Cruising through Canada with a criminal record?

Michael Schwartz, Matt Hendler
Published: August 3, 2021

Attention all cruisers! Canada’s transport minister, Omar Alghabra recently stated that the country will soon open up to travellers by boat.

As of November 1, 2021, cruise ships and their passengers can enter Canada, if they comply with the Canadian government’s public health guidelines.

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Canada, on both the West and East coasts, is a convenient and popular cruise stop. Boats to or from Alaska commonly dock in Vancouver or Victoria, while east coast ships visit the ports of Montreal or Halifax. Canada welcomes and values the cruise industry. The re-opening news should attract many tourists to come explore what the country has to offer.

By lifting the restrictions in November, the government aims to give the country’s tourism industry a boost leading up to the 2022 cruise season. The Canadian government itself notes that the cruise ship industry contributes $4 billion annually to the Canadian economy and supports approximately 30,000 jobs.

If you are one of the many tourists planning on entering Canada with criminal history, it is important to know that you can be denied entry at the border.

Canada has strict rules for people with criminal records. They are designed to keep the country and its people safe. Canada will take the foreign criminal offence and translate it into Canadian law. Factors such as what the offence is, how long ago the sentence was completed, and how many convictions a person has, all factor in. Since late 2018, a driving under the influence conviction means that a person is inadmissible to Canada for serious criminality. In theory, such a person is banned from Canada forever. However, there are ways to overcome inadmissibility.

Denial can take place at any point. It can occur at an airport for example, if you are flying from another country to Canada to get on a cruise leaving from Vancouver. It can also occur at your port outside of Canada. This is because Canada receives the passenger lists before the ship leaves for Canada. Lastly, it can take place at a port in Canada even if you plan on visiting for only a few hours.

How do I go on a Cruise with a criminal record?

The Canadian government offers short and long-term solutions to tourists who have a criminal record. Generally, there are three paths to resolving inadmissibility:

Temporary Resident Permit (TRP): This document grants temporary access to Canada for someone who is otherwise criminally inadmissible. If the traveler is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, they can apply for a TRP at a Canadian consulate or border. A TRP might be valid for a single day, or for up to three years. It may be good for only a single entry to Canada, or it may allow multiple entries. These elements will depend on the purpose of the visit to Canada. Reviewing officers use discretion when determining how long a TRP is valid for. The purpose for entering Canada is usually the most important factor. Cruise travellers are often suggested to apply for criminal rehabilitation.

Criminal rehabilitation: Criminal rehabilitation gives permanent admissibility to someone who was formerly inadmissible. Being eligible for criminal rehabilitation depends on several factors. These include:

  • the crime committed,
  • the sentence, and;
  • how much time has passed since sentence completion.

If you have been convicted of a crime or crimes in a foreign country, and more than five years have passed since you finished your sentence, you are likely eligible to apply for Canadian criminal rehabilitation. Criminal rehabilitation is a one-time solution that, unlike a TRP, never requires renewal.

Applying for a TRP can often be risky when attempting to enter for leisure purposes. This is because Canadian immigration officers may conclude that the importance of someone who has a criminal record stopping in Canada for a cruise does not outweigh the risks of allowing that person into the country.

Legal Opinion Letter: Another remedy to a potential criminal inadmissibility problem is a legal opinion letter. This is a document that a Canadian immigration lawyer prepares. The letter discusses a past charge or conviction, as well as the lawyer’s legal conclusions. The lawyer will identify the relevant Canadian law and explain why the person should be deemed admissible to Canada. A legal opinion letter can also be beneficial to those in a pre-sentencing situation before making a final plea. It can explain the different consequences of various pleas on the person’s ability to enter Canada.

Knowing Canada’s rules about tourists with criminal records is important. It can help individuals who have records understand what obstacles they may help, as well as what solutions are available.

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