Privacy watchdog drops case against Toronto police over attempted suicide info

The watchdog says it has withdrawn its case because Toronto police have developed new procedures to better protect people's privacy. Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

TORONTO – Ontario’s privacy commissioner is no longer taking legal action against Toronto police over the sharing of attempted suicide-related information with U.S. border services.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office says it has withdrawn its case because the force has developed new procedures to better protect people’s privacy.

It says the new measures restrict the disclosure of attempted suicide-related information to American border services through an RCMP database, while allowing “time-limited” public safety disclosures to police in Canada.

The measures also provide affected individuals with a right to seek early removal of their information from the Canadian Police Information Centre database.

READ MORE: Suicide profiling at US border investigated

The privacy commissioner’s office had filed an application for judicial review with an Ontario court in 2014, asking for an order to stop the broad disclosure of suicide-related information to U.S. agencies through the database.

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The issue had come under the national spotlight after an Ontario woman went public in 2013 with her story of being turned away by a U.S. customs agent at Toronto’s Pearson airport because she had been hospitalized in June 2012 for clinical depression.

Richardson, who said she had been suicidal before being hospitalized, said the agent cited the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, 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.

WATCH: If your medical history includes a suicide attempt – don’t expect US border security to treat you the same as everyone else. Jackson Proskow reports on a cautionary tale about the information age.

The privacy commissioner’s office, which investigated the issue, said since launching its legal action, Toronto police worked with the RCMP to create a new mechanism allowing all police services to suppress suicide-related entries from being accessed by U.S. users of the Canadian Police Information Centre database.

“By working collaboratively, the IPC and the TPS have been able to address privacy and public safety,” said Information and Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish. “I recommend that other Ontario police services incorporate the new safeguards into their suicide-related CPIC disclosure procedures.”

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READ MORE: Watchdog probes reports of private health info being shared with U.S. border services

A Toronto police spokesman said the measures developed to deal with the issue were first announced in a police board report in the middle of last year.

“There were genuine issues of privacy and civil liberties and issues of security, and we took those concerns to heart,” said Mark Pugash. “I think we all have come up with a solution that addresses those concerns.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said it was pleased with the new measures from Toronto police but suggested other mental health-related police records – beyond suicide attempts – ought to receive similar protection to guard against discrimination at the U.S. border.

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