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Police Databases and Stigma

February 16, 2013 1 comment

Christ, just write something already!

According to this (admittedly old) article, if you live in Canada and you have a police report that includes the fact that you have a mental illness, it will be shared with the American Department of Homeland Security. You could be denied entry to the USA until you get a doctor’s note ($250) indicating that you are not a risk to others.

After the horrific events at Sandy Hook, gun enthusiasts were desperate to transfer the blame for the tragedy from easy access to guns to something else. They chose violent video games and the mentally ill. They called for a national database of the mentally ill similar to the one for sex offenders. If such a database ever came to fruition, I don’t think it is much of a stretch to think that getting put into the police database in Canada would eventually find one put into this database as well. Luckily for the moment it is nothing more than a rhetorical smokescreen.

Just a quick aside: I think it’s all too possible to over-simplify the causes of mass-murder. I don’t want to point a finger at any single cause and say that the killer’s mental state was irrelevant. It’s not an either/or situation. However, the vast majority of mentally ill people are harmless, as are the vast majority of legitimate gun owners, and the vast majority of video game enthusiasts. People want easy answers but there are none. Every person is a complex individual with a myriad of factors contributing to make him or her who he or she is.

Back to the main point: it is already true that getting the police involved in your mental illness in Canada can get you stigmatized in the USA. Now add to that the possibility of a national database and it means that the stigma can not only occur at the border, but potentially anywhere in the country. No one wants to live with the fear that a routine traffic stop could turn into a major incident. Furthermore, for many Canadians travel to the USA doesn’t just involve vacations or shopping, but also business trips or visits to family members–that is, trips that are harder to do without. Sometimes it’s not a matter of just staying home.

The result is that some mentally ill Canadians with ties to the USA will be (perhaps should be) motivated to hide their illness from law enforcement on both sides of the border. The national database the NRA and others are talking about is unlikely at the moment, but should it ever become a reality (there will always be more tragedies and people love scapegoats), the motivation to hide just becomes greater. Instead of seeking help, some mentally ill people will suffer in silence and fear.

Luckily the NRA’s database exists only in an uncertain future. Unfortunately the Canada/USA police database exists today.