Dear Miss Powell,
I went to school in the United States and while living there I was found guilty of a small offence and I paid a fine. My girlfriend lives in Toronto and she wants us to get married. I haven't told her about my previous conviction as I'm worried that this could upset her. Can I apply for Canadian citizenship now or will my conviction as a youth be a problem?
If you were found guilty of a criminal offence, you could be deemed criminally inadmissible to enter Canada and this could be a problem, but not one that you cannot overcome.
Depending on the nature of the offence, you may have options available to you which may allow you to get a visa to visit, get permanent residency and later become a citizen. You should note that an application to become a Canadian citizen is a two-step process and you cannot automatically apply to become a Canadian citizen, without first qualifying as a permanent resident.
Let's deal with the criminal offence. Although you didn't state what the offence was, it appears to be a minor offence. Offences such as obstruction of justice, assault, driving under the influence of alcohol, theft or petty larceny, possession of marijuana or other controlled substances, would be grounds for Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to deem you criminally inadmissible.
Nevertheless, all is not lost, as there are several ways to overcome previous convictions. This depends on the nature of the crime, the length of time that has passed since the charge and your current lifestyle and conduct.
The main ways of overcoming criminal inadmissibility are:
1. Deemed rehabilitation: If sufficient time has passed since the offence you could be deemed rehabilitated. As long as the offence is one that the maximum sentence in Canada would be less than 10 years, then you would be deemed rehabilitated.
2. Application for rehabilitation: You may submit an application to CIC to examine your particular circumstance and to approve you as someone who is rehabilitated and not likely to commit future crimes.
There are also certain exceptional situations or humanitarian reasons that may meet the approval of CIC and you could be granted at the very least a temporary resident visa or visitor's visa, which would allow you to enter and even remain in Canada, if you get married.
Just bear in mind that there are several ways of overcoming your past indiscretions. I think you should discuss this issue with your girlfriend immediately, so you can deal with the issue together. Trusting your girlfriend with this information is very important and may even bring you closer. Hopefully, your relationship is strong enough to weather the storm, as marriage itself could bring more difficult challenges.
You have options, so face the music now, M.R. and get it over and done with. I would recommend that you both consult a lawyer to guide you with the process to overcome your inadmissibility concerns, your application to become a permanent resident and explain how to eventually become a Canadian citizen.
Best of luck to you and your girl!
Deidre S. Powell is an international lawyer, mediator and notary public who is a member of the Jamaican and Ontario, Canada bars. Her main office is located in Ottawa, Ontario. Her areas of practice are in immigration, commercial, real estate, personal injury, family and wills & estates. Submit your questions via Email: email@example.com. Subject line: Immigration or Fax: 613.695.8778