In the wake of a report castigating police forces for automatically disclosing and sharing suicide attempts – info that gets into the hands of U.S. border guards, among others – many are wondering what bits of their personal info police databases might have, and whether it could prove compromising when crossing the border.
There’s no good reason, Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian argued, for international police forces to know about Canadians’ suicide attempts or threats to kill themselves – unless they pose a danger to others, which few do. And while most Ontario police forces exercise a degree of discretion over whether they upload that data to the Canadian Police Information Centre database, Toronto Police automatically put everything up there, she writes.
READ MORE: Stop automatically disclosing suicide attempts, privacy czar tells cops
Toronto Police dispute that: Spokesperson Mark Pugash said officers do have discretion over everything that goes onto CPIC but wouldn’t say what that entails, whether there might be a suicide threat or attempt that doesn’t make it onto CPIC or what factors are taken into consideration in determining that.
But he defended the practice of sharing information on suicide attempts between police forces.
“What happens say, for example, we have information about you – you’ve tried to kill yourself four times. You move to Peel. Police get called … the only way to find that information out is to go on CPIC,” he said.
If Cavoukian’s objection is to sharing info with American authorities, Pugash argued, she should take that up with the RCMP, which is outside her jurisdiction.
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So: Are police sharing your personal info? And will it get you barred from the U.S.?
The first question’s easier to answer than the second.
READ MORE: Suicide profiling at the U.S. border
You could formally request personal information from the RCMP, which is in charge of the Canadian Police Information Centre. But this can be quite time-consuming.
Or, says Patrick Baillie a lawyer and psychologist with Alberta Health Services and Calgary Police, you can submit an application for a police records check, and see what people would get back if they did a background check on you.
One or both of these will tell you what Canadian police know. But it won’t necessarily tell you what U.S. border guards will do with that knowledge.
“Crossing the border puts you in contact with someone who has the discretion to grant or deny admission,” Baillie said.
Police may ask you about suicide attempts – or pretty much anything else, really. How you answer may help you, however.
“Border officials have huge authority and can ask pretty much whatever questions they want. Knowing what your local police service might have already shared can help individuals to decide for themselves how to answer those questions.”