A cold shoulder fron Canada
Canada gives cold shoulder at the border to Americans with DWIs
LARRY OAKES, Star Tribune
INTERNATIONAL FALLS, MINN. - Yanks with youthful indiscretions, beware: That faded citation for driving drunk or smoking pot might not keep you from becoming president of the United States, but with post-9/11 border security, it might keep you from visiting Canada.
Americans have traditionally crossed into Canada with just a few friendly questions and a wave. But stricter anti-terrorism measures and Canada's already tougher stance on crimes such as drunken driving have resulted in many average Americans getting the cold shoulder at the border.
Just ask Bob Hohman, 54, a computer network security analyst from Roseville.
Hohman said he quit drinking after two drunken-driving offenses in the 1970s. By 2004, the convictions were such ancient history that he didn't think twice about disclosing them on a questionnaire at the Canadian border station in Walhalla, N.D., where he and his brother tried to cross on the way to an annual goose hunt.
"When the border agent saw these entries, he informed me that I would not be allowed to enter Canada," Hohman said. The agent said it didn't matter that he had crossed annually for at least 10 years or that he hadn't had a drink since 1979.
"I was kind of astonished," Hohman said. "I was like, 'C'mon, all of a sudden I'm not worthy to be in your country?'" Hohman said he and his brother drove to a different border crossing, steeled their nerves, didn't mention his record and crossed "without further incident."
More questions asked
Drunken driving, a felony in Canada, has long been on the list of crimes that can "deem" a foreigner "inadmissible." But in the past, experts say, border agents were less likely to find out about a foreigner's drunken driving record, either because they didn't ask or because they didn't have extensive criminal history databases to check.
That's changing, according to Lucy Perillo, president of Canada Border Crossing Services, a Winnipeg-based company that helps foreigners -- most of them American -- run the gantlet of paperwork required to get permission to enter Canada with even a minor criminal record.
"The number being denied [entry] is increasing, and it's directly related to more questions being asked," Perillo said. "If you have a DUI or you wrote some bad checks or shoplifted or smoked some pot, you're probably going to need a [special] permit to come into Canada."
Despite the heightened scrutiny, the Canadian government denies that it's refusing entry to more Americans. "We haven't seen an increase in individuals found inadmissible," said Derek Mellon, a spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency, though he said he was unable on short notice to provide statistics supporting his statement.
"The requirements to enter the country have not changed," Mellon said. "We continue to welcome millions of American travelers every year to our country."
A way to rehabilitate
Canadian immigration officials say that in many cases, would-be visitors with minor records are provisionally admitted -- either by paying about $200 in U.S. money for a temporary permit or paying the same amount and following a months-long process to "rehabilitate" their record permanently.
But being held up at the border or in the bureaucracy can be humiliating for the visitors and frustrating for the lodges, outfitters and other Canadian businesses that cater to them.
"Now I do not admit to being arrested when I cross the border, but it is very stressful," said Randy Kutter of Princeton, who had drunken-driving offenses in 1981 and 1986. He was denied entry in the fall of 2005, while trying to cross into Canada at Baudette, Minn., on a fishing trip.
He said he paid about $240 for a one-time visitors permit and later paid a similar fee to start rehabilitating his record -- a process requiring copies of the original charging documents. "I then spent two days running around to different courthouses and found there were no records left," Kutter said. "I eventually gave up."
Kutter and Hohman were among more than a dozen Minnesotans who responded to an inquiry on StarTribune.com about being denied entry to Canada.
They included a woman with a drunken-driving charge that was reduced to careless driving. She was traveling with her boss to a business meeting when she was denied entry. She and most others shared their information on the condition that their names not be used. Several said they had visited Canada many times before without a problem, though they had had the same record.
Some, such as a Twin Cities businessman who had flown to Montreal more than 30 times before being denied entry, said his drunken-driving offense came up when an immigration official ran his name through a computer.
More information shared
That may be happening more often in the future. As part of the Canada-U.S. Smart Border Declaration, a sweeping agreement drafted in 2003, Canada and the United States are developing shared databases of criminal history data on each other's citizens, in the name of anti-terrorism.
In 14 years in the business, Perillo said she has seen minor criminal records delay honeymoons, force fishing or hunting parties to cancel trips and lose deposits, and cause Canadian resorts to lose business. In general, she said, the older and less serious a charge is, the fewer problems a traveler will encounter.
Several times in recent years, Thunderbird Lodge on the United States side of Rainy Lake has accommodated fishing parties who turned around at the border because one of their members was denied entry to Canada, said Mary Jane Haanen, co-owner of the lodge, just outside International Falls, Minn.
"You hate to benefit from the misfortune of a business in Canada," Haanen said. "But at least we've been able to help them salvage their trip."
Larry Oakes • 1-218-727-7344