Have a DUI / OVI? Entering Canada Just Got a Lot Harder


If you are currently facing charges for driving under the influence (DUI) or have a DUI / OVI conviction on your record, there’s a good chance you’ve heard things about Canada and how such a conviction can make it difficult to enter the country. Though our northern neighbors have been tough on DUI for some time, recent changes to Canadian impaired driving laws now implement an even tougher policy – and it sounds more like rumor than rule of law, even to lawyers.

Canada’s new impaired driving laws – which went into effect on December 18, 2018 – have big implications for those convicted of impaired driving crimes. Under the new laws:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is now classified as a serious crime on par with offenses like drug trafficking, aggravated sexual assault, and murder.
  • In addition to DUI / OVI offenses, Canada also places lesser “reduced” DUI offenses like DWAI, wet reckless, and reckless driving in the same category of serious offenses.
  • Maximum penalty terms for DUI were extended from 5 to 10 years. In Canada, it doesn’t matter if you cause an accident, injury, or death while impaired. Simply being behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while under the influence is enough to subject motorists to severe penalties.
  • Under the new law, Canadian law enforcement can administer roadside breathalyzer tests to any driver at will. They no longer need to have reasonable suspicion that a motorist may be under the influence. Police are not able to administer random saliva tests that determine the presence of certain drugs, however.

For non-Canadians, the new tough-on-DUI laws mean Canadian immigration officials will treat DUI convictions from other countries, including the U.S., far more seriously than before. The result for Americans and others with DUI convictions abroad: a much more difficult time entering Canada freely, and a much harder process for obtaining needed travel permits.

How Do the New Laws Affect Me?

  • If you’re in Canada as a visitor, the new laws mean you can be legally breath tested randomly, at will, and without reasonable suspicion when driving, and can face potentially life-altering repercussions if you’re accused of driving under the influence.
  • If you’re looking to travel to Canada from America for work, business, or even to visit friends or family, it means a DUI conviction or similar offense entered on your record after December 2018 could prevent you from ever getting there. You may be denied entry, or you may be required to complete certain steps before you can legally enter the country.
  • You may be required to jump through additional hoops and complex, time-consuming legal proceedings in order to visit Canada with a DUI conviction from the U.S. That includes obtaining a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) to enter Canada for a limited period of time for a valid reason, and Criminal Rehabilitation, which allows for continued entrance into Canada but cannot be obtained until 5 years after completion of all sentencing and probation stemming from a conviction.

While Canada’s new law does not apply retroactively, meaning it applies only to DUI / lesser DUI convictions entered after December 2018, anyone with an old DUI conviction on their record could still face scrutiny from immigration officials at the border. Ultimately, your conviction(s), when they took occurred, and whether you’re looking to travel within the next year will dictate what options you may have. Generally, those options – if you have any at all – are requirements for Temporary Resident Permits (TRP) or criminal rehabilitation.

Because the unique facts of your case matter, it’s important to address any concerns you have regarding Canada’s new DUI and travel laws personally with an attorney experienced in DUI defense.

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