There’s a reason why Canadian passports are in high demand with international criminals and forgers. Our record of good international relations, history of peacekeeping and foreign aid, and the generally good perception of Canadians gives our passport holders easy entry to more countries than just about any other passport in the world. Fortunately, the federal government continues to improve passport security precautions to discourage misuse. Before they leave, travellers need to talk to the embassies, consulates and offices that represent the countries they want to visit to learn more about entry restrictions. Newer passports have built-in integrated circuits and a warning to treat your passport as an ‘electronic device’. But even if you’re lucky enough to have a legitimate Canadian passport, it does not guarantee your right to travel out of the country, especially if you have a criminal record – and especially to Canadians’ favourite destination, the United States.
Travelling Overseas with a Criminal Record
While any country you visit can stop you from entering for any reason it chooses, the vast majority understand the importance of maintaining a healthy tourist industry, strong business connections and good international relations and they usually give permission to enter to most people who request it. But regardless of your reason for travelling, a criminal record can put a quick, unexpected and inconvenient halt to your plans. Every country has its own guidelines and rules about who can enter. For many, a criminal record isn’t an absolute barrier to entry, but they will exercise discretion based on certain criteria, including the type of offence and how long ago it was committed. Before they leave, travellers need to talk to the embassies, consulates and offices that represent the countries they want to visit to learn more about entry restrictions. To give you an idea of what to expect, here’s a brief list of some of the guidelines the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) uses to determine admissibility for visitors with a criminal record:
- Conviction Judged in Terms of Canadian Criminal Code – Officials will equate the offence(s), for which a criminal record was given, with the Canadian Criminal Code. Certain offences may be more or less serious in Canada.
- Impaired Driving – We usually think that the U.S. is tougher than Canada on entry requirements, but you will probably get into the U.S. with a criminal record for impaired driving. But visitors to Canada are not allowed to enter if their impaired driving conviction is for having blood-alcohol content over the Canadian limit of .08%.
- Some Other Convictions that Can Prevent Entry to Canada – Dangerous driving; common assault; street racing; resisting arrest; possession, supply and/or trafficking of narcotics; shoplifting and fraud.
Traveling to the U.S. with a Criminal Record
Canada’s biggest trading partner and favourite travel destination continues to tighten border security and admissibility requirements. It used to be that Canadians and Americans could cross the border with no more than valid pieces of identification like driver’s licences and social insurance cards. Another way to guarantee that you can cross the U.S. border with a criminal record is to apply for and get a U.S. Entry Waiver, which gives you advanced permission to enter the U.S. Today, while a passport is still not absolutely required for travel by land or sea, it is highly recommended, and a requirement when travelling by air. Whether or not you can enter the U.S. with a criminal record depends on many criteria. As noted above, if your record is for an impaired driving conviction or other offences considered less serious, like disorderly conduct, especially if the conviction is an old one, there’s a good chance you’ll be allowed to enter. On the other end of the spectrum, if your offence was one of ‘moral turpitude’, and was relatively recent, you will very likely not be allowed entry. Examples of a crime of moral turpitude include: murder; manslaughter; sexual assault; theft; forgery; battery and fraud. Every case is different. If you have a criminal record, whether your offence was relatively simple or serious, and regardless of when it was committed, The close relationship between the two countries, especially in the fight against terrorism, has resulted in the CBP having access the RCMP’s National Repository of Criminal Records, which lists every criminal record holder in Canada. it’s best to contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to determine if you would be allowed to enter. Another way to guarantee that you can cross the U.S. border with a criminal record is to apply for and get a U.S. Entry Waiver, which gives you advanced permission to enter the U.S. The waiver application process can take from six to 12 months and requires that you complete a number of forms, submit a U.S. Fingerprint Chart and supply a copy of an official police record of your offence(s), which you can get from the RCMP or a local police service. Due to the complexity of the waiver application process and requirements, many record holders use a waiver application service provider like Pardon Applications of Canada.
If you don’t tell them, how does the U.S. CBP know you have a record?
The close relationship between the two countries, especially in the fight against terrorism, has resulted in the CBP having access the RCMP’s National Repository of Criminal Records, which lists every criminal record holder in Canada. A CBP officer only has to enter your name or scan your passport to find out whether you have a record.
How Being Named in a Police Report Can Affect Your Travel Plans
Access to the RCMP’s Criminal Record database also gives CBP access to police reports from across the country. The unfortunate result for many travellers is that they are unexpectedly detained at border crossings and/or barred from entering the U.S., even when they have no criminal record or have never been charged with an offence. As reported by the CBC, in June, 2012, a woman was told by CBP that the only way she would be allowed into the U.S. to catch a flight, which she later missed, was to get an independent doctor to vouch for her. Why? A 911 call to police that preceded a stay in hospital for clinical depression was recorded in a police report which was found by CBP during a background check. Police did not visit the woman’s home after the call, no charges were laid, no conviction, no criminal record. Unless you ask your local police service or the RCMP, it is impossible to know if your name is included in a police report. If you have a criminal record, or if you have even the slightest idea that your name may appear in a police report, for example, if you gave a statement following a traffic accident that involved negligence – it is best to contact police and/or the CBP before travel to the U.S. to confirm that you’ll be able to enjoy free passage.