Travel to Canada with past record
July 11, 2008 8:09 AM   Subscribe

How likely is it that we will be turned back at the Canadian border for 25 year old DUI convictions?

My spouse and I are planning a trip north this fall that may include a short hop into Nova Scotia and/or Ontario. Unfortunately, we both have 25 year old drunk driving convictions (from our college days, long before we met each other) and according to information like this and this it is possible that we will be denied entry. How likely is this? Does everyone get a 20+ year background check? Most people? Only a few who look sketchy? Any advice from people in a similar situation is appreciated.

Our options we are considering are avoiding Canada all together or making travel arrangements that don't involve hefty deposits and such and having a backup plan if we turn back. Also, since the convictions in question we each have had a few non-DUI tickets and have never been arrested, much less convicted for, shoplifting, drug offenses, and other crimes that could make us inadmissible. Thanks for your help.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around Canada (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In 2005 a friend and I went to Canada. We both had DUI convictions from about 15 years ago at the time and we had no problem entering the country. I believe that was just before the requirement that you had to have a passport to enter and other tighter restrictions came into effect.

I did get a passport anyway and I remember being worried about the DUI. That info from your second link looks familiar, so I think that was on my radar at the time.

P.S. I got some good travel tips for Nova Scotia with this AskMe.
posted by marxchivist at 8:21 AM on July 11, 2008

In this case all the standard border-crossing tips apply: when you approach the guard's booth at the crossing:
*remove your sunglasses if you're wearing them -- this is critical. Hiding your eyes will make you look (no pun intended) shady.
*hand over your ID for yourself and your spouse -- don't make them wait while you dig it out of your purse, have it handy as soon as you pull up
*speak clearly, be friendly, and tell the truth: you're headed to X for a short vacation.

If I had a 25-year old conviction I wouldn't hesitate to enter. I can't imagine you'll have problems.

The only time I ever had trouble at the crossing was when I was driving my US car and I had an old Canadian license plate on back seat (we'd just junked my husband's car and he threw it in there for lack of another place to put it). The guard noticed the plate and said, "Uh, you have plans for that Canadian plate?" To him it was a total red-flag -- maybe I was planning on swapping my plates when I got across! Who knows! I said, "That's an old plate of my husband's, his name is X, it's registered to X Car" -- and then he let me through without another question. The point of the story is I was able to explain what I was doing and I supplied all the needed information. I was friendly, speaking clearly, and I had a good attitude. I am pretty positive that if I'd given him lip or acted shady in response to his question he'd pull me over for a good long search and detainment.
posted by kate blank at 8:41 AM on July 11, 2008

I have heard anecdotal reports that things have toughened up in recent years and you might have trouble. My mom told me a story about a friend of a friend who's friend was denied entry due to an old DUI. Apparantly the border agents now have access to the US criminal record database and they just run your name through as a matter of process.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:48 AM on July 11, 2008

I went up to Montreal a couple of weeks ago, and they didn't even check our passports going into Canada. Just asked a couple of questions about what we were up to. It was a bit of a joke. (Coming back into the US was much more rigorous.)
posted by smackfu at 9:03 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Why not apply for a pardon in the meantime? If everything you say regarding your law-abidingness is correct, it may essentially be a rubber stamp process, and should allay most of your fears.
posted by astrochimp at 9:05 AM on July 11, 2008

Disclaimer: I'm not sure how long the pardon process takes, nor how early or late in the fall you plan to travel.
posted by astrochimp at 9:06 AM on July 11, 2008

It is entirely possible that you can be barred from entry, regardless of the age of the DUI conviction.

In short, here's how it breaks down for a DUI charge. Dates are from the date you completed your sentence, not from the date you were charged.

1-5 years: No way. Forget about it. You can apply for a $200 special entry permission-type form to let you in. Takes a few months to process.

6-10 years: Still an automatic "no" at the border if somebody looks you up, but now you can apply for a "rehabilitated" certificate from the Canadian government. You need a police record for everywhere you've lived in the past 10 years, a record of your conviction and execution of your punishment (fine, prison time, whatnot), and letters from at least two members of your current community testifying that you are a good egg. Also about $200 for processing.

10 years and up: you can be barred at the discretion of the customs officer. Being barred at the border is longer automatic, though. You could be "deemed rehabilitated" at the border, in which case no problems. You can always apply for the "rehabilitated" status to be on the safe side, but if you are presentable, well-behaved and don't set off any particular alarm bells you should be okay. But there is always the possibility of getting the random-check stop and having a prick on a bad day waiting for you at the border.

This is what you need to know, basically.

This is in the Canadian Government FAQ covering almost exactly your situation:

In 1989, I was convicted of driving while impaired in the United States. I did not serve any time in prison and I have had no other convictions. Will I be allowed to enter Canada?

Based on your circumstances, it is possible that you would be found by an immigration officer to be rehabilitated under a system called deemed rehabilitation. Deemed rehabilitation applies to people who have one previous conviction dating back more than 10 years. If an immigration officer finds that you are deemed rehabilitated, it is likely that you will be allowed to enter Canada as long as all other requirements are also met.

It works more or less the same way in reverse, except the U.S. only restricts people with felonies (Canada is only felonies PLUS DUI, which is the only non-felony that you can get barred for).

IANA(Immigration)L, but my fiancée is American and has an ancient DUI and we're working through the rehabilitation thingamadoo right now just to be on the safe side.

Just because you enter once is no precedent for future entry. If you're not deemed rehabilitated, you roll the dice every time you enter the country.
posted by Shepherd at 9:51 AM on July 11, 2008

Shepherd: It works more or less the same way in reverse, except the U.S. only restricts people with felonies

On paper, but the border authority has discretion. There's this publicized case of a Canadian psychotherapist permanently denied entry to the US in 2006 because a US border guard googled and found a 2001 journal article by him admitting to having used LSD in the 60s while he was in line at the checkpoint. Note that this academic was never arrested for the drug-taking.
posted by daksya at 10:55 AM on July 11, 2008

a short hop into Nova Scotia and/or Ontario

Uhhh, you do realize these places are about 18 hours apart by car? Unless you're flying, it's one or the other for a "short hop".

Speaking as a Haligonian with many relatives in T.O. who's made that drive many times.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 10:57 AM on July 11, 2008

My neighbor was recently denied entry for exactly this. A nearly 20-year old DUI conviction had them turn him back at the border. He has had no problem getting into Canada for an annual fishing trip every year prior to this. So, I'd have a backup plan in place.
posted by amanda at 12:46 PM on July 11, 2008

There seem to be a higher incidence of people being turned back at land borders (which were commonly perceived as a bit "softer" than air travel, especially at crossover points between major cities) recently; the logic I've heard (I live quite close to the border) is that there's a bit of tit-for-tat going on with the U.S. border guards getting very aggressive about passports and the Canadians getting their huff on and being more aggressive about turning back people they might have let in a year ago.

That's purely anecdotal, mind, but I'm definitely hearing more "turned back for minor stuff" stories these days.
posted by Shepherd at 1:10 PM on July 11, 2008

Anecdotal: 2005(?), I met a clean cut middle-aged couple on vacation in Alaska. They were going to drive through Canada to get to Alaska. They were barred at the Canadian border and had to leave their RV behind and fly direct to Alaska.

One of them had been caught with alcohol in a car (or something like that, not a DUI), while a minor (16 or 17, maybe 30 years ago). It was some really low-grade offense in that jurisdiction. But in Canada, it wouldn't be, and the border guards had access to The Database, which included juvenile offenses.

So, yeah, they might label you undesirables. How likely? - I don't know, but you can toss this data point into the collection.
posted by coffeefilter at 3:09 PM on July 11, 2008

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