By Erik Lacitis
The Seattle Times | Posted: Sunday, September 20, 2009 12:00 am
The crew of the Victoria Clipper, the ferry that makes round trips between Seattle and that city on Vancouver Island, frequently sees the effects of Canada’s strict driving-under-the-influence laws.
During the May-to-September peak tourist season, four to five passengers a week are turned back by Canadian border agents at the Victoria dock.
In Washington state, driving under the influence is a gross misdemeanor. It’s a felony in the Great White North. Under its laws, Canada can bar visitors if they’ve been involved in criminal activity. And it does.
Since 9/11, both the U.S. and Canada have used ever-expanding criminal databases that they share with each other.
“I didn’t realize that there were that many drunks in the U.S.,” says Darrell Bryan, president and CEO of Clipper Navigation, speaking only half-jokingly about the number of tourists being turned back.
“We have witnessed firsthand people who haven’t told their partner that at some point in their life they had a DUI. The first the wife learned about it was when the husband was denied entry.”
Bryan says he’s complained to Canadian tourism officials, telling them this is lost business, penalizing people for long-ago mistakes.
Tourism spokesmen from Victoria, Vancouver and the Province of British Columbia say they are aware of American tourists being turned back for a DUI, but it’s not been a major issue of discussion.
Perhaps it will be more so in February, when Vancouver hosts the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, and 350,000 visitors from around the world are expected.
Bryan wonders whether the strict enforcement is worth it.
“You’re not the same person you were 10 years ago or 20 years ago,” he says.
Those long-ago mistakes can include shoplifting and misdemeanor drug possession.
But it’s not as if people with DUIs are rushing to publicize that fact and lobby to change Canadian regulations.
Some of those turned back likely wouldn’t generate the greatest sympathy.
Construction worker Donald Frederickson, 29, of Lynnwood, took the Victoria Clipper in late February with his fiancee. They were celebrating their engagement.
Frederickson says he’s been straight and sober for five years but had three DUIs in the early 2000s while living in Detroit. He’s currently not driving, he says.
The Victoria Clipper has five warning signs at various places at its Seattle waterfront location, telling passengers that those with a DUI can be denied entrance in Canada.
Frederickson says he never saw the warning signs. Canadian officials told him to get back on the Victoria Clipper returning to Seattle that afternoon, although he was allowed to walk around the city in the meantime.
He had budgeted $500 for the vacation. Frederickson says he lost two nights’ hotel lodging.
“I’m not happy with the way it turned out, but I understand where their policy comes from. From what I got to see of Victoria in a couple of hours, it was nice,” he says.
An Auburn couple in their 50s, also turned back at the Victoria dock, say they were embarrassed by the husband’s DUI from 9-1/2 years ago.
She’s in the real-estate business, deals with the public and does not want the family name made public.
She says her husband got the DUI after drinking with a bunch of buddies after work.
“We own homes, we pay our bills,” she says. “You don’t think about it because it was so long ago.”
She says they probably won’t try to go through the complex paperwork to have her husband deemed admissible to Canada.
“Why take the chance of being turned back again?” she says. “We can just go see more of Washington.”
Getting right with Canada
There are three ways to get admitted into Canada once you’ve been convicted of a DUI. But you have to be prepared for lots of hassles, paperwork, fees and months of waiting for the Canadian bureaucracy to process your application.
1. If the completion of your DUI sentence is less than 5 years old, the only way to get into Canada is with a temporary resident permit, which costs $200 Canadian. (Having had your DUI knocked down from a gross misdemeanor to negligent or reckless driving can still prevent you from going to Canada.)
You’ll need to show the reason for your visit is “urgent,” said Peter Lilius, immigration program manager for the Canadian Consulate in Seattle.
A ski trip to Whistler is not deemed urgent. Think more along the lines of having an ill relative in Canada or an important business meeting you need to attend.
Even then, being admitted is not guaranteed.
The officers at the port of entry, said Lilius, “have the discretion.”
Before driving to the border, you can click on the Seattle Canadian Consulate Web site at www.canadainternational.gc.ca/seattle.
You can download an application for a temporary visit and either mail it in or bring it in person.
“Processing times may be lengthy,” says the consulate.
The Web site also contains frequently asked questions about visiting that country.
2. If you completed your DUI sentence more than five years ago, you can apply for Approval of Rehabilitation. The nonrefundable fee is either $200 or $1,000 (Canadian), depending on the seriousness of your crime.
The Canadians want proof “that you have a stable lifestyle and that it is unlikely that you will be involved in any further criminal activity.”
It involves considerable paperwork. You will need to provide your FBI file. You will need to provide a “police certificate” of criminal history, if any, from every state in which you lived more than six months since age 18. You will need to explain each offense. You will have to provide dates and all your home addresses and places of employment since age 18.
Processing time can take a year or more.
But, if you’re approved, then you’ll no longer have problems at the border because of your past.
3. If you have had only one DUI, and sentencing was completed more than 10 years ago, you can drive to the border with basically the paperwork for the Approval of Rehabilitation.
A border officer can approve you on the spot, at no charge, and that past DUI will no longer be a problem when crossing the border.
Again, it’s at the officer’s discretion.
There also are law firms that specialize in helping you through the process.
David Andersson, a Canadian citizen who can practice law both in the U.S. and Canada, works with the law firm of Chang & Boos, which has offices in Bellingham.
Expect to pay $3,000 to $5,000 for them to handle the paperwork, which includes having someone from the firm accompany you to meet with Canadian border officials. Expect it to take three to six weeks from the start of paperwork to meeting with border officials.
Andersson says his firm handles only 10 to 15 such cases a year, a tenth of what it could do.
“I call it my drunk American practice,” he says.