ENTERING CANADA WITH A DWI

How To Apply For a Rehabilitation Permit
Gerry Cariou
By Gerry Cariou

Gerry Cariou is the Executive Director of Ontario's Sunset Country.

Last Updated: August 8, 2019

Yes, You Can Go Fishing in Canada Again!

As the Executive Director of Ontario's Sunset Country Travel Association for the past 20 years, I have spoken to thousands of Americans about traveling to Sunset Country. With over 70,000 freshwater lakes and thousands of square miles of forests, the attraction of our area is almost irresistible. Sunset Country is a true escape for many of the people I talk to, and they visit year after year.

Unfortunately for some of the people, they can't get into Canada because of a past offense–– almost always DWI (Driving While Intoxicated)––and I'm frequently asked what process or paperwork has to be filled out and sent to the Canadian Government so they can clear their name.

It's the latter group of people I've researched and written this article for. With the passage of time and some effort on your part, you can, in most cases, become eligible to visit Canada again so here's how you do that.

Ontario's Sunset Country

Reasons for Inadmissibility

Let's start with the basics. Something I hear quite often at the sports shows is people having trouble understanding why their misdemeanor DWI makes them inadmissible to Canada. That's a good question and one that is fairly easy to answer. Here is a list of reasons why you may be deemed "criminally inadmissible". Some additional points to consider:

  • When an American or a citizen from any foreign country tries to enter Canada, their background is checked. Any offenses they may have on their record are assessed under Canadian Laws,  not the laws from the country where the offense occurred.
  • For DWI, there is no such thing as a misdemeanor level offense up here. In Canada, DWI is always a felony and it is now considered a serious felony (what we call an "indictable offense") so under Canadian laws, you are considered to have a criminal record, even if the offense is not regarded that way in your state.
  • If you received jail time for the offense or someone was injured, this is considered more serious and makes it harder to get a permit.
  • If you have more than one offense be it another DWI or some other offense, that is also a factor.
  • Your admissibility to Canada is determined at the border by the Immigration Official you encounter. There is no way to get a "pre-clearance" over the phone.
  • The only way to be sure you'll get across the border is to be "granted rehabilitation" by the Canadian Government.

Canada and the United States are two sovereign countries hence the laws on the books in each country are going to be different. It works the same way for Canadians crossing into the USA, any offenses they have are considered under American laws. Many people state that Canada is "losing a lot of tourist dollars" by denying people at the border and that is true - we lose significant tourism revenue as a result of the DWI/border issue. ​

Unfortunately, the situation is not likely to change despite the economic costs to Canada so the best strategy is to resolve the issue on your end. The next section focuses on the process to do that.

Big Ontario walleye

How to Apply for Your Rehabilitation Permit

While doing an application for rehabilitation isn't necessarily easy, the process and rules around it are straightforward. Perhaps what is more important is how you do your application.  The wording you use will be an important aspect of getting your application approved. 

The other major issue that causes delays in the processing of the applications is completeness - or lack thereof. Many applications submitted do not have all the necessary paperwork needed by the Canadian Government to assess your eligibility and therefore, cannot be processed.

You can not apply for criminal rehabilitation until 5 years have passed since the end of the sentence that was imposed. If less than five years have passed, you can fill out the form and check “For Information Only.” An officer will decide if you can get special permission to come to Canada temporarily.  

Deemed Rehabilitation: In some instances, if you have one misdemeanor DWI, and 10 years have passed since the end of the sentence and there are no other offenses on your record, you could be "deemed" rehabilitated and get in under those rules. This means you don't need to get a permit to enter Canada because of the length of time that has passed since the offense occurred. Learn more about deemed rehabilitation here.

But this applies only if you have one offense with no complicating factors i.e. jail time involved, someone was injured etc. The decision to grant you "deemed" rehabilitation is still up to the Officer at the Border and they are not required to do it, it is at the Officer's discretion.

Download Link: Application for Rehabilitation for Persons Who Are Inadmissible to Canada Because of Past Criminal Activity

Here are some pointers to help you do it right the first time:

  • Thoroughly read through the application guidelines provided by the Canadian Government.
  • Ensure that you include all the required documents with the application. The list of documents required can be found here.
  • If you don't write well, consider getting someone that does to help you fill in the application.
  • Be honest and forthright in the section asking what you have done to rehabilitate yourself - what you say and how you say it is extremely important and can make all the difference.
  • Ensure the character references you get from others are also well written, and that they specifically, in that person's opinion, point out how you have "rehabilitated" yourself since the offense occurred. 
  • Make sure you enclose payment of the application fee which, depending on the offense, will be either $200.00 or $770.00 USD.
  • Processing Time: 6 to 12 months.

Canadian freshwater fishing in Ontario

Use of A Representative to Complete the Application

The process of gathering all the records you need to include the application can be a daunting task - where do you start? As already mentioned, the wording of your responses to the questions on the application form is an important part in determining if the application will be successful. So deciding to proceed with an application is something that will require some work on your part.

Given the amount of information required, the task of retrieving it and then putting the application together, you should be aware there are attorneys as well as immigration consultants who, for a fee, will help you navigate the entire process. For many of you, this may be a worthwhile investment if you consider that:

  • An attorney or immigration consultant has experience putting these applications together on behalf of previous clients.
  • They know where to go to retrieve all the necessary court records and other supporting documents you need to include with the application.
  • They are experienced at writing answers that address the issues the Canadian Government wants to know - specifically how to word the responses with the information you provide them.
  • They will send in the application to the nearest consular office on your behalf. 
  • They are there to answer any questions you may have.

Again, using a representative costs money but I recommend you consider it - if solely for the reason the application gets done right the first time. Having an experienced legal professional or consultant assist you means you've covered all the bases and put your best foot forward in your effort to be granted rehabilitation.

Costs vary based on the work required but expect it to cost between $1,000 to $2,000 if you decide to hire a representative plus the cost of the application fee. But remember, if you cannot afford the cost of a representative to help you this is a process you can do on your own.

Sunset Country Travel Association has just such a representative as one of our members. Here is a link to their website.

So there you have it, I hope this article has been helpful to you in understanding the process of applying for a rehabilitation permit. Remember that you require a rehabilitation permit even if your offense was not DUI - anyone with a criminal record needs one.

I wish you the best of luck in your efforts. Remember you can also call the Sunset Country Office at 1-800-665-7567 or you can email us with any questions.