Prepare Now to Make Sure You’re Admissible to Canada
“Have you ever had a DWI, sir,” the Canadian border agent asks.
You reply, “Well yea, I’ll be honest I got a ‘dooey’ when I was 25 but it got taken care of,” Thinking to yourself, “I’m 55, and look every bit of it. What does this guy care? This better not hang me up cuz this load needs to be delivered to-day.”
The agent smiles, “Pull over to the side, sir.”
Suddenly, a bad feeling comes over you.
You forgot. The court forgot. Unfortunately, Canada does not.
Think you can travel to Canada with a twenty-year old DWI? Thirty-year old assault? Think again. Most Americans take entry into Canada for granted, a borderless extension of America where people say “Eh.” The reality is strikingly different. So, before drivers even consider applying for the FAST, NEXUS, or CANPASS cards, it’s important to address any prior legal entanglements that could prevent entry to Canada.
Canadian immigration law prevents many people with a criminal history, sometimes a mere charge, from crossing their border. The length of time since the conviction, or outcome of the charge, does not always help your chances. With preparation, however, drivers can overcome their inadmissibility and deliver their goods to Canada.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has wide discretion in allowing those with prior offenses to enter Canada. But those who don’t prepare risk a long drive home. Indeed, about two hundred Americans are denied admission each year at the Fort Frances port of entry alone, due to criminal records as minor as reckless driving.
One common myth is that a DWI conviction only prohibits driving privileges in Canada. This is absolutely not the case. In Canada a DUI is a felony that may be punished by imprisonment for up to 5 years, and therefore under the Canadian Immigration Act, can block your entry into Canada.
While many convictions can prevent entry, DWIs, Reckless Driving, Drug Possession, Theft and Assault are the most commonly seen. Even a pending charge can prevent entry to Canada, because a simple matter here may be a big deal in Canada. And since the CBSA can access FBI criminal history records, downplaying one’s past is dangerous.
If you find yourself confronted with this problem, please know there is hope. And although not required, it may benefit to chat with someone who has technical expertise to help.
There are two common solutions to those with prior offenses: 1) apply for “rehabilitation,” or 2) apply for a Temporary Residence Permit. Both processes take time and paperwork beforehand, but can ensure your trip proceeds without delay or embarrassment if turned away at the border.
You can apply for “rehabilitation” if an offense was 5 or 10 years from the completion of your sentence, and can show you are now law abiding. The length of time that must pass depends on the crime’s severity. Rehabilitation is deemed automatic after ten years, but applying at the border during your trip risks delay and added administration costs. Because border agents have wide discretion, you could still be denied.
If not yet eligible for rehabilitation, it is possible to receive a temporary residence permit, if Canadian officers feel a situation deserves special consideration. There are a variety of circumstances under which these permits may be approved, but they are always discretionary, and involve added cost if you risk the crossing. Again, apply beforehand to prevent disappointment at the border.
Chancing it at the border is absolutely not recommended, particularly for those driving long distances. If you’ve “never had a problem before,” it will only be a matter of time before something happens at the border.
Still, it’s not a simple process to address. Immigration rules are fraught with red tape. Any incomplete documentation can easily result in rejection or delay. Required FBI records complaints, orders, sentences, restitution, and probationary documents can be hard to track down. So sometimes it helps to “turf it off” to those with experience in these matters.
Every person’s background is different, so it’s worth a call to discuss how you may be affected.
In short, get your ducks in a row before you hunt them. I never advise clients to cross a border without appropriate paperwork. Even if a minor offense may affect your travel to Canada, please save time, expense, and heartache by studying Canada’s rules online, or contact a qualified attorney.