California DUI Convictions and Travel to Canada

Under Canadian law, if you have just one California DUI conviction (or even a "wet reckless" DUI plea bargain) on your record, you may not be allowed to enter the country of Canada.1

In other words—in addition to the already potentially hefty penalties for a California DUI—you could also find yourself unable to travel to a neighboring country, where you may have family, friends, or business.

Fortunately, there are several ways around this rule. A knowledgeable California DUI attorney can help you explore options for entering Canada with a DUI conviction, such as:

Example: Anne is an American living in Oakland. She meets Gilbert, a Canadian man, on the Internet, and the two of them start an online romantic relationship.

But eight years ago Anne was convicted of first-time California DUI. She is surprised and devastated to learn that this minor conviction might prevent her from visiting Gilbert in Vancouver, where he lives.

After consulting with a local DUI attorney, Anne learns that she may apply for “individual rehabilitation” with the Canadian immigration authorities.5 This will allow her to visit Canada even though she has a DUI on her record.

Below, our California criminal defense and DUI attorneys6 address the following:

1. California DUI Convictions and Inadmissibility to Canada

2. How to Enter Canada With a DUI Conviction

2.1 Deemed rehabilitation

2.2. Individual rehabilitation

2.3. Record suspension or discharge

2.4. Temporary resident permits

If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

1. California DUI Convictions and Inadmissibility to Canada

A conviction for California DUI—even a first offense—can prevent a non-Canadian from entering the country of Canada.7

This is because Canadian law states that aliens may not be admitted to the country if they have a criminal record consisting of either:

  1. Two (2) convictions for any offenses that would be crimes in Canada and that don't grow out of a single event, or
  2. One (1) conviction for what Canadian law calls an “indictable offense.”8 (An “indictable offense” is a relatively serious crime, roughly equivalent to a felony in Califonia law.9)

For purposes of Canadian immigration law, DUI—more commonly known in Canada as “impaired driving”—is considered an “indictable offense.”

Not only that, but a conviction for "wet reckless"--a common plea bargain from DUI charges--can also keep you out of Canada because it also is considered equivalent to the indictable offense of "impaired driving."10

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Canadian law's get-tough approach to DUI poses problems for non-Canadians trying to enter Canada with a DUI on their record.

Contrast with U.S. immigration law

In this way, Canadian immigration law is much harsher than U.S. immigration law when it comes to DUIs.

For non-U.S. citizens, the immigration consequences of a DUI conviction are not very harsh, because a simple DUI without aggravating factors is not on the list of deportable crimes or inadmissible crimes.11 This is because American courts do not consider DUI to be a crime involving moral turpitude for which immigration penalties may apply.12

Canadian law, by contrast, prevents you from entering Canada if you have just one conviction for California DUI—regardless of whether it is a felony DUI or is only prosecuted as a misdemeanor.13

Example: Henry is an executive with an international shipping company. One night, while driving home after a business dinner, he is pulled over and arrested for DUI.

Henry's main concern is making sure that no one he works with finds out about the DUI. He ends up pleading guilty to DUI as a misdemeanor, and accepting a first-time DUI license suspension as penalty.

But then Henry is asked by his company to travel to Canada to negotiate a deal. To his horror, he realizes that the DUI on his record could prevent him from making the trip.

Juvenile DUIs

In general, you will not be inadmissible to Canada if

2. How to Enter Canada With a DUI Conviction

Luckily, Canadian immigration law makes several exceptions to the rule that non-Canadians with a DUI (or "wet reckless") criminal conviction are not admissible to Canada.

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2.1. Deemed rehabilitation

So-called “deemed rehabilitation” is one way in which you can get permission to enter Canada even with a California DUI on your record.15

The requirements for deemed rehabilitation are as follows:

  1. The maximum term of imprisonment for your DUI conviction was less than ten (10) years (this will be the case for almost all California DUIs, unless you were convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter16 or DUI as murder17);
  2. You completed the sentence for your DUI at least ten (10) years ago; and
  3. In those 10 years, you have not committed or been convicted of any other crime that would be an indictable offense in Canada.18

If you meet the requirements for deemed rehabilitation, then you have the right to enter Canada—you do not need to fill out an application or take any further steps.19 However, it would be wise to carry with you documentation showing that your sentence was completed more than 10 years ago.

2.2. Individual rehabilitation

If 10 years have not yet passed since you completed your DUI or "wet reckless" sentence, you may still be eligible to enter Canada through what Canadian authorities call “individual rehabilitation”—or rehabilitation by application.20

Individual rehabilitation is available to you if you completed your sentence at least five (5) years ago.21 The five-year waiting period is calculated as follows:

  • If you received a suspended sentence, 5 years from the date of sentencing;
  • If you received a suspended sentence AND a fine, 5 years from the date you paid the fine;
  • 5 years from the end of your term of imprisonment if you received a prison term but no parole;
  • 5 years from the end of your parole or probation if you were sentenced to either; OR
  • 5 years from the end date of any driver's license suspension or restriction that you received.

Example: In 2006, Mike is convicted of DUI and serves three years of misdemeanor (summary) probation. In 2010, he receives a second DUI conviction. For this conviction, he is sentenced to 30 days in county jail and a two-year driver's license suspension that is converted to a restricted license after a year.

The restrictions on Mike's driving privileges ended in 2012. This means that he will be eligible to apply for individual rehabilitation to enter Canada in 2017.

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You can apply for individual rehabilitation 5 years after your driver's license suspension or restriction ends.

Unlike deemed rehabilitation, individual rehabilitation requires you to submit an application to the Canadian immigration authorities.22

The application form you must fill out is Canadian Form IMM 1444 – Application for Criminal Rehabilitation. You must explain why you believe that you are now rehabilitated and, despite your DUI, will not pose a risk to public safety in Canada.

You must also submit a processing fee, which is nonrefundable even if your application is rejected. The form and fee can be submitted to a Canadian visa office in the U.S.23

In deciding whether or not to grant your application for rehabilitation from a DUI conviction, a Canadian immigration officer will consider the following factors:

  • The number of convictions on your record;
  • The nature and seriousness of each crime;
  • Your behavior since your convictions;
  • Your explanation of your past criminal behavior and why you are not likely to commit further crimes;
  • Why you think you are rehabilitated; and
  • Your present circumstances, including support you receive from your community.24

According to Van Nuys DUI attorney John Murray25:

“Applications for individual rehabilitation can take over a year to process. However, if you have a DUI on your record in the last 10 years, and you know you will need to move or travel to Canada, this can be an option worth pursuing. Because the Canadian immigration officer will want to see a specific kind of story on your application, it's a good idea to work with a lawyer who's familiar with the process.”

2.3. Record suspension or discharge

Under Canadian law, you may not be kept out of the country because of a DUI or "wet reckless" conviction for which a “record suspension” has been issued.26

A record suspension is a Canadian legal concept that could correspond to a California DUI expungement. An expungement may be available to you if

  1. You have successfully completed probation for your DUI, and
  2. You are not currently charged with a criminal offense, on probation for a criminal offense, or serving a sentence for a criminal offense.27

In some cases, it may be quicker and easier to apply for a California DUI expungement—with the help of a California DUI defense lawyer—than to apply for individual rehabilitation for entry into Canada.

However, it is important to confirm that a California expungement will meet the requirements for a “record suspension” under criminal immigration law. You can do this by discussing your case with a Canadian visa office – or, better yet, with an attorney who is experienced in DUI and Canadian criminal inadmissibility matters.

2.4. Temporary resident permits

If less than 5 years have passed since you completed your DUI or "wet reckless" sentence—and thus you are not eligible for individual rehabilitation28—you may still be able to enter Canada by successfully applying for a “temporary resident permit.”29

A temporary resident permit may be available to you even if your DUI conviction is relatively recent. However, it will permit you to visit Canada only

  • For a specific purpose, and
  • For a limited period of time.30

If, for example, you want to move to Canada to look for work, a temporary resident permit may not be a good option for you.

Example: Let's return to our example of Henry, the business executive with a DUI on his record. Henry needs to travel to Canada to negotiate a business deal for his company. He will need to stay in the country for less than a week. He also has no criminal record outside of his single DUI.

For Henry, an application for a temporary resident permit might allow him to make the trip in spite of his DUI.

To be eligible for a temporary resident permit, you must be able to show that your need to enter Canada is compelling enough to outweigh any risk to public safety that you might present because of your criminal history.31 This means that both

  • the reason for your visit, and
  • the nature of your criminal record

will help determine whether your application will be granted.

As with the application for individual rehabilitation, a processing fee (currently two hundred Canadian dollars) is required32—and the assistance of an experienced attorney could help make your application a successful one.

Call Us for Help…

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If you or loved one is in need of help with entering Canada and have a DUI and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

For more information on Nevada DUIs, please see our page on Nevada DUIs.

Legal References:


1 Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (“IRPA”) 36 [Canadian criminal inadmissibility, including for a DUI conviction]. (“(2) A foreign national is inadmissible on grounds of criminality for . . . (b) having been convicted outside Canada of an offence that, if committed in Canada, would constitute an indictable offence under an Act of Parliament, or of two offences not arising out of a single occurrence that, if committed in Canada, would constitute offences under an Act of Parliament; . . . .”)

See also Canadian Criminal Code (“CC”) 253 [Canada's DUI law]. (“(1) Every one commits an offence who operates a motor vehicle or vessel or operates or assists in the operation of an aircraft or of railway equipment or has the care or control of a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment, whether it is in motion or not, (a) while the person's ability to operate the vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment is impaired by alcohol or a drug; or (b) having consumed alcohol in such a quantity that the concentration in the person's blood exceeds eighty milligrams of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood.”)

2 Canadian IRPA 36 [Canadian criminal inadmissibility, including for a DUI conviction]. (“(3) The following provisions govern subsections (1) and (2): . . . (c) the matters referred to in paragraphs (1)(b) and (c) and (2)(b) and (c) do not constitute inadmissibility in respect of a permanent resident or foreign national who, after the prescribed period, satisfies the Minister that they have been rehabilitated or who is a member of a prescribed class that is deemed to have been rehabilitated; . . . .”)

3 See same. (“(3) The following provisions govern subsections (1) and (2): . . . (b) inadmissibility under subsections (1) and (2) may not be based on a conviction in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered and has not been revoked or ceased to have effect under the Criminal Records Act, or in respect of which there has been a final determination of an acquittal; . . . .”)

4 Canadian IRPA 24 – Temporary resident permit [to allow someone with a DUI conviction to enter Canada]. (“1) A foreign national who, in the opinion of an officer, is inadmissible or does not meet the requirements of this Act becomes a temporary resident if an officer is of the opinion that it is justified in the circumstances and issues a temporary resident permit, which may be cancelled at any time.”)

5 See endnote 2, above.

6 Our California criminal defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier. We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

7 See endnote 1, above.

8 Canadian IRPA 36 [Canadian criminal inadmissibility, including for a DUI conviction], endnote 1, above.

9 See Black's Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009), offense: indictable offense. (“A crime that can be prosecuted only by indictment. • In federal court, such an offense is one punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one year or at hard labor.”)

10 Canadian CC 255 [nature of a DUI in Canada]. (“(1) Every one who commits an offence under section 253 or 254 is guilty of an indictable offence or an offence punishable on summary conviction and is liable, . . . “)

See also Canadian IRPA 36 [Canadian criminal inadmissibility, including for a DUI conviction]. (“(3) The following provisions govern subsections (1) and (2): (a) an offence that may be prosecuted either summarily or by way of indictment is deemed to be an indictable offence, even if it has been prosecuted summarily; . . . .”)

See also Vehicle Code 23103.5 VC -- "Wet reckless" statute. ("If the prosecution agrees to a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a charge of a violation of Section 23103 in satisfaction of, or as a substitute for, an original charge of a violation of Section 23152 [DUI statute], the prosecution shall state for the record a factual basis for the satisfaction or substitution, including whether or not there had been consumption of an alcoholic beverage or ingestion or administration of a drug, or both, by the defendant in connection with the offense. The statement shall set forth the facts that show whether or not there was a consumption of an alcoholic beverage or the ingestion or administration of a drug by the defendant in connection with the offense.")

11 Immigration & Nationality Act (“INA”) 237, 8 U.S.C. 1227 – Deportable crimes [does not provide for deportation after a DUI conviction].

See also INA 212, 8 U.S.C. 1182 – (a) Inadmissible crimes [does not make an alien inadmissible for a single DUI conviction].

12 Matter of Lopez-Meza, (BIA 1999) 22 I&N Dec. 1188, 1196. (“We find that a person who drives while under the influence [commits DUI], knowing that he or she is absolutely prohibited from driving, commits a crime so base and so contrary to the currently accepted duties that persons owe to one another and to society in general that it involves moral turpitude.”)

13 See endnote 10, above.

14 Canadian IRPA 36 [Canadian criminal inadmissibility, including for a DUI conviction]. (“(3) . . . (e) inadmissibility under subsections (1) and (2)  may not be based on an offence . . . (iii) for which the permanent resident or foreign national received a youth sentence under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.”)

15 Canadian IRPA 36 [Canadian criminal inadmissibility, including for a DUI conviction], endnote 2, above.

16 Penal Code 191.5(a) PC – Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated [severe form of DUI]. ("(a) Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.(c)(1) Except as provided in subdivision (d), gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in violation of subdivision (a) is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 4, 6, or 10 years.(d) A person convicted of violating subdivision (a) who has one or more prior convictions of this section or of paragraph (1) of subdivision (c) of Section 192, subdivision (a) or (b) of Section 192.5 of this code, or of violating Section 23152 punishable under Sections 23540, 23542, 23546, 23548, 23550, or 23552 of, or convicted of Section 23153 of, the Vehicle Code, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a term of 15 years to life. Article 2.5 (commencing with Section 2930) of Chapter 7 of Title 1 of Part 3 shall apply to reduce the term imposed pursuant to this subdivision.")

17 See People v. Watson, (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290 [establishing that murder charges may be filed in connection with a California DUI].

See also Penal Code 190 PC – Punishment for [DUI as] murder. (“Except as provided in subdivision (b), (c), or (d), every person guilty of [California] murder in the second degree shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a term of 15 years to life.")

18 See Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Rehabilitation for Persons Who Are Inadmissible Because of Past Criminal Activity [including a California DUI].

19 See same.

20 See same.

21 See same.

22 See same.

23 See same.

24 See same.

25 Van Nuys DUI attorney John Murray is one of Southern California's leading experts on DUIcriminal defense. He has considerable expertise in drunk driving law and a stellar track record of success at DMV hearing locations throughout southern California, including those in the City of Commerce, Covina, El Segundo, Oxnard, San Bernardino, and Van Nuys. Mr. Murray understands how to minimize the impact of a DUI conviction on your    life—including any restrictions on your ability to travel to Canada.

26 Canadian IRPA 36 [Canadian criminal inadmissibility, including for a DUI conviction]. (“(3) . . . (b) inadmissibility under subsections (1) and (2) may not be based on a conviction in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered and has not been revoked or ceased to have effect under the Criminal Records Act, or in respect of which there has been a final determination of an acquittal; . . . .”)

27 Penal Code 1203.4 PC – California expungement law [including DUI expungements for entry into Canada]. (“(a) In any case in which a defendant has fulfilled the conditions of probation for the entire period of probation, or has been discharged prior to the termination of the period of probation, or in any other case in which a court, in its discretion and the interests of justice, determines that a defendant should be granted the relief available under this section, the defendant shall, at any time after the termination of the period of probation, if he or she is not then serving a sentence for any offense, on probation for any offense, or charged with the commission of any offense, be permitted by the court to withdraw his or her plea of guilty or plea of nolo contendere and enter a plea of not guilty; or, if he or she has been convicted after a plea of not guilty, the court shall set aside the verdict of guilty; and, in either case, the court shall thereupon dismiss the accusations or information against the defendant and except as noted below, he or she shall thereafter be released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense of which he or she has been convicted, except as provided in Section 13555 of the Vehicle Code.")

28 Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Rehabilitation for Persons Who Are Inadmissible Because of Past Criminal Activity [including California DUI], endnote 18, above.

29 Citizenship and Immigration Canada, “Temporary resident permits .”

30 See same.

31 See same.

32 See same.

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