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You have been thinking about a sun drenched cruise for years and you’ve been working towards that end by reading everything about Central American rain forests, the cruise line you want to use and even solving that nagging issue of how best to transfer to the ship from the airport. Your Canadian passport is good for another three years and it looks like clear sailing either this season or next.

Of course, to get there from here, your planned route takes you through US Customs at Toronto Pearson International Airport. Crossing into the US with a Canadian passport should be a simple matter. However, both Canada and the US now share all criminal information through sources such as the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the RCMP’s Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). The information sharing between Canada and the United States happens when your passport is swiped at the border. Your criminal background, perhaps dating back 10, 15 or 25 years or more, now becomes... a thing, that matters.

There are many ways a record may turn up in shared data bases. If, for instance you attempt a border crossing before the record suspension (formally pardon) is granted, the charge might be copied to the US data base. During previous US border crossings, particularly prior to 9/11, you may have mentioned your charges to the border official when asked if you had ever been charged with an offence. The charges would have been entered into the US system where they sat, not a bother to you or anyone else until after 9/11. Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in November, 2002, if your criminal background makes you stand out as a risk, you could be turned back without hesitation.

Even if that long-ago charge was dismissed or withdrawn, you were still arrested and fingerprinted and those records may still exist. If there were delays in updating records, yours may be years out of date and may not even show your acquittal. You could be denied entry to the United States even though you were never convicted.

Getting a record suspension (formally pardon) won’t get you into the United States if US Customs Border Protection (CBP) already has your charges. Your rs will ensure your Canadian charges are set aside, suspended and kept separate from other Canadian criminal charges in the CPIC system, but the rs will not remove Canadian criminal records from CBP computers.

If it looks like you will need a waiver, start the process for a US waiver 8 to 12 months before your scheduled departure. The waiver guarantees pre-approval entry to the US and can be issued for up to 5 years.

A couple of myths…

1) You do not need a record suspension to get a US waiver but you do need a US waiver to get into the United States if you have a criminal record.

2) There is a general belief that one must get a record suspension before applying for a passport. Not so. Although slated for some time in the future, currently, criminal records are not checked in the processing of a Canadian passport.

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