No Self-Cleaning Oven Crossing the Canadian Border

“When I was crossing the border into Canada, they asked if I had any firearms with me. I said, “Well, what do you need?”
– comedian Steven Wright

Foreigners working in the USA with H1B visas better keep their noses clean. An alcohol-related offense has FlyerTalk member swengineer worried about renewing a visa. FlyerTalk member Often1 advises: “Get yourself a really good immigration attorney. Screw ups here can result in problems, not just now, but for many years. The US takes alcohol-related stuff really seriously and, unfortunately for you, motor vehicle crimes are much better and rapidly tracked than non-motor vehicle.”

Canada takes “alcohol-related stuff” seriously, too.

Consider this. You and your old college buddies plan an annual ski trip. You’re thinking Banff, Canada, But settle on Colorado because years ago one of you was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in his home state.

Depending on the whim of the Canadian immigration official, your buddy might be turned back upon landing in Calgary (Banff’s gateway) and forced to take the next flight home. In 2010, almost 7,000 Americans were denied entry to Canada for youthful indiscretions, alcohol-related driving offenses, and, yes, worse.

There’s no self-cleaning oven when you cross a border. Not in this wired world. And a spur-of-the-moment lie can be considered worse than a past offense.

It’s all right there on the US State Department website.  “Anyone with a criminal record (including misdemeanors or alcohol-related driving offenses) may not be able to enter Canada without first obtaining a special waiver well in advance of any planned travel.”

Up in Washington State, the ferry service to Victoria reports that every week a handful of passengers are turned back on Vancouver Island for past DUI/DWI offenses.

Reportedly, even President George Bush had to get a waiver to enter Canada because of a 1976 drunken-driving offense in Maine.

But there are, too, many stories of frequent flyers that had no trouble getting into Canada, even though they had past convictions. Some entered Canada several times until one day they were denied. Canadian border officials have complete discretion, raising and lowering the drawbridge in their mind on a whim. But the facts suggest that the older the conviction, the better chance you have. Five years might be the tipping point.

However, last March, ever-mutating Canadian immigration announced a new policy that might allow U.S. travelers with a rap sheet in if there is only one conviction in their past and it involved no jail time.

Canada also grants about 10,000 Temporary Resident Permits every year (pro athletes with a criminal record take advantage of this). Applications are available at Canadian visa offices in the USA. According to a government website, a temporary resident permit temporarily overcomes inadmissibility. This is how infamous Conrad Black got into Canada after his stint at Miami’s Federal Correction Institution.

Another way to enter Canada if you have a sketchy past is to apply for rehabilitation. If your conviction is more than 5 years old, this route will potentially set you right with Canada for life. Fees and time (usually 6-12 months) are involved.

So have you got any stories to share about crossing the Canadian border?

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