Approximately one million international travelers enter Canada every month.
Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) place massive importance on securing the country's borders from those who may pose a risk. For this reason, they are motivated to deny entry to anyone who is likely to commit a crime during a visit to Canada.
If you have a past criminal charge in a foreign country, your admissibility to Canada is calculated based on the equivalency of the foreign criminal offence into Canadian law. If the offense translates to a summary offense, and it is your only criminal conviction, you may be considered admissible to Canada and not require permission to enter.
If the translation is to one of an indictable offence, which can be defined as serious criminality, you may be considered criminally inadmissible to Canada. No matter the situation, it is always suggested to consult with a Canadian immigration attorney to understand the law and address any inadmissibility issues prior to traveling.
Criminal inadmissibility is when an individual is denied entry to Canada on grounds of criminality reasons. If you have committed an act outside Canada that is an offence in both the country in which it took place and in Canada, you could be denied entry.
Here are some of the factors that may make you criminally inadmissible without ever having set foot in Canada:
- If you were convicted in a foreign country of an act that Canadian law also recognizes as a criminal offence. You could be considered criminally inadmissible if Canada would consider your crime an “indictable offence,” which generally refers to a more serious crime. In the U.S. it is comparable to a felony.
- If you have two non-indictable offences from separate acts, you may also be inadmissible. As the name suggests, these are less serious than indictable offences, and are generally comparable to misdemeanors in the U.S.
It is important to note that a conviction is not necessary for events that occurred outside of Canada to result in inadmissibility. In certain instances, an arrest or charge may result in questioning from Canadian border authorities.
Although the foreign equivalent of a Canadian Criminal Code infraction is the most common cause of inadmissibility, an offence that equates to a violation of any Canadian federal law can also result in inadmissibility. If you have been determined to have committed an act in a foreign country that is both an offence in that country, and an indictable offence in Canada, you may also be criminally inadmissible.
The same applies to two or more crimes that are summary offences in Canada. All that is required is credible evidence that you committed the act. This category is meant to catch individuals with unresolved criminal charges.
Temporary residents and applicants for permanent residency can be deemed criminally inadmissible if they:
- Were convicted of an offence in Canada;
- Were convicted of an offence outside of Canada that is a crime according to the laws of both that country and Canada; or
- Committed a crime according to the laws of another country that would also be punishable in Canada.
Keep in mind: Foreign convictions, acts, and laws are compared to Canadian laws and standards when determining an individual’s criminal inadmissibility.
If you have been found to be criminally inadmissible, or think you may be deemed inadmissible upon arrival, it is important to know that you still have options.
The Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) and Criminal Rehabilitation applications offer short and long-term solutions respectively to those found ineligible to enter due to the grounds of inadmissibility.
Canada and the United States share criminal history information via travel documents to ensure the safety of its inhabitants. No matter the method by which you enter Canada, you are required to show a Passport and any visa in possession to a border agent at the port of entry (land, air, sea).
Once the passport has been processed, an immigration officer has access to your federal criminal history report and State police records, which in turn can result in questioning or even a denial of entry. There is no presumption of innocence at the border, so even pending charges can alert an immigration officer to further screen a traveler. Border agents at international airports also receive passenger lists and can conduct a background check on any traveler on a particular flight.
If a person on an incoming flight has a criminal record, they would likely be flagged and pulled aside upon landing in Canada. If you are interested in requesting a similar report to one that can be seen at a Canadian border, it is suggested to seek out your own FBI criminal background report.
Canadian Criminal Equivalency – Why is it Important?
The Canadian criminal code is complex and finding the equivalent offense to that of one on your record can often be arduous.
In order to confirm your admissibility to Canada, you must understand the translation of your criminal record into Canadian law. Once a translation has been made, it would become easier to determine if you are able to enter the country or not. There are other barriers of entry that can exclude someone from gaining access to Canada, yet when a criminal record is the issue the translation into Canadian law is most important.
If your offence has a similar equivalency to one in Canada, you may be considered inadmissible to the country. Offences such as DUI, theft or reckless driving can typically result in inadmissibility as they are crimes in Canada as well. Finding the Canadian equivalent can be difficult in scenarios where a unique or uncommon crime takes place, as a deep understanding of Canadian law is required.
Can I Enter Canada with an Old Criminal Record?
A common situation arises at Canadian ports of entry, a foreign traveler attempting to enter Canada with old criminal history. It is important to understand that depending on the nature of your crime(s), the time that has elapsed since completing all sentencing and its Canadian law equivalent, time in certain cases is not a determining factor in establishing admissibility to Canada.
There are certain crimes that an individual can be deemed rehabilitated for, which involves waiting 10 years from the completion of all sentencing. If for example you have a single DUI conviction with no other criminal history, and it has been more than 10 years from completion of all sentencing, you should be considered rehabilitated by the passage of time.
In circumstances where more serious criminal history is on record, for example a felony in the US, time since completing the offense may not be relevant to your admissibility to Canada. In these circumstances, you are required to apply for criminal rehabilitation in order to receive a certificate from the Canadian government which ensures you are admissible to the country.
Inadmissibility to Canada may affect a broad range of people. However, individuals in certain situations may be particularly affected from a personal and/or professional point of view. These occupations/individuals include:
- Performing artists
- Airlines and their staff
- People wishing to go on a hunting or fishing trip to Canada
- People traveling to and from Alaska
- People engaged in cross-border trade
- People transiting through Canada
- People who have committed a crime in Canada or have been charged with a crime in Canada.
What Makes You Inadmissible to Canada?
What an individual must do in order to overcome inadmissibility and gain entry will depend on the classification of the offence and the length of time that has elapsed since the completion of the sentence. The associated application processing fees may also depend on the offence classification.
Sentences can consist of many possible sanctions - sometimes used in combination - a judge might impose to punish the commission of an offence. These can include:
- Jail time
- License suspension
Note: When more than one such measure is imposed, it is the date of completion of the final one that is considered for the purposes of Canadian inadmissibility.
As a general rule, any act that is an offence in the country in which it is performed, as well as an offence in Canada, has the potential to render an individual inadmissible to Canada.
The following is a rundown of the principal offences for which most travelers may be denied entry. If you have been convicted of any of the offences listed below, the temporary resident permit (TRP) and criminal rehabilitation applications can serve as solutions.
United States Driving Offences Involving Alcohol or Drugs
In terms of inadmissibility, the most frequent U.S offences are those pertaining to driving or otherwise operating a vehicle (car, motorcycle, boat, etc.) while intoxicated. Such offences have different designations, depending on the circumstances of the infraction and where the offence was committed.
In the United States, these offences include:
- DUI (driving under the influence)
- DWI (driving while impaired/intoxicated)
- DWAI (driving while ability impaired)
- DWUI (driving while under the influence)
- OWI (operating while intoxicated)
- OUI (operating under the influence)
- OMVI (operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated)
A conviction for reckless driving in the U.S is often seen as similar to a DUI (or any variation thereof). While the former may be better than the latter, in terms of inadmissibility, they both carry the same effect — potential denial of entry. Dangerous driving is another analogous offence that also results in inadmissibility.
In fact, any serious driving violation has the potential of hindering an individual’s ability to legally enter the country, regardless of whether the individual in question will be driving in Canada.
Fraud is a general category of offences that includes any violation committed with the intent of depriving another party of anything of which they are the rightful owner. This other party can be an individual or a company/organization.
Theft is the most obvious offence that falls under fraud. Depending on the nature of the theft and the amount stolen, the offence will be considered more or less serious by Canadian immigration authorities.
For example, theft under $5,000 is considered a non-serious criminality, while theft over this amount is considered to constitute serious criminality. Moreover, if the theft is performed with the aid of a weapon, violence, or the threat of violence, these elements can be aggravating factors in determining the seriousness of an infraction.
The use of a credit card with the knowledge that it has been revoked or cancelled is another form of fraud that can result in inadmissibility to Canada. Using a method of payment when the individual is aware the other party will not be compensated is also an offence, as it entails deceit. The same reasoning applies to knowingly using a bad cheque, an offence which often carries with it a determination of inadmissibility.
Assault can refer to several different forms of threats and/or physical altercation that might take place between individuals. These can range from menacing words or gestures to spontaneous bar fights to passionate crimes of violence carried out with premeditation and intent. Sexual assault is a very serious kind of assault. Regardless of their place along this spectrum, most incidents of assault result in inadmissibility to Canada.
There can be certain mitigating or aggravating factors that affect the seriousness of the assault. These pertain primarily to whether a weapon was employed in carrying out the assault, and whether bodily harm was inflicted upon the victim of the assault. If a weapon was used and/or injury to the victim resulted from the assault, then this offence would be considered serious criminality.
For the purposes of Canadian inadmissibility, this finding could lead to an individual being assessed as more of a security risk by Canadian immigration authorities, and a determination of inadmissibility is more likely to ensue.
Both serious assault (using a weapon and/or inflicting bodily harm) and non-serious assault (no weapon and no bodily harm) can render an individual inadmissible.
A charge for the production, possession, purchase, consumption, or distribution of drugs can all have the effect of rendering an individual inadmissible.
The nature and context of the particular offence will impact its seriousness and affect the likelihood of an individual being found inadmissible.
Drugs are classified according to different schedules in the Canada’s Criminal Code. This classification determines the nature and gravity of the offence and the severity of the punishments available to sanction its commission.
For example, possession of cannabis and the possession of cocaine are seen as very different offences. Therefore, the sanction to punish cocaine possession is usually harsher than that which applies to marijuana.
Another example of differences in classifications is that, the possession of certain drugs under a specified amount might not result in inadmissibility, while the unauthorized distribution of the same drug in the same amount can do so.