A criminal record or pending criminal charges can prevent Canadians from travelling abroad. Even a minor criminal conviction from your past could ruin travel plans with your family or prevent you from working abroad.

In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police maintains a database of criminal information called the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). A criminal record is the information for an individual listed within CPIC, specifically a history of criminal convictions. The information in CPIC is accessible to police forces across Canada. If you have been convicted of a criminal offence as an adult and have not either received a pardon or a discharge, you will have a criminal record in CPIC.

Have A Passport

The first step for a Canadian to travel abroad is to apply for a passport. A passport is primarily an identification or citizenship document issued by the federal government, rather than a travel document specifically. So, getting a Canadian passport, even with a criminal record, is usually not an issue. In fact, the only criminal conviction that prevents the issuing of a passport is Forgery of or Uttering Forged Passport under section 57 of the Criminal Code.

However, a passport application will be denied if you are currently charged with an indictable offence or are serving a sentence that includes the restriction to remain within Canada. Holding a passport allows you to depart Canada but does not guarantee entry into the other country.

Border Screening

Most countries perform a rudimentary screening of travellers when they arrive. This screening usually consists of a series of questions by a border officer and could include searching a database for the traveller’s name. Some countries require Canadians to apply for a visa in advance of arrival, allowing time to check for a criminal record. Not all countries have access to CPIC and are not usually interested in minor criminal activity, but if your criminal history is detected you could be denied entry at the border and left in an unenviable position.

The United States has relatively stringent rules about denying entry to travellers with a criminal record. Not every conviction will bar entry to the USA, but certainly any drug related offences, including simple possession of cannabis. The USA will also deny entry to anyone with a conviction considered a “moral turpitude”. As moral turpitude is not defined, it could be applied arbitrarily by a border officer when you try to enter the USA. Unfortunately for many Canadians, the United States Customs and Border Protection has access to CPIC and can view your criminal record. If you have a criminal record and wish to travel to the United States, there are two primary options, a criminal record suspension or a US Entry Waiver.

Criminal Record Suspension

A criminal record suspension, also known as a pardon, does not erase a criminal conviction but removes it from CPIC. Following a pardon, when the US border officer checks CPIC for your criminal record, no entries will be found. You can apply for a pardon following a waiting period since your last conviction. The waiting period is five years for summary offences and ten years for indictable offences. There is also an abridged form of pardon for simple possession of cannabis.

Also, of note regarding CPIC are discharges and youth convictions. Youth convictions are removed from CPIC after either three or five years as long as you do not have any subsequent criminal convictions within that period. If you received a discharge, the information is entered into CPIC but is supposed to be purged automatically after one year for an absolute discharge or three years for a conditional discharge. You will not need a pardon, but you may wish to get a criminal record check to ensure these entries have actually been removed before travelling to the US.

It is best to ensure CPIC is clear before travelling to the USA. If US border officers access your criminal record in CPIC, it is downloaded into a US database as a permanent entry. A subsequent pardon in Canada will not remove your criminal history from the US database and your criminal history can be viewed by any US border officer in the future.

If you cannot get a pardon or your criminal record is in the US database, you can apply for a US Entry Waiver. If you are unsure, you may need to get an entry waiver to be safe. Entry waivers can be obtained for one, two, or five years and allow you to travel back and forth across the border for the duration of the entry waiver.

Need assistance? Contact DDSG Criminal Law today.