Q: A client of our agency has booked a cruise departing next week from Vancouver. Years ago, he pleaded guilty to a DWI in his home state, and he has heard that he may not be able to enter Canada to catch the cruise because of his criminal conviction. How can he find out for certain whether he will or won't be allowed to enter? Is there some exception for travelers that go straight from the airport to the cruise dock? Do travel advisors have a legal duty to advise clients going to Canada that they might be refused entry if they have a criminal record?
A: A single DWI conviction could be enough to cause the Canadian immigration authorities to refuse to admit him into Canada. With only one week to go before the cruise, he will have to take his chances with the Canadian immigration authorities when he lands.
Considering the importance of these issues to Canadian tourism and U.S.-Canada relations, there is remarkably little helpful guidance on the websites of either the U.S. State Department or the Canadian immigration authority. The basic Canadian guidance is that, "Some people are not admissible to Canada, which means that they are not allowed to enter the country ... for several reasons, including being involved in criminal activity ... ."
Drunk driving offences in the U.S. are considered "criminal activity" under Canadian law. However, your client could still be admitted if the immigration officer decides that he meets the legal requirements to be "deemed rehabilitated."
Generally, the further in the past the conviction, the more likely the client will be deemed rehabilitated. The Canadian immigration authority suggests that a person in your client's position bring court papers, a recent criminal records check and other documents listed here.
One of the criteria for "deemed rehabilitation" is that the "crime you committed is not considered a serious crime in Canada." Unfortunately, as of Dec. 18, 2018, "impaired driving" convictions are considered serious crimes, so your client is less likely to be admitted than he was a year ago.
If your client had been willing to wait at least one year before traveling to Canada, he could have applied for "individual rehabilitation," which is a request for a definitive ruling from the Canadian government. The process appears quite complicated, and you probably need the assistance of a Canadian immigration lawyer.
There is no exception for traveling straight from the airport to the cruise ship. Although immigration officers can issue a Temporary Residence Permit for such a transfer, the criteria do not appear to be different from those for "deemed rehabilitation."
There are no court precedents holding that travel advisors have a duty to warn clients traveling to Canada about these issues, so I would not go as far as to state that advisors must warn clients. However, these risks are yet another reason to use disclaimers stating that the client is solely responsible for foreign entry requirements. You can find samples of such disclaimers here.