Can I Go to Canada With a Criminal Record?

Can I Go to Canada With a Criminal Record?

People call our office all the time to ask the following question: 

“I have a criminal record. Can I cross the border into Canada?” 

In the minds of many people, this is a very simple question. They are expecting a quick “yes” or “no” answer. But it actually ISN’T a simple question. Here’s why.

Whether you can cross the border into Canada with a criminal record depends on a variety of factors that will be very specific to the individual. Depending on the crime committed, some of those factors may include:

  • What crime you were charged or convicted of;
  • What the equivalent crime would be in Canada - i.e. what you would have been charged with had you committed the crime in Canada;
  • Whether the equivalent crime in Canada would have been charged summarily (similar to a misdemeanor) or as an indictable offence (similar to a felony);
  • Whether you were a juvenile at the time of the offence, and whether you were processed as a juvenile in a country with special provisions for young offenders;
  • The length of the sentence you would be looking at, had the crime been committed in Canada;
  • The degree of criminality attached to the offence per Canada’s Criminal Code;
  • When your sentence (which includes probation) was completed;
  • If there have been multiple offences arising out of separate incidents.

As you can see, there are many factors that impact whether or not a person with a criminal record can cross the border into Canada. In order to answer this question for a client, an immigration lawyer is going to need to: 

  • Determine what section of which criminal statute you were charged and/or convicted under. We will need to read that statute carefully. 
  • Determine which Canadian law, if any, you would have been charged under had the crime been committed in Canada. We review Canada's Criminal Code, and then determine the level of criminality that is associated with that crime. This is largely determined based on whether it would be charged as a summary or indictable offence, and what sort of potential sentence (i.e. jail time) the person would theoretically be subject to had the crime been committed in Canada. 
  • Consider your age at the time of the offence - were you a juvenile? Were you charged and processed as a juvenile in a jurisdiction with special provisions for young offenders? Would Canada have treated you as a juvenile under the Young Offenders Act or Youth Criminal Justice Act?
  • Next, we need to determine exactly when your sentence - which includes probation - concluded, so that we can determine if you are deemed rehabilitated, eligible to apply for criminal rehabilitation, eligible to apply for a temporary resident permit in order to visit Canada, or simply inadmissible to Canada. 
  • For some crimes, notably DUIs, the date of the offence matters greatly because Canadian criminal law changed to make driving under the influence an offence with serious criminality.

The next time you ask an immigration lawyer if you can cross the border into Canada, remember - it’s not a simple question. It requires research, critical thought, and a consultation with the client. 

Check out our Criminal Inadmissibility page to learn more about the services that we offer!

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