Do American border guards have access to Canadians’ personal health information?

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  • Tina R. says:

    This is not just an issue for people who have had police contact that has been recorded in CPIC.
    When you enter the US, you have to declare your purpose of the visit, how long your stay will be and where you will be staying (they require an address now). So, in my case, I have just been approved for out-of-country medical treatment for OCD (there is no adequate treatment here in Canada). First off, the fact that I will be staying in the US for 90 days is a red flag in and of itself. It’s not like I am going somewhere for a week. Secondly, I have to provide an address for them–they will obviously know it is a psychiatric hospital. Further, by truthfully answering questions and revealing that I am a (mental) patient, I will forever be excluded to entering the US. I am wondering at this point who is sicker….me or Homeland Security?

  • KP says:

    My adult son and I are going to Florida in 2 weeks and I am now worried that he may not be allowed entry to the U.S. because he attempted suicide a few months back. He is finally getting the help he needs and is well on his way to recovery and this would be a huge setback if he isn’t allowed some vacation time as well as myself! People should not be punished for a condition they can’t control if they have not done anything criminal.

    • Paul Taylor says:

      I can understand your anxiety about crossing into the United States. Much depends on the U.S. border guards.

      In the earlier case of the woman who was turned away, the border officials had some knowledge of her pervious attempted suicide through Canadian police records.

      Do you know if the police showed up at your son’s attempted suicide?

      If the police were not there, then is a good chance the U.S. border officials would have no record of the event.

      If the police did attend, then you may want to get a letter from your son’s doctor stating that he is currently under medical treatment and does not represent a threat to himself or others.

      Have the letter on hand in case a question is raised about his mental health.

      Also, provide a phone number where the officials can reach the doctor.

      I’m not sure how the border officials would respond to such a letter. But it may be worth a try.

  • Dorina Simeonov, Co-Chair of the PRCC says:

    This is an ongoing issue and one that is of concern for the Police Record Check Coalition ( It is important to note that the U.S. has a specific law around this issue in their Immigration and Nationality Act which 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)). Given this law, and the fact that the Canada Board Services Agency is ready to begin sharing personal information with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under the new Entry/Exit Initiative, I suspect we will see more cases like the one of Ellen Richardson in the future.

  • Julie Cammisa says:

    Knowing the facts before crossing the US/Canadian border by land will help save you time and trouble on your trip and lead to fewer delays at border patrol.

    US Waivers For Canadians

  • leslie says:

    Border officers also google people – in the case of Ellen Richardson, her website comes right up detailing her situation. Ne need for them to access her medical records.

  • Sue Robins says:

    Hi Paul – what I really worry about is that people are going to stop talking to their physicians about mental health issues or calling 911 for fear of this type of retribution and loss of freedom to travel.

    So the short answer is yes: watch what you pack in your bag, text your friends, or post on Facebook. Loss of freedom as we know it. So wrong.

  • Paul Taylor says:

    Hello Sue:

    U.S. border officials also make decisions based on what they find in your bags. Abby Deshman, of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, made this comment to me: ” I have heard of situations where the border official sees that someone has medication in their bag and starts to ask questions and makes assumptions — and makes decisions [to bar entry] based on the medication they are taking.”

    So does this mean that people who take antidepressant medications should leave their drugs at home when they are travelling to the United States?

    Paul Taylor

  • mike waddingham says:

    Health information in a police database is subject to the same privacy protections as health information in Ministry of Health (or physician office) database.

    A government that blames the police for the leak is missing an important point: the police must operate within the laws of the province. If the police are truly the source, a prosecution should be launched under the appropriate health privacy law.

    This isn’t a police state.

    #1984 #snowden

    • Gordon W Stewart says:

      Mike wrote: “the police must operate within the laws of the province” I believe the police don’t have to “must” anything! If the police believe (rightly or wrongly) they are acting in good faith, and misinterpret a law for something it’s not, then the average citizen doesn’t have the same resources to hold them accountable, and the police know it.

  • Sue Robins says:

    Hello, and thank you for this – the customs officers also read texts from mobile devices and check Facebook accounts – so health information could be pieced together that indirect way too. This is scary scary stuff for the privacy and rights of individuals. Terrifying.


Paul Taylor


Paul Taylor is a health journalist and former Patient Navigation Advisor at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where he provided advice and answered questions from patients and their families. Paul will continue to write occasional columns for Healthy Debate.

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