A Criminal History Can Keep You from Crossing the Border

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A Criminal History Can Keep You from Crossing the Border

But it May Be Possible to Enter Canada if you Apply for “Rehabilitation”

Wabanaki Legal News, Fall 2016

By James Mitchell, Esq.


If you have a criminal conviction or a criminal arrest and try to enter Canada at a border crossing or at an airport, you may be blocked from entering due to immigration regulations.   When attempting to enter Canada, border crossing or immigration officials may ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime and/or whether you’ve been charged with a crime.   They do this because, under Canadian law, you can be denied entry as a result of past criminal activity.   They call this “criminal inadmissibility”.  Border crossing agents have instant access to the FBI criminal database and can run criminal background checks whenever they feel that a person trying to cross may be a security risk.   Past criminal acts of driving while under the influence, for example, are taken very seriously – even if you are a passenger in a car crossing the border, and even if you have no intention of driving while in Canada.

Canadian immigration officials can consider you to be criminally inadmissible if you have been:


1.      Convicted of a crime in Canada.

2.      Convicted of a crime outside Canada if it is considered a crime in Canada.

3.      Merely charged with – or even pardoned for – a crime outside Canada. 


Crimes committed or charged as a juvenile will not prevent you from entering Canada unless you were convicted as an adult under the law of the country where the crime was committed.

If you are determined to be criminally inadmissible, you won’t be admitted into Canada, but you do have the option to regain eligibility to enter Canada by filing a written application to be considered “rehabilitated.” (In some cases, you may also be eligible to apply for a Canadian pardon, which is not discussed in this article.)

Once five years have passed since you were convicted of a crime (or since you committed a crime but weren’t convicted of it) and the crime was punishable by a sentence of less than 10 years, you are eligible to apply for a rehabilitation determination.   If you have not committed more crimes after the entry denial, and if you don’t have an extensive criminal record, you might be determined to be rehabilitated and allowed entry if your application shows that you are not likely to commit other crimes.

Once ten years have passed since you were convicted of a crime (or since you committed a crime but weren’t convicted of it) and the crime was punishable by a sentence of less than 10 years, rehabilitation status is assumed and routinely granted, unless you have committed new crimes or have a long criminal record.

If, however, your crime was punishable by a sentence of 10 years or more, you may apply for rehabilitation after five years, but there is no automatic, 10-year assumption of rehabilitation as there is when the sentence is less than ten years.

The fee for filing for rehabilitation is either $200 or $1,000 depending on the severity of the conviction or criminal act.

As a temporary solution, and on a visit-by-visit basis, you can apply for special permission to enter Canada at any time before you qualify for rehabilitation status by requesting a Temporary Resident Permit. This is a discretionary decision to be made by the border crossing staff on whether your visit to Canada is urgent or otherwise justified.  The decision can be made instantly or may take several weeks so it should be filed well in advance of your attempt to cross the border.

If you are denied entry, you can get specific information about your entry status by contacting Canadian officials at a Canadian embassy, high commission or consulate office in the United States.   There are also Canadian and American attorneys who specialize in representing people who have been denied entry to Canada to due to criminal activity.   Attorneys and Canadian officials can advise you about what criminal activity they have in their data system about you, and they can advise you on your available options to gain permission to enter Canada.

While having a criminal record is a major reason why US citizens are refused entry into Canada, other common reasons are no proof of: income, employment, sufficient funds, US residency, ties to the US or international health insurance.  Gang or organized crime connections are also grounds to refuse entry.

Plan ahead before making plans to enter Canada if you have any criminal history to avoid this unpleasant experience.   Online forms to apply for rehabilitation can be found at:


Find more detailed information about this topic on ptla.org.