You forgot. The court forgot. Canada did not.
Think you can travel to Canada with a twenty-year old DWI? 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 you book that fly-in adventure, business trip, or honeymoon to Niagara, it’s important to address any prior legal entanglements that could prevent entry to Canada.
ARE YOU HOSED?
Canadian immigration law prevents anyone 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 affect your inadmissibility. With preparation, however, many have successfully overcome their inadmissibility and took their dream trip.
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 dismissal of a 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.
We don’t necessarily defend Canadian policy and, indeed, the U.S. has similar rules of entry. But until anything changes, the goal is to offer successful solutions to those affected.
As such, 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. Still, 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.
It’s important to note that only Canadian lawyers, consultants, or notaries can represent a client for compensation before the Canadian immigration service. Our firm partners with Canadian attorneys so clients have the comfort of a local attorney while adhering to Canadian rules.
Every person’s background is different, so it’s worth a call to discuss how you may be affected. Many attorneys, including Chaudhary Law Office, offer a free consultation.
In short, get your ducks in a row before you hunt them. I never advise clients to cross a border without appropriate paperwork. So, 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.
The author is on the board of Minnesota SCI, former outdoor TV host, former Senator, and an immigration attorney specializing in sportsman issues. More information can be found at sportsmanlawyers.blogspot.com.