Having a criminal record is hard. But having a criminal record when you drive trucks professionally is even harder. If you’re a driver, or if a driver in your fleet has a criminal record, it is important that they have all the necessary documentation and paperwork before they reach the US border with a trailer full of cargo.
“Most carriers want their truckers to be able to go to the States,” said Andrew Tanenbaum, program director at Pardons Canada. “If you have a criminal record in Canada, the Americans have a right to deny you entry. It’s that simple.”
In order to gain entry into the US again, those with a criminal record have to obtain either a pardon (also called a record suspension) or a US waiver.
“The difference between the two is, a pardon removes your criminal record from the Canadian Police Information Centre and a US waiver grants you entry into the United States,” said Azmairnin Jadavji, president and CEO of Pardon Services Canada. “It’s definitely not uncommon to have a criminal record – one in eight people in Canada have one.”
“You only need a waiver if the Americans already stopped you and turned you away because you are now in their system,” added Tanenbaum. “In addition, a US waiver is more expensive than a pardon and you need a waiver for the rest of your life. It has to be renewed at least every five years.”
Companies like Pardons Canada and Pardon Services Canada specialize in getting those with criminal records out of trouble and across the border by helping them gather paperwork and apply for a pardon and/or a waiver.
“We get calls from truckers all the time because everyone’s done something stupid in their life,” said Tanenbaum. “The way a record affects truckers the most is that most carriers want their people to get down to the United States. If a driver has a criminal record, and they bring a load down to the border, they not only can’t get into the States, but they also can’t bring the load down.”
In some cases, the cargo could even be seized.
It should be noted that even though Americans do random criminal checks, if you have a criminal record, you shouldn’t go anywhere near the border because it is illegal to try and enter the US when you don’t have a waiver. It’s also an offence to lie to an officer about your past record.
“You could have gone back and forth a few times without any trouble, but it takes one Customs officer to press the criminal check button and see that you’ve been in trouble,” said Tanenbaum.
As well, if you want a FAST card, your record must be completely clean when you apply. So if you did have a criminal record, you should obtain a record suspension before applying so officials can’t view your criminal history.
The process of applying for a pardon or waiver is not an easy one. Specialized companies like Pardons Canada and Pardon Services Canada help ensure that your application is completed correctly, but it still takes some time before you receive your pardon because of the amount of people that apply for pardons every day.
“The process all together can take from 10-24 months,” said Jadavji, whose company offers three different services: basic, standard and expedited that vary in price and turnaround time.
Tanenbaum said that at Pardons Canada it costs around $600 to get a pardon and around $700 to obtain a waiver, and can take from anywhere 12 to 20 months before a pardon or waiver is granted.
It is possible for people to apply for a pardon on their own in order to save money.
“It’s like taxes,” Tanenbaum said. “But it’s a lot of running around and people can often make mistakes on their application.”
Though these companies can’t say for sure what the Americans can see when they do a criminal record check at the border, the proof of their work is in the pudding.
“We’ve been doing this a long time and we get almost no calls from people who get a pardon who have then been denied entry after our services,” said Tanenbaum.
Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface. All posts by Sonia Straface