Turning away tourists

Imagine yourself part of a group of 20 co-workers who are being rewarded by your company with a fishing trip to Canada. The trip is a thanks to the company’s highest achievers, who met and exceeded their sales targets. You’re proud, you’re excited, and you bought some new gear for the occasion.

Finally the big day comes. You and the rest of the group hop on a flight to Winnipeg, since your ultimate destination is a remote Manitoba lodge, and when you excitedly present yourself at the border, you’re expecting everything to be routine. Then the border official asks if anyone in the group has ever been finger-printed, and that’s where the story takes a turn for the worse.

It is a fact of law that most Canadians could be convicted of impaired driving today, and travel unimpeded to the USA tomorrow. American immigration law treats the majority of impaired driving convictions (those simple cases where there was no accident, injury or other aggravating factor) as non-issues when it comes to visiting the US. Of course convictions for violent crimes and many other offences are cause for special applications and possible denial, but generally the US does not deny entry to travellers whose only brush with the law is a misdemeanor like shoplifting, a bar fight, or a simple DUI.

Canadian law, however, is disproportionately strict when it comes to impaired driving. If your sentence for impaired driving ended more than 10 years ago, you are generally ok, although you have to risk simply showing up at the border and testing that out before you’re granted any certainty. But if it’s been less than 10 years (9, even) then there are special permits to apply for and certainly no guarantee your application will be successful or even processed in time.

Many of these applications can take more than one year to process due to staff priorities at Canadian consulates, meaning anyone who wants to plan a trip within the next year can’t really do so with any certainty. Many travellers who are unaware of the rules routinely show up at the Canadian border unprepared and are turned away and sent home with their fishing gear in hand.

That brings us back to the sales trip. Border official asks if anyone’s ever been finger-printed. You put up your hand, because you were busted for impaired driving nine years ago. You didn’t think that would matter. But it does.

The Canadian Federation of Outfitter Associations, of which MLOA is a member, is currently lobbying the federal government to change the processes and even the regulations surrounding criminal inadmissibility for impaired driving convictions. The current regulations are causing many potential visitors to stay home and not even consider Canada, lest they experience the embarassment, cost, and effort required to wipe what American border guards consider a non-issue off their records. Remember that Canadians with DUI convictions can freely travel to the US with almost no restriction, but we put out the “unwelcome” mat when it goes the other way. The current Canadian policy is costing the Canadian economy money; it is costing Canadian tourism businesses money; and it is turning away otherwise responsible visitors who are asking permission to spend money in Canada.