Canada has always had strict penalties for driving while intoxicated, but with recreational marijuana becoming legal there on October 17, the consequences for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs are becoming more severe.
Canadians could face a decade in prison. Americans looking to go over the border into Canada might be turned away if they’ve ever been convicted of a DWI here in the States.
"You will never be able to be deemed rehabilitated, so no passage of time for a conviction of driving under the influence, after December 18, 2018, will allow you to reenter Canada," said Jamie Fiegel, an immigration attorney and partner with Fiegel & Carr Law Firm.
Right now, as long as a person doesn't get another DWI, they're considered rehabilitated after 10 years. In December, that provision goes away. Canada also doesn't distinguish between types of driving and alcohol-related offenses.
"If you're convicted of any alcohol related offense, even if you get the benefit of a reduced plea offer and plead guilty to driving while ability impaired, which is a traffic infraction, you're likely still going to have some issues traveling to Canada," said Nicholas Michael Rossi of the Rossi Law Firm.
Even though this new law in Canada makes DWI a serious offense that could ban most people who have one on their record from being able to get into Canada, there are a few exceptions.
"If you had a spouse that's a Canadian citizen or children who are Canadian citizens, those are compelling reasons for you to be able to apply for a temporary pass to allow you entry until you're able to file for that permanent pass,” Fiegel said. “It has to be compelling. And compelling is mostly defined as a familial connection or an economic connection... Going to a cottage is usually not compelling. Going fishing is usually not compelling. Flying out of Pearson to be able to have an easier flight overseas or something else is usually not compelling.”
It’s possible to apply for a temporary pass at any time, but at least five years will have to pass after completing a sentence for a DWI conviction to apply for a permanent pass. With the new law, the cost of that jumps from $200 to $1,000 and it will be tougher to obtain.
At this point, there hasn't been any clear guidance from the Canadian government as to whether people who have had a DWI from more than 10 years ago will be subject to this new penalty or will be grandfathered in under the old laws.
A request for information has been placed with the Canadian Minister of Immigration but those calls were not immediately returned.
Fiegel is hosting a seminar on Tuesday, October 16, starting at 6 p.m. at the Marriott on Millersport Highway to discuss the new law and its implications.
Registration is required and can be completed by calling the law firm at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 716-810-2121.