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Canada Immigration -- Not So Groovy

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Boomers planning a trip to Canada had better revisit their memories. Let's say you got busted for smoking marijuana in college, which, at least in my time -- the 1960's and 1970's -- was almost as prevalent as that other national pastime. "Getting busted" for it was part of the game. But that bit of youthful indiscretion may come back to haunt you now, in a most surprising manner.

You are considered "unfit" to enter Canada. In the words of the Canadian government, you are "criminally inadmissible." This applies to anyone as well who has been convicted of a DUI, shoplifting, driving dangerously, simple assault ... or anything that can be considered a "misdemeanor" in the United States. It doesn't matter if it was 40-some-odd years ago. It doesn't matter if you've been going to Canada for the last 20 years with no problem. If you have a record, you won't get in now.

It isn't that the laws are any tougher than they have been over the last 40 years; it's the technology that's better. Canadian immigration officers can plug into your history in the same way that local cops can. This is the result of a post-September 11 agreement between the U.S. and Canada, and it's been very effective.

It's long been known that U.S. immigration procedures are difficult, but entering Canada for U.S. citizens has been a snap. Until now.

Steve Dasseos, chief executive officer of TripInsuranceStore.com, says that no travel insurance policy will cover it either.

"Every policy has a clause that excludes government regulation or prohibitions. Every policy. It might be worded differently in each, but no policy will cover it."

For example, TravelGuard's exclusion says: "In addition to the General Exclusions, this coverage does not cover loss caused by: ... (vii) any government regulation or prohibition..." TravelEx's policy, worded differently, says: "Benefits are not payable for Sickness, Injuries or losses of You, Your Traveling Companion, Business Partner or Family Member: ... k) resulting from a governmental regulation or prohibition..."

Even a "cancel for any reason" policy won't be of help here, because the terms require that you cancel a minimum of two days before your trip begins, meaning two days before you leave your home.

Similarly, if you're planning on entering Canada via cruise ship, be warned that you won't get any refunds on your cruise fare if you're turned away for being "criminally inadmissible." Says Erik Elvejord, spokesperson for Holland America Line, which operates several Alaska cruises departing from Vancouver and Canada/New England voyages from Montreal, "If a guest is denied entry into a country because of current requirements, it's unfortunate, but we don't provide refunds for it."

What happens if you board a cruise in New York and your cruise ends in Montreal, and you're in an "Inadmissible Class" and don't know it? Lucy Perillo, who operates Canada Border Crossing Services, an agency which helps expedite the "rehabilitation" process, says that your first clue will be that you can't get off the ship for your shore excursions in Halifax or Prince Edward Island. And it will be computerized, in the system. When you get to Montreal, you will be allowed to transit to the airport, usually accompanied and put into a secure area. If you had planned on two-night post-cruise stay, forget it.

"It's also important to note," she says, "that Canada doesn't require a passport for entry. We still accept a photo ID and certified birth certificate. The U.S. requires a passport for re-entry. Some people mistakenly think that by using the photo ID and birth certificate, their entry to Canada will be easier. It's not. If you're in the system with a past conviction, the form of ID you use doesn't matter." For more info: www.bordercrossing.ca.

If you think you might be at risk, there are ways that you can "rehabilitate" yourself. It can, however, take up to 18 months; even fast-tracking it can still take up to six. It requires going to a Canadian consulate and filing a ton of paperwork (including court documents, current police statements that you're "clean," your own statement as to why you were convicted and three letters from "persons of standing in the community"). It can cost up to $1,000 CDN, depending on the infraction.

For more information on the infractions considered serious enough to make you "criminally inadmissible," and the steps you need to take to rehabilitate yourself, check geo.international.gc.ca.

Have you been affected by the stricter entry requirements? Share your experience on our boards!

Related Links
  • Visit the Canada Message Board
  • Montreal for Seniors, Couples and Kids
  • Read Canada Trip Reports
  • Write About Your Trip to Canada

    --written by Jana Jones
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