Sunday, September 20, 2009

DUI Here? Now, What About Going to Canada?

Getting right with Canada

There are three ways to get admitted into Canada once you've been convicted of a DUI. But you have to be prepared for lots of hassles, paperwork, fees and months of waiting for the Canadian bureaucracy to process your application.

1. If the completion of your DUI sentence is less than 5 years old, the only way to get into Canada is with a temporary resident permit, which costs $200 Canadian. (Having had your DUI knocked down from a gross misdemeanor to negligent or reckless driving can still prevent you from going to Canada.)

You'll need to show the reason for your visit is "urgent," said Peter Lilius, immigration program manager for the Canadian Consulate in Seattle.

A ski trip to Whistler is not deemed urgent. Think more along the lines of having an ill relative in Canada or an important business meeting you need to attend.

Even then, being admitted is not guaranteed.

The officers at the port of entry, said Lilius, "have the discretion."

Before driving to the border, you can click on the Seattle Canadian Consulate Web site at www.canadainternational.gc.ca/seattle.

You can download an application for a temporary visit and either mail it in or bring it in person.

"Processing times may be lengthy," says the consulate.

The Web site also contains frequently asked questions about visiting that country.

2. If you completed your DUI sentence more than five years ago, you can apply for Approval of Rehabilitation. The nonrefundable fee is either $200 or $1,000 (Canadian), depending on the seriousness of your crime.

The Canadians want proof "that you have a stable lifestyle and that it is unlikely that you will be involved in any further criminal activity."

It involves considerable paperwork. You will need to provide your FBI file. You will need to provide a "police certificate" of criminal history, if any, from every state in which you lived more than six months since age 18. You will need to explain each offense. You will have to provide dates and all your home addresses and places of employment since age 18.

Processing time can take a year or more.

But, if you're approved, then you'll no longer have problems at the border because of your past.

3. If you have had only one DUI, and sentencing was completed more than 10 years ago, you can drive to the border with basically the paperwork for the Approval of Rehabilitation.

A border officer can approve you on the spot, at no charge, and that past DUI will no longer be a problem when crossing the border.

Again, it's at the officer's discretion.

There also are law firms that specialize in helping you through the process.

David Andersson, a Canadian citizen who can practice law both in the U.S. and Canada, works with the law firm of Chang & Boos, which has offices in Bellingham.

Expect to pay $3,000 to $5,000 for them to handle the paperwork, which includes having someone from the firm accompany you to meet with Canadian border officials. Expect it to take three to six weeks from the start of paperwork to meeting with border officials.

Andersson says his firm handles only 10 to 15 such cases a year, a tenth of what it could do.

"I call it my drunk American practice," he says.

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