“The best way to treat someone who has attempted suicide at one point in their life is to leak their private information to foreign governments, single the individual out at the airport, and inexplicably bar them from travel.”
– No one ever
It’s shocking. Since 2011, it has been reported several times that a number of Canadians, while at the airport going through US Customs, have been approached by a Homeland Security officer with questions about a past suicide attempt(s), before being fully prevented from boarding their flight. How the US border guards knew about the private, sensitive history of Canadians was initially a mystery: why would such a database exist, and how would it be updated?
After numerous complaints about these types of incidents, Ann Cavoukian, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario conducted an investigation into the issue and found that this breach of privacy began at the level of local police forces. Several police departments (including but not limited to Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton) were recording every incident of 911 being called for a suicide attempt. This even included accidental overdoses where suicidal intentions were suspected. This information was then passed on to the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database, which the national RCMP shares in its entirety with the US government. Actually.
In an era where government surveillance is a foregone conclusion, it’s good to know that someone in power is looking out for us. Ann Cavoukian has been absolutely killing it as of late. She’s a persistent fighter for the privacy of Canadians and the right to government transparency, and her loyalty is to the public.
And, she’s dropped the gloves with just about everybody: When the Harper government tried to disguise a bill to increase online surveillance as a law to fight cyber-bullying, Ann rallied against it. When McGuinty’s government tried to cover up their gas plant scandal by deleting masses of e-mails, Ann ruled the entire move illegal and began an investigation of the Ontario Liberals, a move that is making Kathleen Wynne a bit nervous considering this week’s provincial election.
In April, Cavoukian released her findings to the public along with recommendations to mend the situation. These recommendations include adopting a more meticulous method for disclosing information of this kind, only submitting the information of people who blatantly threatened the lives of others during their suicide attempt. So far all of the police forces in question have adopted her recommendations, except for one: Toronto. Apparently the TPS is bent on making life for people who have attempted suicide as hard as needlessly possible. Because that’s just precisely what they need, right? To be further marginalized?
Fortunately, Cavoukian isn’t backing down. This week, Ontario’s privacy czar announced that she’s taking the Toronto Police Service (TPS), one of the nation’s largest police forces, to court.
In response to the announcement for legal action, a rep for the TPS responded that their current methods are necessary to insure public safety because if one of these ‘crazies’ moves somewhere else in the country, the local police of that area need to know about it. They also said that whatever the RCMP decides to do with this information, if that means hand it over to the FBI, is completely up to them, and is out of the TPS’s jurisdiction. Cavoukian is calling bullshit. The potential benefits that the TPS speak of are hugely outweighed by the negative repercussions.
“This will scar them [those with suicidal tendencies] dramatically. My fear is when people hear about these stories it will drive people underground. It will deter people from seeking much needed treatment and care because they’re afraid their information is going to land in the hands of some unknown parties. And that’s exactly what’s happening.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if in the light of this negative media attention, the Toronto Police Service gives in and accepts Cavoukian’s demands, but if they don’t and the TPS fights this thing in court, we have no doubt that our valiant superhero of a privacy commissioner will be ready and willing with her fists up in our corner.