LEAVING THE COUNTRY: Canadian pardons are not the same thing as U.S. waivers, so it's important for truckers to know exactly what they need.
TORONTO, Ont. – When it comes to pardons and waivers, whether or not they’re necessary depends entirely on what you need them for.
For instance, a Canadian pardon, while wiping your record clean in Canada, will not give you permission to haul loads across the border into the U.S., says Truck News legal columnist Daniel Joyce, a U.S. lawyer who specializes in corporate immigration law.
“Pardons are Canadian and only apply in Canada,” says Joyce. “When it comes to crossing the border to the U.S. different laws apply.”
In short, U.S. Customs couldn’t care less if you do or don’t have a Canadian pardon.
What they care about is whether you have a waiver, which is basically a permit from the U.S. government allowing you to enter the country despite a previous conviction that would otherwise make you inadmissible.
But even then, not all convictions, in either country, make you inadmissible to the U.S., explains Joyce.
For example, gun possession laws are different here than they are in the U.S.
So even if you’ve been convicted of gun possession in Canada you may not have committed a crime as far as our southern neighbours are concerned.
Drug convictions are something else.
If you have even a minor marijuana possession charge on your record you will have to obtain a waiver to get into the U.S.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your pardon will wipe your U.S. record clean, warns Joyce.
“U.S. Customs databases gather information from a number of other databases all the time, so even if your record has been cleaned in Canada, U.S. Customs officials could still have information regarding your conviction,” he explains.
That’s why telling a U.S. customs officer that you haven’t had trouble with the law, when the truth is that you’ve been convicted but obtained a pardon, is a no-no.
“Lying to a U.S. Customs officer is an offence,” says Joyce. And you may just end up having to get a waiver because of it, he points out.
Canadian paralegal Paulette Gauthier-Roy, who specializes in obtaining both Canadian pardons and U.S. waivers, agrees.
“A pardon won’t clear you to cross into the U.S.,” she says.
So when does a pardon come in handy?
“You get a pardon when you want to go for a job interview and you want a clean record,” Gauthier-Roy says.
“And you are not required by law to tell anyone that you have obtained a pardon.”
Except that pesky U.S. Customs official of course.
“In that case what you’ve got to do is make sure you have all the documentation about your conviction as well as a copy of your pardon on hand, to show the Customs officer. They’ll take a look at the conviction and decide if it’s one that allows you to enter the U.S. or not,” says Gauthier-Roy.
Convictions that can make you inadmissible to the U.S. include what Daniel Joyce refers to as “crimes of moral turpitude.”
“There’s no official list but these kinds of crime generally involve sexual offences, or anything that indicates some sort of evil motive,” says Joyce.
“Getting in a barroom brawl doesn’t count. A single drunk driving conviction doesn’t count either. But if you have two, you’ll need a waiver.”
Paulette Gauthier-Roy explains the system as follows:
“Basically they (U.S. Customs) make their decision based on whether you’ve committed a misdemeanor or a felony – in Canada that’s a summary conviction or an indictable offense. If you have one of what’s considered a misdemeanor in the U.S. you don’t need a waiver. If you have two you do. And if you have one of what’s considered a felony in the U.S. you need a waiver, but a felony in the US and an indictable offense in Canada aren’t necessarily the same thing.”
Needless to say knowing when you need a waiver is where help that’s offered by experts like Daniel Joyce or Paulette Gauthier-Roy can come in handy.
Then again you can always drop by U.S. Customs and Immigration at the border and ask them, or just wait until you’re refused.
Then you’ll have to apply for a waiver, which currently costs US$195 plus US$70 for biometrics and fingerprinting and takes about one year to come through. (You have to pay the same price whether you get the waiver or not.)
If you do get a waiver it could be for five years or it could be for one year, but either way you have to renew it by going through the whole process again (fees included) when your time is up.
Again, the application process is where help from someone in the know can come in handy.
“You can do it yourself, but you should realize that this isn’t an appeal process,” says Daniel Joyce. “The U.S. government doesn’t want to hear your excuses for what you did. As far as they’re concerned you committed the crime and you’ve got to show remorse for it and how you’ve changed and how you’re never going to do it again.”
That’s’ why you won’t get a waiver immediately after having been convicted, adds Gauthier-Roy.
“The U.S. government and even the Canadian parole board want to see that you’ve changed before they issue you a waiver or a pardon. There are waiting periods after convictions. The period can be longer, at their discretion, but especially after more serious crimes.”
But even seemingly minor crimes can result in a lifetime of waiver renewals, says Joyce.
“I’ve got this client who stole a ham sandwich in 1968 and took a tire a few years later in a dispute over money and now he needs a waiver for life, even though he’s stayed out of trouble ever since,” says Daniel Joyce.
“That’s how ridiculous the system can seem.”
Be that as it may, a waiver, unlike a pardon, can sometimes be a necessity for truck drivers who cross the border regularly.