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Trying to Travel with a Canadian Criminal Record? Think Again

Article by Ned Lecic

Let’s suppose that a Canadian has a father who lives in Chicago, IL and is sick and on the point of death. The person naturally wants to visit his father and is planning to travel there. There is just one issue, though: he has a criminal record for having grown marijuana a number of years back. Should he travel?

It is illegal to travel to the United States if one has committed a drug crime or a “crime involving moral turpitude”. One might think the hypothetical Canadian criminal record holder above could just attempt to cross the border anyway. This would be a very bad idea as his name is in the Canadian Police Information Centre system and may have been shared with the US Department of Homeland Security. Certainly unless he can get the Canadian criminal record removed from the public record with a pardon, he will not be able to get into the US if they check his identification.

At best, he will be turned away from the border crossing after a few hours of being held for attempting to enter the US, which happened one person I heard of as he and a co-worker tried to drive from Vancouver to a meeting with a client in Seattle, and all that was on his “record” was a bar fight when he was 19.

At worst, he will be taken into custody on the spot until he can be officially deported days or weeks later. This happens every so often as tabloid-style newspapers often sensationally report.

Even if a person has received a pardon, they may be stopped if the Canadian police already shared the information on the conviction before the pardon was granted.

IF (very big if) a person with a criminal record can figure out some way of going through a checkpoint without needing to present identification, they may be all right. But in practice, this has not been possible on the Canada-US border for years, as checkpoints have become more heavilly post-9-11, so short of doing an illegal crossing, I have no idea how this could succeed. And someone attempts an illegal crossing and gets caught, they will be in even deeper trouble.

The best solution for a person with a Canadian criminal record trying to enter the US is to get a pardon agency to help a person apply for a US entry waiver. This takes a long time, though, and a person with a dying father may not have the chance to travel before the waiver is granted. Therefore, it might be a good idea for people to forsee this situation and apply for a waiver even before there is any need to travel.

About the Author

Ned Lecic grew up in Toronto and spent seven years teaching English in Prague. Having returned to Toronto, he now works as a writer in a pardons agency and also writes for pleasure. Topics of interest to him include criminal and civil law, nature, aircraft and bagpipes, which he plays.

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