Can you enter Canada if you have a criminal conviction?
By Steven Meurrens May 4, 2012
In November 2011, the Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson released a report criticizing the Canadian government for having what he essentially described as a completely inadequate screening process for detecting people who pose a security risk to Canadians.
As one might expect, this did not go over too well with a Conservative government that spent much of the autumn session pushing a public safety agenda. It responded to the auditor general’s report by promising to comply with his recommendations, and stating that it had already begun to make significant investments to improve security screening. Previously, people with criminal convictions occasionally entered Canada undetected. Border officials would also often let them into Canada on a short-term basis without requiring much paperwork. Now, both of these scenarios are likely to become less common.
It is, therefore, important that people who have been convicted of a criminal offence determine in advance whether they will likely be prohibited from entering Canada.
Will you be inadmissible to Canada?
If a conviction exists, then it is necessary to determine whether the conviction’s equivalent offence in Canada would be a summary, hybrid or indictable offence under an act of Parliament. Then, one must determine when the individual’s sentence was completed, and whether the offence is one such that passage of time nullifies the inadmissibility.
Consequences for common offences
Here are immigration consequences for some of the more common offences that people have. In general, offences involving the operation of a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol will render persons inadmissible to Canada for a period of 10 years following the completion of the sentence. The same is true for assault.
Trafficking cocaine, breaking and entering, and sexual assault will generally render persons criminally inadmissible to Canada. The passage of time will not in and of itself resolve this inadmissibility. On the other hand, the possession of a small amount of marijuana, multiple speeding tickets or engaging in prostitution usually does not result in an individual being inadmissible to Canada.
What to do if inadmissible
If someone is criminally inadmissible to Canada, but needs to enter the country, they then can either apply for rehabilitation or for a temporary resident permit (“TRP”). If a rehabilitation application is approved, then the person is no longer inadmissible to Canada, and can come and go as he or she wants. A TRP, however, is only good for one entry.
A certain period of time must pass before an individual who has been convicted of an offence can apply for rehabilitation; the general rule of thumb is it has to be more than five years since completion of a sentence. Applicants are required to provide their criminal record, court dispositions, reference letters and other documents demonstrating that the person is not a threat to Canadian public safety.
Immigration officers were previously willing to admit people into the country without the above documentation, but it is now unlikely due to the increased focus on enhancing security screening. As a result, if you have been convicted of a criminal offence, then it’s up to you to determine whether you are inadmissible, and the steps that you can take to overcome that.