Common offenses that can make you inadmissible to Canada

Julia Hornstein
Published: October 20, 2023

Generally, if an act is a crime or an offence in the country in which it is performed as well as an offence in Canada, it has the potential to make an individual inadmissible to Canada.

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This article will outline some common offenses for which most travellers may be denied entry to Canada.

Driving offences involving alcohol or drugs

The most frequent offences are those pertaining to driving or otherwise operating a vehicle (car, motorcycle, boat, etc.) while intoxicated. Some offences have different designations depending on the circumstances of the offense and where it was committed.

In the United States, these offences include:

  • DUI (driving under the influence)
  • DWI (driving while impaired/intoxicated)
  • DWAI (driving while ability impaired)
  • DWUI (driving while under the influence)
  • OWI (operating while intoxicated)
  • OUI (operating under the influence)
  • OMVI (operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated)

Reckless driving

In the United States, a conviction for reckless driving is often seen as similar to a DUI and both carry the same effect in terms of admissibility – potential denial of entry to Canada.

Dangerous driving is another analogous offense that results in inadmissibility. In fact, any serious driving offence has the potential of damaging an individual’s ability to enter the country, regardless of if the individual plans on driving while in Canada.


Fraud is a general category of offences that involves an act committed with the intent of depriving another party of anything of which they are the rightful owner. The rightful owner can be an individual or a company/organization.

Theft is an offence that falls within the fraud category. The determination of seriousness of the offence by Canadian immigration authorities will depend on the nature of the theft and the amount stolen.

For example, theft under $5,000 is considered a non-serious criminality, while theft over this amount is considered serious criminality. Further, if the theft is done with a weapon, violence, or the threat of violence, these elements can be aggravating factors in determining the seriousness of an infraction.


Assault refers to several different forms of threats and/or physical altercations between individuals. These can range between menacing words or gestures to bar fights to crimes of violence carried out with premeditation and intent.

There can be mitigating or aggravating factors that affect the seriousness of the assault. For example, if there was a weapon used during the assault or whether bodily harm was inflicted upon the victim. If a weapon was used and/or injury to the victim resulted, then this offence would be considered serious criminality.

However, both serious assault and non-serious assault (no weapon or no bodily harm) can render an individual inadmissible to Canada.

Drug offenses

A charge for producing, possessing, purchasing, consuming, or distributing drugs can all make an individual inadmissible to Canada. However, the nature and context of the offense will impact its seriousness and affect the likelihood of an individual being found inadmissible.

Drugs are classified differently in the Criminal Code of Canada. The classification of a particular drug will determine the nature and gravity of the offence and the severity of the punishment. For example, the possession of cannabis and the possession of cocaine are seen as very different offenses. The sanction to punish cocaine possession is usually harsher than that for cannabis.

How to overcome criminal inadmissibility

There are three ways to overcome inadmissibility to Canada. These include:

  • A Temporary Resident Permit application
  • A Criminal Rehabilitation application
  • A Legal Opinion letter

A Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) grants temporary access to Canada for a designated period of time. A TRP is used in situations where a traveler has a valid reason for entering into Canada and the benefits of their entry outweigh any risks to Canadian society.

A TRP application can be granted for up to three years, depending on the reason of entry to Canada. A person can apply for a TRP anytime. Moreover, it does not require the applicant to have completed their criminal sentence.

Canada allows foreign nationals with a criminal history to submit a criminal rehabilitation application. The application, if approved, permanently clears an applicant’s past criminal history for the purposes of entering Canada. The criminal rehabilitation application is a one-time solution and does not require renewal. Upon receiving approval for criminal rehabilitation, a person is no longer considered inadmissible, and would not need a TRP for entry into Canada.

In order be eligible for criminal rehabilitation, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Must have committed an act outside of Canada that would be equivalent to an offence under the Canadian Criminal Code,
  • Must have been convicted of or admitted to committing the act, and
  • Five years must have passed since the sentence has been completed. This includes jail time, fines, community service or probation.

Finally, if a foreign national has committed or been convicted of a crime, they can proactively avoid being found inadmissible to Canada by submitting a legal opinion letter addressed to the judicial authority hearing your case.

A legal opinion letter is drafted by a Canadian immigration lawyer and explains the consequences of a conviction for the Canadian immigration purposes. It will reference the relevant sections of Canadian law to help the deciding official on the case respond to the charges and how different outcomes (conviction, sentencing, etc.) would affect the ability to come to Canada. The letter can even suggest alternate infractions that would not lead to inadmissibility.

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