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Forward Motion

Want to know how to piss off an undercover nun?


It’s easy: you mess with the least of these.

In this case, your Sister is well and truly ticked off at her own government… and the next-door neighbor’s government as well.  The reason is so appalling that I thought the headline had to be journalistic hyperbole, but it isn’t.

More than a dozen Canadians have told the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office in Toronto within the past year that they were blocked from entering the United States after their records of mental illness were shared with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Lois Kamenitz, 65, of Toronto contacted the office last fall, after U.S. customs officials at Pearson International Airport prevented her from boarding a flight to Los Angeles on the basis of her suicide attempt four years earlier.

This is true.  This actually happened.  The thing is, US Customs didn’t know it was a suicide attempt.  The information they had was so vague that it could mean any number of things, including that Ms. Kamenitz was a victim of crime.

Kamenitz says she was stopped at customs after showing her passport and asked to go to a secondary screening. There, a Customs and Border Protection officer told Kamenitz that he had information that police had attended her home in 2006. …

Kamenitz says she asked the officer how he had obtained her medical records.

“That was the only thing I could think of,” she says. “But he said, no, he didn’t have my medical records but he did have a contact note from the police that [they] had attended my home.”

The kicker is that US Customs demanded a medical clearance before allowing her into the country.

A medical clearance.

For someone who had suffered from major depression.


In the US, one in six people will experience a depressive episode during their life: that’s 16% of the population.  At any given time, about 6% of people in the US (7% in Canada) have major depression.  That’s 2 million Canadians, living with depression right now.

In Canada, the suicide rate is about 15 per 100,000 people, so each year, so that’s close to 5,000 suicide deaths occurring in Canada each year.  But that’s not the whole picture: for each death by suicide, there are about 11 non-fatal suicide attempts.  That would mean that in Canada, each year, there are almost 60,000 suicide attempts (5,000 deaths + 55,000 attempts).

These are big numbers.  And behind those big numbers are a whole lot of people.  A whole lot of very vulnerable people.  People whose pain becomes so unbearable that they cannot find a way — can’t even imagine a way! — out of the darkness. And when they succumb to that pain and darkness, US Customs thinks they’ve become a Homeland Security risk.


So far, the RCMP hasn’t provided the [Psychiatric Patient Advocate] office with clear answers about how or why police records of non-violent mental health incidents are passed across the border.

But according to diplomatic cables released earlier this year by WikiLeaks, any information entered into the national Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database is accessible to American authorities.

Local police officers take notes whenever they apprehend an individual or respond to a 911 call, and some of this information is then entered into the CPIC database, says Stylianos. He says that occasionally this can include non-violent mental health incidents in which police are involved.

Yeah, and guess what other kind of incidents police could be involved in.  A loud argument that spills into the front yard?  A burglary?  A vandalism?  Knowing that the police have been to someone’s home means absolutely nothing, not without further information.  And knowing that the police have been to someone’s home has absolutely no bearing on whether that person might be a security risk.

So are you ready for the part that really pissed me off?  Here it comes.

Kamenitz notes that suicide isn’t a criminal offence in either country.

“It speaks to the myth we still hold,” Kamenitz says, “that people with a mental illness are violent criminals.”

At less than five feet tall, with a debilitating form of arthritis that makes it impossible for her to complete daily tasks like cooking and dressing without assistance, Kamenitz says she is hardly a threat to U.S. Homeland Security.

I’ve been battling not only anxiety and depression but also chronic pain since my teen years,” Kamenitz explains. “I am not a criminal.”

Holy smokes, Homeland Security!  For the love of God, you put a little old lady — wait, make that a crippled little old lady! — through four days of fear, frustration, and expenses before you would let her visit the US!  You required her to submit confidential medical records and to submit to evaluation by an “approved” physician before you would let her cross the border.


My God, I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

Because I’ll tell you: I have never been so ashamed for my country before.  Ever.

Ms. Kamenitz, I am so terribly sorry for what happened to you.  It was appalling.  It was an abomination.  It should never happen to anyone.

And U.S. Customs at Pearson International Airport in Toronto?  Undercover Nun is praying for your immortal souls.  God knows, you need it.

3 years ago on 30 September 2011 @ 6:01pm 17 notes