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DHS agent cites private medical history to deny disabled Canadian woman entry to U.S.

By Travis Gettys
Friday, November 29, 2013 11:59 EDT
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Airport security via AFP
 
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A Canadian woman said she was denied entry into the U.S. by a Customs and Border Protection Agent who cited her hospitalization last year for clinical depression.

Ellen Richardson, of Weston, Ontario, said she intended to fly Monday to New York City on her way to a 10-day Caribbean cruise, but she said the agent working with the Department of Homeland Security told her she must first get medical clearance.

Richardson, who is paraplegic and set up her cruise through the March of Dimes with about a dozen other travelers, said the agent told her she must be examined by one of three Toronto physicians approved by DHS.

“I was so aghast. I was saying, ‘I don’t understand this. What is the problem?’” said Richardson, who paid about $6,000 for the trip. “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.”

Richardson, who said she hadn’t discussed her private medical history or background with agents at the airport, said she was told that a call to her psychiatrist wasn’t sufficient.

She said the breakup of a personal relationship triggered her clinical depression in summer 2012 that led to her hospitalization, although she said no police had been involved in that case.

Richardson also said she’d attempted suicide in 2001 as a result of delusions, but she said that medication had generally stabilized her since then.

She said she’s been on three cruises since 2001, traveling each time through the U.S., and had never encountered trouble over her medical history before, and she said her suicide attempt had never been brought up – including by the agent who stopped her this week.

Richardson said the agent gave her a signed document that showed “system checks” had found the “mental illness episode” that required medical clearance before entering the U.S.

A customs spokesperson said the department was prohibited from discussing individual cases due to privacy laws.

Canadian lawmaker Mike Sullivan said the incident was “enormously troubling,” and he intended to contact the nation’s federal privacy commissioner to determine how U.S. agents got access to Richardson’s personal medical information.

Richardson said she’d contacted her attorney about a possible breach of privacy and act of discrimination against those with mental health issues.

A spokeswoman for Ontario’s health ministry said U.S. authorities are not given access to health or medical records for Canadians traveling into the country.

Richardson said she bought insurance for her trip, but the policy does not cover travelers who are denied boarding, although she said the carrier had told her it would continue to examine her claim.

More than a dozen Canadians reported in 2011 and 2010 that they were denied entry to the U.S. after their mental health records were shared with DHS.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

 
 
 
 
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