Think you can travel to Canada with a twenty-year old DWI?  Think again.  Canadian immigration law prevents anyone from entering Canada if they have any criminal history, including a mere charge. The length of time since the conviction, or outcome of the charge, does not always affect your inadmissibility.  With preparation, however, you can overcome inadmissibility and harvest that dream elk. 

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has wide discretion in allowing those with prior offense to enter Canada. But those who don’t prepare risk ruining a dream trip.  Indeed, about two hundred Americans are denied admission each year at the Fort Frances port of entry alone, due to criminal records as minor as reckless driving.

Because the CBSA can access FBI criminal history records, misrepresenting one’s past is dangerous.  While many convictions can prevent entry, DWIs, Reckless Driving, Drug Possession, Theft and Assault are the most commonly seen.  Even dismissal of a charge can prevent entry to Canada.

For these situations there are two possible solutions: 1) apply for “rehabilitation,” and 2) apply for a Temporary Residence Permit.  Both processes take time and paperwork beforehand, but can ensure your trip proceeds without delay or embarrassment if turned away at the border.

You can apply for “rehabilitation” if an offense was 5 or 10 years from the completion of your sentence, and can show you are now law abiding. The length of time that must pass is depends on the crime’s severity.  Rehabilitation is deemed automatic after ten years, but applying at the border during your trip risks delay and added administration costs.

If you’re not yet eligible for rehabilitation, it is possible to receive a temporary residence permit, if Canadian officers feel a situation deserves special consideration. There are a variety of circumstances under which these permits may be approved, but they are always discretionary, and involve added cost if you risk it at the border.  Again, apply beforehand to prevent disappointment at the border.

In short, I never advise clients to assume you’ll cross a border without appropriate paperwork.  So, even if a minor offense may affect your travel to Canada, please save time, expense, and heartache by studying Canada’s rules online, or contact a qualified attorney.

The author is on the board of Minnesota SCI and an immigration attorney specializing in sportsman issues.  More information can be found at www.sportsmanlawyers.com.