Can I enter Canada with a criminal record?

Daniel Levy
Published: December 12, 2021

Foreign nationals need to be aware that a criminal record can make them inadmissible to Canada.

While a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer can deny you entry into Canada if you have a criminal record, you still have the possibility to enter the country if you prepare in advance. The Canadian government recognizes that those with criminal records are capable of being rehabilitated and also may not necessarily pose a risk to the safety of Canadians. As such, it provides three major ways to overcome criminal inadmissibility to the country.

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Temporary Resident Permit (TRP)

As the name implies, a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) is a remedy that allows an individual who is inadmissible to Canada to enter the country on a temporary basis. Its validity period can be up to three years. You need to submit a TRP application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) providing a compelling reason why you should be allowed to enter Canada, and why the benefits to Canada of allowing you entry outweigh potential risks. U.S. citizens and permanent residents are able to submit their TRP applications when they get to Canada or they can get pre-approval by submitting their application at a Canadian consulate. All other foreign nationals can submit their TRP application at a Canadian consulate. The application fee is $200 CAD.

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Unlike the TRP, rehabilitation is a permanent way to overcome criminal inadmissibility to Canada. Once you are rehabilitated, your criminal record is no longer grounds to deny you entry to Canada as long as you do not commit any further offenses. There are two forms of rehabilitation.

Individual rehabilitation is an option if it has been at least five years since the end of your sentence. The application fee is either $200 or $1,000, based on the severity of your conviction. Your application needs to demonstrate you have been rehabilitated and are no longer prone to conducting criminal acts. You can do this by providing evidence such as that you have a stable lifestyle, taken steps to improve your behaviour, and/or your offense was an isolated event.

Deemed rehabilitation is an option if your conviction was for a less serious crime and at least 10 years have gone by since you completed your sentence. You will automatically be deemed rehabilitated due to the passage of time. To be on the safe side, however, you may still choose to get a Legal Opinion Letter in case you need to prove to a CBSA officer that you should be allowed into Canada.

Legal Opinion Letter

Obtaining a Legal Opinion Letter is your third option. The letters are prepared by lawyers and they provide explanation to CBSA officers why they should permit you entry. Your lawyer can explain facts such as that you are deemed rehabilitated, or your offense was isolated or not serious, or there is no Canadian equivalent to your offense. Such letters can support your TRP or rehabilitation application.

Again, it is important to stress that it is in your best interests to prepare well in advance of your trip to Canada by getting professional advice so that you can enter the country without major difficulties.

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