HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY: Lying to Customs officers can land you in a lot of hot water, warn experts.
EDMONTON, Alta. – With an estimated 60% of Canada’s trade with our neighbours south of the border moving by truck, the ability to enter the US is an important asset for most truckers.
If a driver has been saddled with a criminal conviction in the past, it is important to have all the necessary paperwork in place before nearing a border crossing.
“Don’t go anywhere near the border if you have a criminal record and don’t have the proper paperwork,” said Michael Ashby, director of the National Pardon Centre. “If you try and cross the border with a criminal record and don’t have a waiver, you’re breaking the law. On the first offence they’ll likely just fingerprint you and turn you away, but if you try again and they know the rules have been explained, they could confiscate property.”
US border officials have the authority to do more than just refuse entry into the country. There is the chance the truck and cargo could be seized, there have been instances of jail detention and officials can place a ban on an individual from crossing the border for a certain amount of time.
“It’s an offence to lie to a border guard in the US and you could be in big trouble if you do,” noted Paulette Gauthier-Roy, owner of Ontario-based Pardons Inc. “I had a client who was asked if he was ever in trouble with the local authorities, and he had a pardon and said ‘no, never.’ They took him into the office – and he was there for about seven hours – well they knew about his conviction and gave him a five-year ban because he had lied. They could give up to a 20-year ban and the onus is on the driver to prove a clean record.”
Another of Gauthier-Roy’s clients tried entering the US while serving a five-year ban and when he was caught by border officials, his ban was increased to 10 years.
The driver made a living driving thoroughbred horses across the border and after receiving the 10-year ban had to unhitch at the border, where another driver would take the herd to its Stateside destination.
Unfortunately for the banned driver, the driver who took over for him either did not have enough experience hauling horses or was just careless. During one trip, the horses arrived scared and injured, which cost Gauthier-Roy’s client his contract.
“And all of it was because of lying at the border,” added Gauthier-Roy. “Basically we’re talking about your livelihood.”
Since 9/11, the US has taken security to a new level and border officials have become more diligent in their inspections.
“It used to take about 15 minutes for your identification to be scanned in the computer at the US border. Today it is only taking 30 seconds as the computer system has been updated,” said Sue Goldstein, a consultant with Just Pardons. “That means that almost everyone is now being checked as they cross the border.”
Although improved technology has given agencies better access to information, obtaining a pardon or waiver is not an overnight job.
“Due to the fact that more and more people over the past six years are requiring that their criminal record be sealed, it is taking 12 to 18 months to receive your pardon,” noted Goldstein. “More and more companies are demanding criminal checks before they hire an employee. A pardon allows a person who was convicted of a criminal offence, and who has completed their sentence and demonstrated that they are a law-abiding citizen to have their criminal record sealed.”
Although a pardon is beneficial for career advancement, employment, volunteer work, landed immigrant status and Canadian citizenship, it will not guarantee entry into the US.
If you have ever been denied entry into the US, a permanent record has been placed into the FBI computer system. A pardon will not erase the records in the FBI system and a US waiver is required to enter into the States.
“A pardon seals a criminal record in Canada and in Canada nobody has access, unless you get arrested again then it could be re-opened,” explained Ashby. “The problem is, the US doesn’t recognize pardons and technically you are obligated to tell them, and if you don’t, you’re breaking the law.”
The difference between a pardon and a US waiver is essentially that a pardon will permanently seal a criminal record and remove the obstacles affecting a person’s peace of mind, travel and employment opportunities. While a US waiver allows a person with a criminal record to legally enter the US without the risk of arrest, deportation or property seizure.
“If you must travel to the US for either work or vacation before you have received a pardon, you will need a US entry waiver. It is a legal document issued by the US government allowing you to freely enter the US,” explained Goldstein. “If you have ever been convicted of any criminal conviction – including a serious motor vehicle offence – you are automatically barred from entering the US, even if you are on your way to a third country.”
Waivers are issued by the US Department of Homeland Security and anyone who has been denied entry to the US because of a criminal record, is required to obtain a waiver to gain entry into the country.
US waivers can offer entry into the States for a period of up to five years.
“Not everyone gets a five-year waiver,” noted Gauthier-Roy. “They don’t always get it and it depends on the nature of the offence and the timeframe of the conviction – if it’s close to that date. Homeland Security has its own criteria and we’re not privy to that.”
However, Goldstein pointed out, if your criminal record has never been detected by the US immigration officials before you receive a pardon, then they can not find out about your past criminal record, as it has been sealed.
“Now the loophole is they don’t have access to pardon files, but it is still breaking the law and if they find out you could be in a lot of trouble,” added Ashby.
As well, with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security the process of filing for US waivers has become more bureaucratic, which makes it more important to have an application filled out correctly with all the pertinent information.
“There is a lot of emphasis placed on having official documents,” added Gauthier-Roy.