Denied entry: Canada turns away American DUI offenders

It was supposed to be a father-and-son road trip to Alaska.

But it ended at the Canadian border – with the father crying and his 18-year-old son driving alone to Fairbanks, where he was stationed with the U.S. Air Force.

Canadian border officers turned away Michael Edwards because of his DUI convictions in the U.S. His last one was in 1996 – 14 years before he tried to enter Canada with his son.

The Canadians told the Lower Southampton man he’d have to go back home and apply for a special waiver to get into their country. It could take as long as a year to process. And it guaranteed nothing.

Edwards’ son had to report to duty in three days.

“It was the ultimate humiliation,” Edwards said of the experience in 2010. “If I had committed murder, I could see that. Are you kidding me? What was I going to do while passing through their country for a few days?”

Each year, Canada denies thousands of visitors with criminal histories, including misdemeanors such as a DUI. And it doesn’t matter if you plan to be behind the wheel in Canada.

Nations, including the U.S., have always denied entry to non-citizens for many reasons, including criminal history because of the potential risk.

In Pennsylvania and other states, DUI is a misdemeanor. But DUI is a more serious offense in Canada.

The crime is an example of where the U.S. and Canada differ on what kind of conviction automatically makes someone “inadmissible,” according to American officials and attorneys. However, an Ontario-based attorney said Canadians with DUIs can have just as much trouble getting into the states.

Americans – and several Bucks County residents – with DUI convictions have been caught off guard at the Canadian border despite warnings on both government’s websites and elsewhere. Some Bucks residents said they were pulled off trains and buses because of one DUI conviction several years – even decades – old.

It doesn’t matter if someone’s DUI was expunged through Bucks County’s program for first-time offenders, officially known as Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, attorneys said.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U.S. and Canada have granted each other deeper access to their respective criminal databases to screen people trying to cross the border. Those checks reveal expunged charges.

Getting into Canada with a criminal conviction can mean waiting years to be considered “rehabilitated,” paying at least $1,500 in legal fees and putting down a really good reason on a waiver application, attorneys said. The waiver process has worked for people – even someone convicted of vehicular homicide, the attorneys said.

Some Bucks residents said they crossed the border in less traveled areas without undergoing a criminal background check.

Natalie Glister, a spokeswoman with Canada Border Services Agency, said her office couldn’t provide a list of every criminal conviction that could bar someone from entering the country. In an email, she said that “most criminal convictions,” including DUIs, can make someone inadmissible and require that person to apply for a waiver.

She said her office also couldn’t provide statistics regarding how many Americans have been denied entry because of DUI convictions or any other specific crime. But the agency reported an overall decrease in the number of Americans denied entry or removed from Canada because of criminality – from more than 9,000 in 2005 to about 4,200 last year. Glister declined to speculate on the decreasing number.

Rick Remington, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the association warns folks that criminal convictions, including DUIs, may prevent them from entering Canada.

“It has not been a big issue that we are aware of,” he said

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Eric Write head editor and chief at The Pluto Daily