This is totally outrageous and defies reason! Shouldn’t a person’s medical information remain private? How is it the US Gov was able to know this woman was recently hospitalized in Canada? With NSA snooping and now this I am just outraged over how far our gov will go to trample on individuals rights and privacy. And to add insult to injury when the Border Patrol was asked how they knew, they declined to awser siting privacy issues! You got to be freaking kidding me! Obviously they do not care about any one’s privacy!
Disabled woman denied entry to U.S. after agent cites supposedly private medical details
A Toronto woman is shocked after she was denied entry into the U.S. because she had been hospitalized for clinical depression.
Ellen Richardson was prevented from going on a March of Dimes organized cruise because the U.S. border agent said she was hospitalized for mental health issues in 2012 and she needed special clearance. Richardson was treated for clinical depression but she wonders how he accessed her medical records.
Ellen Richardson went to Pearson airport on Monday full of joy about flying to New York City and from there going on a 10-day Caribbean cruise for which she’d paid about $6,000.
But a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent with the Department of Homeland Security killed that dream when he denied her entry.
“I was turned away, I was told, because I had a hospitalization in the summer of 2012 for clinical depression,’’ said Richardson, who is a paraplegic and set up her cruise in collaboration with a March of Dimes group of about 12 others.
The Weston woman was told by the U.S. agent she would have to get “medical clearance’’ and be examined by one of only three doctors in Toronto whose assessments are accepted by Homeland Security. She was given their names and told a call to her psychiatrist “would not suffice.’’
At the time, Richardson said, she was so shocked and devastated by what was going on, she wasn’t thinking about how U.S. authorities could access her supposedly private medical information.
“I was so aghast. I was saying, ‘I don’t understand this. What is the problem?’ I was so looking forward to getting away . . . I’d even brought a little string of Christmas lights I was going to string up in the cabin. . . . It’s not like I can just book again right away,’’ she said, referring to the time and planning that goes into taking a trip as a disabled person.
Richardson said she’d had no discussion whatsoever with the agent at the airport about her medical history or background.
Previous to her hospitalization in 2012, Richardson had attempted suicide in 2001, as a result of delusions. But medications put her on an even keel and stabilized her for years, with no incidents.
A personal relationship breakup in 2012 caused her clinical depression and hospitalization (there was no police involvement). But again, her condition stabilized and Richardson, who has a master’s degree in counselling, sees a psychiatrist with whom she has a very good relationship.
She’s been on three cruises since 2001, travelling through the U.S., and has never had a problem at Pearson with U.S. authorities.
No U.S. border agent has ever brought up the 2001 suicide attempt, including the agent on Monday who only mentioned her 2012 hospitalization, she said.
He cited the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 212, which denies entry to people who have had a physical or mental disorder that may pose a “threat to the property, safety or welfare’’ of themselves or others.
The agent gave her a signed document which stated that “system checks’’ had found she “had a medical episode in June 2012’’ and that because of the “mental illness episode’’ she would need a medical evaluation before being accepted.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection media spokeswoman Jenny Burke said that due to privacy laws, “the department is prohibited from discussing specific cases.’’
MP Mike Sullivan said what has happened to his constituent is “enormously troubling. . . . How did U.S. agents get her personal medical information?’’
He said he will be getting in touch with federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart “and demanding to know how this happened. We’re very concerned if Canadians’ personal medical information is being communicated to U.S. authorities.’’
Richardson has also spoken to her lawyer, David McGhee, about what she believes to be a “breach of privacy’’ as well as an act of discrimination against people with mental health issues.
McGhee has sent a letter to Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews asking how this breach could have occurred.
“The incident in 2012 was hospitalization for depression. Police were not involved,’’ McGhee said. “I’ve asked Deb Matthews to tell me if she’s aware of any provincial or federal authority to allow U.S. authorities to have access to our medical records. Medical records are supposed to be strictly confidential. ’’
U.S. authorities “do not have access to medical or other health records for Ontarians travelling to the U.S.,’’ said health ministry spokeswoman Joanne Woodward Fraser, adding the ministry could not provide any additional information.
Richardson’s bad luck continued when she tried to get the cost of her trip refunded.
Her insurance is with Ingle International and clients with problems are supposed to contact the help organization called OneWorld Assist.
OneWorld Assist’s Alex Longuepee wrote to Richardson: “Unfortunately, being denied boarding is not a covered risk under the policy.
“Also, we do have a general exclusion which reads as the following: ‘Psychological disorders, emotional disorders. Acute psychosis is not excluded unless drug or alcohol induced.’ ’’
In an email to the Star, spokeswoman Amber Robinson confirmed that Richardson’s insurance policy does not cover people denied entry to the U.S. The policy also doesn’t cover expenses “incurred directly or indirectly as a result of psychological disorders, emotional or mental disorders.’’
Robinson said the company has “reached out’’ to Richardson to start the claim process “which will allow us to review her claim in more detail. Hopefully, we’ll be able to assist Ms. Richardson in some way.’’