eTA application with a criminal record
Applying for an eTA is usually very easy. You fill in the digital application form and pay the fee, after which the eTA is sent by e-mail after approval. However, for travellers with a criminal background, the process gets a bit more complicated. They may not be able to make an eTA Canada application in some cases.
eTA Canada: security first
Similar to the ESTA for the USA that was introduced after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 to improve security in the United States, the main purpose of the eTA Canada is to ensure the safety of the Canadian population. Through online screening, undesirable travellers can be turned away before they even arrive at the airport in Canada. This is done by means of the eTA application form.
In the form, in addition to the standard questions about the traveller's personal information, a number of background or “security” questions are asked. These also relate to a possible criminal past of the traveller. If even a single background question has to be answered with “Yes”, the eTA cannot be applied for. It is strongly advised not to lie on the eTA application form. Doing so may result in not only rejection, but also further punitive measures, such as a travel ban for Canada.
Summary and indictable offences
Not all offences automatically lead to rejection of an eTA application. Generally, a distinction is made between two types of criminal offences: summary and indictable offences. This is determined by the law. Not all offences lead to a criminal record. In the case of minor offences, the case is often settled with a fine. Examples of this are minor traffic offences (e.g., driving through a red light or speeding), urinating in public or violating a prohibition.
However, an indictable offence always leads to a criminal record. Indictable offences include serious offences such as (aggravated) assault, murder or rape. However, many people are not aware that driving under the influence of alcohol is also an indictable offence and therefore leads to a criminal record.
Canada also has a third type of offence, hybrid offences, where the prosecutor decides whether the offence will lead to a criminal record.
Criminal records and applying for an eTA
A criminal record can quickly cause problems when making an eTA application. For example, it is virtually impossible to apply for an eTA if you have ever been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In theory, eTAs are assessed individually, and it is possible to submit additional information with possible mitigating circumstances in order to still get approval. In practice, however, these applications are almost always rejected. Canada takes the safety of its citizens very seriously and travellers who pose a threat to this safety are not admitted.
Officially, the definitions of offences are the Canadian ones and not the British ones. Thus, a summary offence in the United Kingdom may be an indictable offence in Canada, or vice versa. In practice, however, as far as eTA applications are concerned, there are very few differences. For example, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is an indictable offence in both the United Kingdom and Canada.
If an eTA has been rejected because of a criminal record, it is little use making a new application. It will always be rejected again.
Can I still travel to Canada with a criminal record?
Yes. Although it is not possible to apply for an eTA, you can still go to a Visa Application Centre to apply for a visa. You can then explain your personal situation during the interview. However, if the crime is serious enough, the visa application can also be rejected.
In addition to applying for a visa, in some cases you can also submit an official rehabilitation request to the Canadian immigration service. This is known as “Criminal Rehabilitation”. This does not affect the status of the offence in the UK, but may allow a person to travel to Canada with an eTA or visa. In order to qualify for such a rehabilitation, the offence must have been committed outside Canada and at least five years must have passed (for serious offences, at least ten years). This period only begins after all sentences have been completed. For example, if five years have passed since the crime, but there is still an unpaid fine outstanding, it is not possible to make such a request until the fine is paid, and five years have passed from that point.