For years one of the most common questions we have gotten, especially as DUI defense attorneys in Seattle, has been, “will a conviction for DUI prevent me from going to Canada?” The answer to that question has always been “yes”. In fact, a conviction for any offense that is “indictable” under Canadian law, if known to exist, can prevent a person from being able to cross into Canada. This includes convictions for reduced charges from DUI such as Reckless Driving and Negligent Driving in the First Degree as well. A common follow up question has usually been, “can I get into Canada with a pending DUI charge even if I haven’t been convicted”
Pending DUI and Entry into Canada
Whereas once the answer to that question was “probably not”, it seems that things may be changing. More and more it appears that Canadian border crossing guards, if aware of the pending DUI charge, will not allow entry into that country. Why is that?
Unlike convictions, where exclusion is mandatory, exclusion based upon a pending charge was always left to the individual border agent’s discretion. And for years that discretion seemingly was being exercised overwhelmingly in favor of allowing entry. Anecdotally, since 1993 I have only been made aware of one client with a pending charge who was turned away at the border and even that was remedied in fairly short order. However, that discretion to make those decisions may be being taken away from the guards themselves and centralized. While it has yet to happen to one of our clients, we are hearing more and more stories of people with current charges but no conviction being turned away at the border, both drivers and passengers. It really seems to come down to whether or not the agent has knowledge of the pending charge.
How Does the Canadian Border Patrol Discover Pending DUI Charges?
If the information is not yet in any criminal conviction database, how would the agent even know about it? It would most likely from one of two sources. If a person was booked and finger printed, those prints and the alleged crime involved will be found in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Also, any administrative action taken by the Washington Department of Licensing will show up on a person’s driving record. Both the U.S. Federal Government and the State of Washington, due to its proximity, readily share information, both criminal and driving records, with Canada. Therefore if a person was booked and fingerprinted or if that person suffered an administrative license suspension based upon the arrest and if the border agent discovers the information, it now appears as though that person may be at a greater risk of being denied entry into Canada.
Re-establishing the Ability to Enter Canada, Post Arrest or Conviction
Once one has been arrested for a DUI or has a pending DUI charge, there exist essentially four ways to re-establish the ability to enter Canada. The first is for the DUI charge itself to be dismissed completely. If that were to occur there would be no pending charge or conviction that would justify the denial. If however there is a conviction for an offense that does prevent access, there remain three ways to rectify the situation.
If the sentence for the DUI related conviction had been completed within less than five years one must seek to obtain a Temporary Resident Permit. This process can take months so plan accordingly. If the DUI related sentence was completed more than five years ago, one can apply for an Approval of Rehabilitation. Again this application must be made in advance of traveling to Canada. Finally, if more than ten years have passed, the Approval for Rehabilitation can be made at the border at the time of crossing
The information contained within this post is accurate at the time It was posted. Laws however do change. When dealing with foreign immigration issues, we always recommend that one seek the advice of an immigration attorney from that country. Therefore, in cases regarding Canadian immigration, always seek the counsel of a Canadian immigration attorney to get the best and most up to date information possible.