When you read about the egregious case of Ellen Richardson, a Canadian woman recently denied entry to the US for a vacation, it’s hard to believe that we’re making any progress as a society when it comes to defending those who are the most vulnerable. For all its talk about fighting mental illness and removing the stigma from those who suffer from it, our government’s policies seems to be achieving the exact opposite of this by sharing sensitive private information contained in the Canadian Police Information Centre data base with regards to those who have a history of serious psychological issues ( 1 in 5 Canadians, according to the latest studies), including suicide attempts, as was the case with Ms. Richardson.
Ms. Richardson is one of a number Canadians who have been turned away by US border security because their name appears on a de-facto black list of Canadians who, in the words of an RCMP flack, are not only a danger to themselves, put pose an imminent threat to the general public and “police officers who may come into contact with them.” Bear in mind, we’re talking about a paraplegic confined to a motorized wheelchair here.
The border agent in question explained to Ms. Richardson that he was just enforcing section 22 of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act which allows them to discriminate against foreigners visiting the country on the basis of mental health, even though such discrimination against American citizens is now illegal. He told her she could travel provided she received a note from one of the handful of doctors in Toronto that was approved by US authorities.
It’s worth noting that such outrageous violations of basic human rights of certain groups have been sanctioned by the US government for various reasons over the years, including a ban against people who are HIV positive from visiting the country which lasted until 2009.
As many experts have pointed out, people undergoing treatment for mental illness (Ms. Richardson, for example) do not have a higher rate of violence than those who aren’t. Furthermore, by punishing those that seek out help for their mental issues, the government inadvertently sends the message that such individuals should stay in the closet rather than admit that they have a problem.
For the Canadian authorities to participate in such an immoral system (sadly, not the first time) shows a complete lack of understanding of the both the nature of mental illness as well as shocking lack of respect for people’s recognized right to privacy as Canadians. Will the RCMP and the federal government apologize to Ms. Richardson for an unforgivable breach of her privacy and the inflicting of more psychological distress on her and others in a similar predicament?