—Vancouver, BC, October 2, 2015—
Today the Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) made public a joint position statement on the indiscriminate sharing of information regarding police assistance with the U.S. border authorities.
“The APA is pleased to partner with the Canadian Psychiatric Association in working to end the indiscriminate sharing of mental health records with border authorities and to protect patients’ right to privacy,” said APA President Renée Binder, M.D.
Over the years Canadians have been denied entry into the United States based on private health information contained in police databases related to their mental illness, hospitalization or past suicide attempts. One such database is the RCMP’s Canadian Police Information Centre database, or CPIC, which is shared with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In Canada, some improvements have been made to limit access to non-criminal mental health information in police databases. After a scathing report from the Ontario privacy Commissioner, the Toronto police worked with the RCMP to develop a new CPIC function that blocks U.S. border officials from accessing this type of information except in certain specific circumstances, such as when a suicide attempt involved serious violence or harm of others, or appeared to be intended to provoke a lethal response by police. The Ontario Chiefs of Police have also updated their guidelines for police record checks to reflect a clearer presumption against disclose of non-conviction records. The Vancouver Police department now no longer includes the disclosure of apprehensions under the Mental Health Act in police information checks.
“But the handling of private, non-criminal information remains a policy patchwork,” said Dr. Padraic Carr, President of the CPA. “What is needed is for all parties—police, lawmakers, mental health groups, solicitors general and more—to work together to establish a single common standard for the collection, use, disclosure and retention of non-criminal, non-conviction and personal health information contained in police records and databases.”
This is consistent with recommendations from both the Ontario and British Columbia privacy commissioners and many mental health organizations including the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“We also need to address the onerous process and the high cost of restoring access to the US,” added Dr. Carr. In 2013, only five US-approved panel physicians were authorized to provide letters assuring U.S. Border services that an individual is safe, three in Toronto, one in BC and one in Quebec. The required half-hour medical appointment costs $500 and that is before factoring the cost of obtaining any supplementary documentation.
The Canadian Psychiatric Association is the national voice for Canada’s 4,700 psychiatrists and more than 900 psychiatric residents. Founded in 1951, the CPA is dedicated to promoting an environment that fosters excellence in the provision of clinical care, education and research.
The American Psychiatric Association is a national medical specialty society whose more than 36,000 physician members specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and research of mental illnesses, including substance use disorders. Visit the APA at www.psychiatry.org.