For Canadian immigrants, impaired driving just got even more serious

In December 2018, the Canadian government made changes to Canada's impaired driving laws which have important implications for foreign nationals and Canadian permanent residents. The penalty for impaired driving (commonly known as "DUI") was increased from a maximum of 5 years in prison to a maximum of 10 years. This makes drinking and driving a serious crime for the purposes of Canadian immigration law. 


Changes to Canada's impaired driving laws came into effect around the same time that cannabis consumption became legal in Canada. With its reformed impaired driving regime, the Canadian government is seeking to protect the public and raise awareness about the dangers of operating a vehicle after having consumed drugs or alcohol. 

Immigration consequences

All immigrants to Canada are screened for criminality issues, along with background checks and medical exams. An immigrant who has committed a crime in Canada or abroad can be barred from immigrating to Canada or face the loss of their permanent residence status. There are two broad categories of criminal inadmissibly: "criminality" and "serious criminality."  

Prior to December 2018, impaired driving was considered "regular" criminality under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. When the maximum sentence for impaired driving was increased to 10 years, the offence became serious criminality for immigration purposes. As a result, potential immigrants to Canada who are convicted of impaired driving will no longer be eligible for "deemed rehabilitation" and may have a harder time getting a Temporary Resident Permit. For those who are already permanent residents of Canada, being convicted of impaired driving may increase the chance of being deported from Canada and may make it harder to get Canadian citizenship. 

Critiques and silver linings

Many stakeholders in the Canadian immigration industry objected to these changes and lobbied extensively to have them modified, as they have "disproportionate immigration consequences for non-Canadians." For now, applicants may take some solace in the fact that Canada's new impaired driving laws will only apply to offences committed after December 18, 2018. So the next time you consume drugs and alcohol, be sure to take a taxi!

Please note that this article does not constitute legal advice. Each case is different and your options may vary depending your situation. If you need assistance overcoming inadmissibility for immigration purposes, please contact me for assistance.