DUIs are considered serious crimes in Canada, but you may still be able to cross the border.
Canada strengthened DUI in 2018 when marijuana was legalized as part of an effort to stop people from driving impaired.
Canada judges past criminal history by converting the foreign crime to the Canadian equivalent. As of December 18, 2018, the DUI maximum punishment doubled from five years to 10 years in prison. DUI is a hybrid offence in Canada. This means that the government can choose to prosecute it by summary process or by indictment, which is more serious.
Canadian immigration law treats hybrid offences as indictable (as opposed to summary). If a person is convicted of DUI abroad on or after December 2018, Canada treats them as having committed an indictable offence. In theory, anyone who has committed an indictable offence is inadmissible to Canada forever due to serious criminality. However, there may be ways around this ban for people entering Canada with a DUI.
Temporary Resident Permits
If you are inadmissible but have a compelling reason to travel to Canada, you may be able to cross the border with a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP). Some examples of a compelling reason could be coming to Canada to work, attend business conferences, or for important family events such as a funeral or wedding.
TRPs are usually valid for the length of a person’s visit to Canada, and the holder must leave Canada by the expiry date or get a new one before it expires.
In order to get a TRP, officials have to determine that your need to enter Canada outweighs the risks to Canadian society. There are never any guarantees that an inadmissible person will be granted a temporary resident permit. Officers have the authority to cancel a TRP at any time, and it is no longer valid once the holder leaves Canada (unless they have been specifically pre-authorized.)
TRPs are required to enter Canada if a person has committed a serious crime such as driving while impaired. It is important to stress that a TRP is only a temporary solution.
If it has been more than five years, but less than 10 years since completion of a sentence, you may be eligible to apply for criminal rehabilitation. If the application is approved, the applicant have a clean slate and be eligible to enter Canada. There will no longer be any obstacles relating to the previous conviction: the person will be able to enter and leave Canada provided they do not commit another offence.
If it has been 10 years or more since completion of a DUI sentence, an inadmissible person could be deemed rehabilitated simply as a result of the passage of time. This solution is only possible in cases where someone has a single, non-serious conviction. If you have more than one conviction, you must apply for criminal rehabilitation to clear your criminal record to enter Canada without issue.
Given that a DUI is now considered a serious crime in Canada, it no longer qualifies as an offence that is automatically deemed rehabilitated after 10 years. If you had been deemed rehabilitated before December 2018, you may still be allowed to enter Canada. In any case, is best to consult with a lawyer before attempting to cross the border with a DUI.
Legal Opinion Letter
If you are currently facing a charge of DUI with no prior criminal history, you should not be considered inadmissible to Canada. Canadian immigration officers have discretion in these situations, weighing the benefits and risks of allowing entry. Canadian law, not U.S. law, applies when you are attempting to enter Canada. A Legal Opinion Letter from a Canadian immigration lawyer can be helpful in the event you are looking to enter Canada with a pending charge. The lawyer can explain any important facts in the pending case, and explain why you should not be considered inadmissible.