Having a DUI on your record can get you banned from visiting Canada, where drunken driving is a felony, and you'll have to wait at least five years and complete lengthy paperwork to be considered for admission.
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.
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“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 fiancée. 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 9-½ 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.”
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org