The Ins and Outs of Entering Canada With a Criminal Record

Published on: May 14, 2018 | Tags: Canada Entry Requirements, Canada Visa, Canada eTA Eligibility


Anyone with a criminal record trying to enter Canada, for example, on a Canada visa, may find that their former criminal offenses can be a problem. When it comes to entering Canada, the past can come back to haunt some individuals. Criminal inadmissibility applies to those who've had a brush with the law or the courts in their homeland. Moreover, an individual can't always leave convictions behind them as time passes, which is a concept known as 'rehabilitation'. This applies when someone is no longer inadmissible and a 10-year period has passed from the time they completed their sentence.

Applications for criminal rehabilitation

Past offenses can have long-lasting consequences, depending on how many offenses someone may have on their record and the kind of convictions these are. Usually, these can be addressed through criminal rehabilitation, with approval sought by Canada's immigration authorities when someone wishes to enter the country. However, the issue becomes more complicated when an individual has multiple offenses on their criminal record. In normal circumstances, deemed rehabilitation won't be granted unless these offenses are judged as very minor. In such instances, even though time may have passed and the individual may have changed, they must officially apply for criminal rehabilitation.

The type of criminal offenses that may lead to inadmissability

Inadmissability also applies to offenses that the Canadian legal system would consider to be serious had they taken place in Canada itself and if these could have lead to over 10 years in jail. In such cases, the nature of the crime and how it was judged by the courts in the individual's home country are not important. If a judge in Canada could have sentenced the individual to 10 years or more in jail, the offense is considered to be serious. For example, crimes like assault, theft, bodily harm, the use of weapons and dealing in narcotics are all considered to be serious. Such crimes will never lead to a resolution of criminal inadmissibility through deemed rehabilitation. The individual will have to specifically apply for criminal rehabilitation if they want to enter Canada or pass through the Canada immigration system.

The discretional powers of immigration officials

In some cases, if someone has a criminal record with just one non-serious conviction, they may still be prevented from entering Canada. This can happen even though the required time period for deemed rehabilitation has passed. Canada immigration officials can apply their discretion when carrying out their screening and this could lead to individuals being declined entry, permanent residency, the right to a Canada visa or Canada ETA, even if, technically, they're no longer inadmissible.

In some cases, a Canadian immigration officer could still judge that someone poses a risk to the country's national security and will, therefore, deny them entry, even though this person may meet the deemed rehabilitation criteria. However, even if an official makes an incorrect assessment, the immigration officer would still be acting within their legal capacity by disallowing entry to an individual. They could make their decision based on a perceived security threat or due to their uncertainty about what deemed rehabilitation entails and how they should actually apply it to individual circumstances. However, in both cases, an official would still be within their rights to deny entry to someone, leaving that individual powerless to object.

Letters of legal opinion can help

In such cases as mentioned above, an individual could present a legal opinion letter when making their application for entry into Canada. Written by an immigration lawyer, this explains the deemed rehabilitation concept and, most importantly, how it applies to the individual in question. It's unlikely an immigration officer will refuse a Canada immigration attorney's letter explaining why someone should be allowed to enter Canada.

When it comes to applying for a Canada eTA or visa, the question about a criminal record will apply when an individual fills out the paperwork for these documents. They'll have to answer the question as to whether they've ever committed, been arrested for, charged with or convicted of a crime in any country at all. Then, they'll need to give as much information as they can. This also applies to all convictions at any time. When the Canadian Embassy receives the application, it will process the eTA and decide whether someone would be considered as 'rehabilitated’. If they do, they'll issue the individual's eTA.

In conclusion, if someone has a criminal record that contains an offense or offenses that are very old, this doesn't guarantee they'll be allowed into Canada. Inadmissibility to Canada can still be likely, even in situations where deemed rehabilitation applies. Immigration officials will always have the final say as to whether someone is granted or denied entry into Canada.