Changing Canadian law could spell problems for some WNY travelers

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) - Canada is cracking down on driving violations related to drugs and alcohol and it could have a big impact on Western New Yorkers.

Right now, anyone living outside Canada who has been convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is banned from traveling to the country for 10 years. After that period of time, assuming no additional offenses, the Canadian government would consider the individual "rehabilitated" and allow travel to the country.

But, after Dec. 18, Canada is making those violations more serious and individuals will no longer be eligible for "rehabilitation" after that 10 year period.

"There are a lot of people that this affects," explained immigration attorney Jamie Fiegel. She is a partner at Fiegel and Carr Law Firm. "As the border of U.S. and Canada continue to share more information, people who were previously getting into Canada without having these convictions show up, these are now coming to light for them."

Even though New York State law differentiates the severity of certain offenses, and not all driving violations related to drugs or alcohol are criminal offenses, Canada does not.

"Any alcohol related driving offense in New York State, whether it's a criminal conviction or the reduced traffic infraction, it will still pose issues in terms of the individual's ability to enter Canada," Nicholas Michaela Rossi, of the Rossi Law Firm, explained.

Rossi is a defense attorney that works on DWI cases often. Travel across the border is something that comes up with all of his clients in Western New York.

According to a spokesperson for Correctional Service Canada, anyone who has been deemed rehabilitated before the law goes into effect will not be restricted in his or her travel to the country. Anyone not deemed rehabilitated before the law goes into effect will not be eligible for automatic rehabilitation after 10 years.

It's important to note that these travel bans apply to all types of entry to Canada, whether it is as a driver, passenger in the car or by plane.

"You're inadmissible in all of those venues," Fiegel explained. "So it's important for people to know that there's no work around here. You are inadmissible. If you are caught then you will be removed."

One avenue for people going forward will be to apply for rehabilitation through the Canadian consulate in New York City. But, since the severity of the crime is now more serious in Canada, it will likely be more difficult to be re-approved for travel.

An individual can apply for rehabilitation five years after the completion of the sentence and there is a $1,000 CAD non-refundable processing fee.

Another option is to apply for a temporary resident permit, but will need to demonstrate a justifiable need to travel to the country. This process has a $200 CAD non-refundable fee.

According to Fiegel, having a Canadian spouse or family member could ease the process.

Fiegel and Carr Law Firm is hosting a free seminar on this topic on Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at the Buffalo Niagara Marriott. The address is 1340 Millersport Highway and it is open to the public. Anyone interested is asked to register by calling (716) 810-2121 and asking for Andrea.

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