The question of whether a pending DUI or a conviction for driving under the influence in California will bar travel to Canada is a recurring question that has been a source of confusion for many decades. You see, Canada has very strict regulations on who can enter the country, whether it be for business or a simple day trip.
The problem occurs when a traveler presents himself for entry at an airport or cruise terminal and is surprised to discover that immigration officials prevent them from entering the country.
To avoid problems, many experienced DWI lawyers will refer the client to a Canadian attorney who can properly investigate their individual situation and give them accurate legal advice about their future trip to Canada. One prominent legal counselor has provided information on the topic and always recommends a complete assessment prior to travel.
According to one attorney: Refusals and DUIs are now serious criminality in Canada because they are punishable by 10 years or more. All serious offences make a person inadmissible forever until they apply for relief, though criminal rehabilitation, which they become eligible for once 5 years have passed from completion of their sentence.
Furthermore, refusal to provide a breath specimen is a criminal offence in Canada, that makes a person inadmissible to Canada forever, until such time as they obtain relief through an application called Criminal Rehabilitation [the same is true if they were convicted of a DUI]. The legislation that sets out this rule does not consider how the offence was treated in the state where it occurred: it makes no difference if it is a misdemeanor or felony or if it is not classified as a criminal offence at all. The only relevant information is whether the failure offence is a criminal offence in Canada and the maximum sentence in Canada.
So the answer seems to be that a person is inadmissible to Canada two situations; either for a criminal conviction for driving under the influence or for having committed an act that would be an offence in Canada. So, it makes no difference how the offence was classified in the state where it occurred. This appears to be the case according to the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Under subsection b if that Act a conviction renders a person inadmissible and subsection “C” is “committing an act”. Thus, if a person is convicted for an offence that is not a criminal offence in the state where it occurred, but it is equivalent to an offence under an Act of Parliament in Canada, inadmissibility ensues. This seems to encompass those situations where a person avoids criminal prosecution but still is suspended by the DMV for either refusing or driving with a BAC over .08.
So, what can a traveler expect when entering the country?
Canadian immigration officials sometimes ask foreign nationals entering by foot, car, bus, train, boat, or plane whether they have ever been arrested. By the official’s training, experience, and hunches, follow-up questions would depend on the traveler’s answer and demeanor.
Some foreign nationals pass through with no questions at all. It depends on staffing, how busy they are, the day of the week, whether a supervisor is present, which port of entry is used, and a profiling algorithm.
If entering by plane, officials will likely have passenger lists they can research ahead of time. But just about every border crossing will have electronic passport scanners that can instantly bring up a criminal history. Importantly, they don’t access state records; only data from the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
Torrance DUI Attorney Matthew Ruff has nearly 30 years experience defending good people charged with driving under the influence in California. His office serves the entire county of Los Angeles including Redondo Beach, Palos Verdes, Lomita, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Santa Clarita and Hermosa.