Even though Canada and the US (including Minnesota) share a border and certain cultural similarities and values, it is important to remember that Canada is a sovereign, foreign country with its own laws and requirements. An American entering Canada must abide by certain procedures, and this process becomes even more complicated with any type of criminal conviction, even for minor infractions.
Canadian Immigration Law
Under Canadian law, a person with a valid passport who meets other requirements for admittance may still be denied entry for prior criminal history, even if the crime did not occur in Canada. Thus, virtually any type of criminal conviction has the potential to ban entry into Canada. Particularly since 9/11, information sharing between the two nations has resulted in Canadian authorities having greater access to American citizens’ criminal histories.
Among the most common criminal convictions that bar one’s entry into Canada is a DUI/DWI. Canadian law states that American defendants—or those with outstanding warrants—can be prevented from entering the country.
The Ten-Year Rule
One of the most common yet relatively unknown consequences of a DUI/DWI conviction is that it can prevent individuals from traveling to Canada for up to ten years. Pursuant to the Canada Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), the US crime in and of itself does not automatically bar entry into our Northern neighbor, but it is what said crime equates to under Canadian law that determines whether a person will be barred or not.
For example, whereas a first DUI/DWI is generally a misdemeanor in many US jurisdictions including Minnesota, in Canada, such an offense is called a “hybrid” that can be charged as either a summary conviction offense (misdemeanor) or an indictable offense (felony). Consequently, Canadian policy states that any conviction for an indictable offense is grounds for exclusion for a minimum of ten years, or until the individual is otherwise granted a temporary resident permit or subsequently deemed to be rehabilitated.
Temporary Resident Permits and Criminal Rehabilitation
This doesn’t mean that if someone has a criminal conviction in the US that s/he won’t be allowed to visit Canada. Certain remedies are available, such as applying for a temporary resident permit or by applying for criminal rehabilitation. In Canada, people are eligible to apply for rehabilitation:
- If they committed a crime outside of Canada; AND
- Five years have passed since the sentence ended.
Those wishing to apply for criminal rehabilitation must demonstrate that the requisite time has elapsed and that they have led a stable life without additional criminal charges or convictions. A stable lifestyle involves such conditions as having a permanent residence, stable employment, and even letters of reference.
Of particular note is that it may take up to a year for such requests to be approved.
How Sentence Reductions Affect Entry
Even if a DUI/DWI is reduced to a reckless driving or other lesser conviction, even though it may enable the person to enter Canada, there may still be problems, based on the actual case’s structure. Thus, if a criminal defendant takes a plea agreement for a lesser charge, it is important to ensure that the conditions of said agreement are drafted with future travel to Canada in mind.
It is critically important that if admonished from entering Canada for a specific period of time, an individual pays heed because if s/he chooses to try to attempt entry at another port, then Canadian criminal investigation charges may ensue. All traveler data is entered into a database that flags any individual who has been previously barred from entry.
The Canadian Border Services Agency reports that the number of American citizens barred from entering Canada exceeds 5,000 annually, and this number continues to rise as Canadian officials have greater access to American criminal records.
For more information, or if you or someone you know has been denied entrance to Canada because of a DUI/DWI conviction, please contact us.