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Kyboshed Travel Plans for Canadians with a History of Poor Mental Health

Travelling can be tough.
Travelling can be tough.

Usually I’m writing to help invisible disabilities be more visible.  Shine a little light on stigma and so on.  In this case I’m puzzled as to how private medical records ended up on the U.S. side of the border and delayed Canadian travel plans.  Things said in the privacy of our doctor’s office should remain that way.

Ellen Richardson was prevented from going on a March of Dimes cruise late last month because she was hospitalized for clinical depression in the summer of 2012.

Richardson was told, “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 with a form to be filled out, and told a call to her psychiatrist “would not suffice.’’  This form was not for an assessment, but complete release of all her medical records.

Richardson was devastated.  The time and planning that goes into travelling with a disability is not easy.  “It’s not like I can just book again right away,” she says.

Richardson’s case falls under 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 police weren’t involved, she’s not considered a danger, and her psychiatrist considers her to be stable and able.  Who exactly she poses a risk to is yet to be determined.

Ellen Richardson isn’t the only one affected.  After seeing Richardson’s story, Amanda Box came forward with hers hoping to raise awareness of the issue.

Box, another Torontonian, suffered the same issue last year.  Box is bipolar, medicated, and living a normal life.  After experiencing some housing issues in the spring of 2012, she told her therapist that she was having some suicidal thoughts.

After saying, “Yeah, you’re really crazy,” a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent denied her entry.

It has been confirmed that the Canadian Police Information Centre database does share information with U.S. authorities, which includes reports about individuals who attempt or threaten suicide.

It’s well known that there is stigma attached to mental health.  Cases like Richardson and Box only make it harder for people to come forward and get much needed supports.  I know I would have reservations reporting any issues if it was likely to go international and sabotage any future travel plans involving the U.S.

I’m all for countries taking a pro-active approach to keep people safe in transit.  Yay safety!  But this should include training and awareness on what it means to have a controlled or be recovered from a mental disorder.  A treated person with bipolar is not a ‘flight risk’.  They are just like you and me.   A person who has had depression and has undergone successful treatment is likewise healthy.

Our government should be advocating on behalf of these women.  Being denied the right to travel for having sought treatment in a time of need is discrimination.  Had they not got the help they needed they’d be allowed across the border.  Because they took care of themselves, they’re out a holiday.  That doesn’t seem right to me.

Let me know what you think.  Have any of you experienced discrimination based on disability at the border; yourself, client, or family member?

Original news articles:
Toronto woman with bipolar disorder refused entry into U.S. for being a “flight risk”
and
Disabled woman denied entry to U.S. after agent cites supposedly private medical details


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  1. Ignoring the breach of privacy for a minute, and working off of their own erroneous concerns: most people with a history of poor mental health are not dangerous, but assuming a person was, wouldn’t asking for help be a heck of a lot better than the people prone to violence that don’t ask for help? They’re enforcing backwards! They should be accepting people that have asked for help over people that have no documented history!

  2. I guess that lets out a significant number of Canadian Armed Forces personnel who suffer (really suffer) with PTSD. Do the Americans stop them at the border and say “No, you can’t take part in these exercises”?