Travel to Canada

Crossing Canadian Border With Prior Drunk Driving Conviction Record

You have to be careful if you are planning to travel to Canada with an OWI on your record. Canada is one of a few countries that excludes non-citizens for having an OWI. Canada shares criminal and motor vehicle databases with the United States and a check of your record at the border or in Canada will likely show your inadmissibility into Canada.

Canadian admissibility is determined by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). Under IRPA, a foreign national is inadmissible into Canada if they committed or were convicted of an offense that would constitute an “indictable” offense under Canadian law. There are a number of charges that can put you into the inadmissible category of persons. The first is impaired driving when a person drives impaired to any degree, no matter how slight, by alcohol or drugs. The second is excessive BAC, when a person drives with a BAC of .08% or more. The third indictable offense is refusing to submit a PBT, breath, or a blood sample to screen for alcohol or drugs. Similarly, a conviction for boating under the influence may also render a person inadmissible into Canada. Any offense that is punishable by a prison term of ten or more years will also render you excludable. It is important to note that even if you are not criminally convicted for OWI but you lose your license in an administrative DOT hearing, you will also be excludable.

A person who has a verdict of guilty, a plea of guilty, or a deferral will be deemed inadmissible under Canadian law. A plea down to a lesser charge than OWI will not make you inadmissible unless the lesser charge would constitute an “indictable” offense under Canadian law. A comparison between the Canadian law and the law of the state you are in is necessary. A person will not only be excludable when driving into Canada but also when traveling to the country by plane and boat as well. If you are inadmissible and found in Canada you can be deported and possibly even prosecuted criminally.

All hope is not lost if you have inadmissible status, however. You may be granted relief from your inadmissibility depending on the nature, number, and timing of your convictions. A person that has a single OWI or other indictable offense that is punishable by less than ten years is automatically deemed “rehabilitated” ten years after the date the court orders its punishment if you don’t get any other convictions. A person with two or more indictable offenses (such as an OWI) cannot be deemed rehabilitated. If you fall into this category or if you just have one OWI and want to be allowed into Canada earlier than ten years, you can apply for rehabilitation status five years after the court orders your punishment. The application is available at the Immigration Canada website. The application fee ranges from $200-1000 Canadian and requires extensive documentation, including references attesting to your good character. The processing time can take up to one year, so plan accordingly.

A person can also apply for a Temporary Resident Permit for those who want to travel to Canada before the five year period. These allow for entry of up to six months. They also range from $200-1000 and can take up to 6 months to issue. These permits can be issued at the border but are rarely granted, so don’t risk it. Whether you will be issued a permit depends on the reason for the visit. Hunting, fishing, or vacation trips are least likely to be approved, while business trips and humanitarian missions are more likely to be granted a permit. The bottom line is to check with an attorney and cover your bases before you take a trip up north.

This content is a summary of, "In and Out of Canada", published in NCDD Journal, Vol. 1, Issue 2, Spring 2010, by Wayne R. Foote, of Bangor, Maine.  The full article can be found at Maine DUI Attorney Wayne R. Foote.

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