involved with an individual who requires mental health crisis support
- Police enter information into a local police database which may be transmitted to the national police information database called the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). This database is administered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
- CPIC provides data to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection
It’s important to note that police officers, by virtue of their role as emergency responders, are the first to arrive at the scene of a mental health crisis. They respond to the person experiencing a mental health crisis and often escort the individual to the hospital emergency department or other health care facility for medical assessment. This is the moment when the mental health police record is generated.
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. Although information may be available to the U.S. border security officials, they may not always act on it. CMHA Ontario believes the disclosure of mental health police records is discriminatory and increases the stigma of mental illnesses. Further, there is a lack of clear criteria of what should be included to help police officers do their job while maintaining the confidentiality of the individual and ensuring this sensitive information does not prevent them from obtaining jobs, volunteer positions, or crossing the border.
Police Record Checks and the LEARN Guideline
When it comes to police record checks required for volunteering or employment, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Polices (OACP) in collaboration with the Law Enforcement and Records (Management) Network (LEARN) established the LEARN Guideline for Police Record Checks. This guideline provides a better understanding of the relevant legislation, policies, procedures and directives involved in processing police record checks. There are three levels of checks:
- Police Criminal Record Check
- Police Information Check
- Police Vulnerable Sector Check
In the LEARN guideline, Level 1 and 2 checks should not include “any reference to incidents involving mental health contact that did not result in a criminal charge” whereas level 3 allows “a review of all available police contacts…which may or may not have involved a mental health incident.” Level 3 checks are where mental health police record check information can appear.
Although the guideline exists, it is not mandatory. The guideline is currently being reviewed by the OACP with community input from CMHA Ontario and the Police Records Check Coalition. CMHA Ontario is a co-chair of coalition, a group comprising health law and human rights legal experts from the Ontario Association of Patient Councils, the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario and the John Howard Society of Ontario..
The Final Word
Overall, the disclosure of mental health police records can negatively impact a person’s mental health and wellness and impede their recovery because these records create barriers to accessing job placements, volunteer positions, schools and school-related placements. Also, they often prevent people with mental health conditions from securing professional qualifications, as well as accessing services, facilities and travel.
CMHA Ontario expressed its concern on the issue of mental health police records in the media this week. Read the Toronto Star stories.