High Seas Under The Influence; Why a DUI may sink your cruise vacation

If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship, you probably didn’t give a thought to the prospect that you or someone in your family might be treated as an illegal foreign national. While ships and international ports are known to transfer all kinds of illicit people and substances, it just doesn’t occur to you while sipping fruity drinks on the pool deck that Grandma might be detained at the next port of call.

For many foreign cruise-goers with DUI (driving under the influence) records in Canada, re-admittance to the country is not permissible. Needless to say, getting stuck at the border in the middle of a vacation is one of the least encouraging ways to learn about some of the finer points of Canadian law. A post-celebratory drive to the cottage one 4th of July could come back to drastically affect your vacation plans a few years later.

But yes, you’re on a massive boat with nowhere else to go – and you’re not driving the thing, so why should it matter?

Law enforcement is notoriously steadfast when it comes to matters of immigration and visitation. It’s all about the rules of the border. Even for Americans on a voyage destined for Alaska, departure from a Canadian port like Vancouver requires that all foreign passengers be in accordance with Canadian law in order to be at the embarkation point. The same is true of Canadian stopovers and final destinations.

If you have a DUI offense on your record and are not a Canadian citizen but wish to enter Canada, you should know the following:

1)      If you are attempting entry as a passenger in someone else’s car (or boat) you are still subject to inadmissibility.

2)      Exceptions to this rule are unheard of, so don’t try to win over border officials.

3)      It does not matter whether or not you intend to get behind the wheel at any point during your visit.

If you have any crimes on your record, you should first establish if they are considered federal crimes in Canada before trying to pass the border. Some crimes such as DUI or assault are considered federal crimes inside Canada. That means the convicted party will require documentation beyond the usual passport to gain entry to the country.

With a little planning, it is possible to enjoy a vacation that doesn’t look anything like a scene from The Terminal.

There are a couple of ways to make sure you are admissible despite a DUI conviction. The first is a Temporary Resident Permit or TRP.

The TRP is not to be confused with a residence visa, which is another process, but it will still allow you one or more trips into Canada despite prior inadmissibility. Applications for the TRP are filed with the Canadian Consulate and it may take 1 to 6 months time – I warned about the planning – before processing is complete. The TRP is valid for up to a year and costs around $200 to file for. The success of the application is up to officials at Canadian Customs and Immigration and is by no means guaranteed. The date of the applicant’s latest conviction, the nature of the conviction, the sentencing and the reason for travel will all be weighed carefully by officials. That said, nearly 10,000 TRPs are granted yearly.

The second option is to seek a Criminal Rehabilitation document. This document is meant to signify in the most official sense possible that you have “turned a new leaf.” The rehabilitation is a complicated process but it has the benefit of permanently absolving the applicant and does not require any renewal at a future date. A mandatory 5 years must have passed since the applicant’s sentence was completed in order to ensure eligibility. Approval waives inadmissibility and allows normal travel into Canada. If 10 years have passed since the completion of an applicant’s sentence and that person has only one conviction on record, they may be deemed rehabilitated due to the length of time which has gone by without incident. The applicant will then no longer be denied entry to Canada on the grounds of criminal inadmissibility.

Applying to obtain rehabilitation documents will cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000, depending on the nature of the applicant’s conviction, and take from 6 months to a year to process. While it may prove a lengthier and more expensive process than filing for a TRP, it does not expire after a year as the former does.

If you are criminally inadmissible to Canada but wish to visit, it takes long-term planning to set the proper measures in motion. It is recommended that you seek help from a legal professional who can navigate the process with you.

Humans are one of the most smuggled “items” in the world, even more so than firearms and narcotics. Border security is built with that in mind. Perhaps your DUI conviction was incurred so long ago it seems too far back affect you today, or perhaps you have decided to gamble on whether customs will dig up your record at all, but those chances are very marginal. Travel should be enjoyable, after all. Whether enjoying a cruise, a road trip or any other kind of visit, we should limit the risks we expose ourselves to. Feeling lost in the ocean, stuck in a terminal or trying to decipher legal “code” in the heat of the moment are all scenes from Tom Hanks movies – and that’s never a vacation.

Canada has much to offer visitors, especially to American neighbours. Don’t let paperwork get in the way. Talk to a professional about a TRP or rehabilitation documents well before your date of travel.A year ahead of time is often recommended.

After that, relax and enjoy.

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