Over The Road #3: The FAST app.

In my last two articles I discussed the situation at the US border for those people living in Canada with a criminal record. I explained the rules on pardons, US waivers and the different ways you can get into the United States of America if you have ever been charged with a crime. But since there are thousands upon thousands of border crossings each day there was undoubtedly going to be experiences that did not match up to the information I provided.

So just a quick recap on the issues:

* Canadian pardons are not recognized by US authorities
* Pardoned criminal records are not accessible by US authorities
* Criminal records viewed by US authorities prior to the granting of a pardon are kept in US files forever
* A pardon may suffice for entry to the United States but it is a legal loophole: technically you are breaking American law by keeping your pardoned criminal record a secret
* The only way to be 100% sure you are able to enter the US legally if you have a criminal record is to obtain a US entry waiver (and even then you may get hassled)

Phew! So with all that it may seem difficult to know what your situation is and how to deal with it. The fact is that many people I speak to, for various reasons, are not even aware that a criminal record exists for them. So when they get to the border they don’t know what to do or how to deal with it. Add a difficult border guard to that situation and the experience can be downright traumatizing. Add to that the fact that no public system is 100% foolproof and you have a situation in which the advice and explanations I offered may not add up. Within days of publication I had received a few emails from frustrated/angry people who did not have a nice experience at the border and for who the legal loophole of the Canadian pardon system did not work out. For all those people I would like to say I am very sorry this happened to you. The border can be a tricky place to navigate but I do not make the rules, I just explain them.

Compound the Kafkaesque nightmare that is the American/Canadian border with the whole FAST application system and things get even more complicated. Now, I am not an expert on the FAST program and my company does not handle those applications. But after receiving some emails from people who had run into trouble with their FAST application I decided to do some research and see what may be happening to people with a criminal record who apply for a FAST card.

Here is what I found out:

Eligibility

You may qualify to participate in the program if you are a citizen or permanent resident of Canada or the United States and you reside in Canada or the United States. You must also be 18 years old or over and possess a valid driver’s licence. You must be admissible to Canada and the United States under applicable immigration laws.

You may not qualify if the following applies:

1. You provide false or incomplete information on your application;
2. You have been convicted of a criminal offence in any country for which you have not received a pardon;
3. You have been found in violation of customs or immigration law; or
4. You fail to meet requirements of the FAST Commercial Driver Program

Both Canada and the United States must approve your application. If you do not meet the requirements of both countries, your application will be denied.

Source: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/prog/fast-expres/driv-chauff-eng.html

Above is the criteria for Canadian drivers applying for the FAST card. I am not even going to try to research the application for American drivers. But let’s look at the points.

Point 1. If you provide false information on your FAST application you fail. So if you have blue eyes and you say they are brown no FAST card for you.

Point 2. This one is a little more confusing because Americans do not recognize pardons so I would think point 2 should just read as follows: “if you have ever been arrested then no FAST card for you”. But understanding government double-speak is an art, not a science. I think the Canadian government put in the bit about a pardon because the Canadian criminal code insists that they do.

Point 3. Break the law again and no FAST card for you. Well, this is just a rehashing of point 2 but fair enough. It should say respect the law and you might be granted a FAST card. Continue to respect the law and your FAST card will remain valid.

Point 4. For some reason government agencies like to use too many words especially when writing government documents. Therefore, in government speak, point 4 is pointless because if you do not meet the requirement of point 4 it means you did not meet the requirement of 1, 2 and 3. And if you don’t meet the requirements of either point 1,2,3 or 4 then no FAST card for you.

In relation to the whole criminal record thing it is point number 2 that concerns us because when you apply for a FAST card they are going to fingerprint you and submit the prints to the RCMP. This is the same thing that happens when you submit a USA waiver application. Only when you submit fingerprints to the RCMP for a waiver the RCMP will not disclose a pardoned conviction. It is a part of our law that pardoned information does not get disclosed in this case.

But, when you submit fingerprints for a FAST application to the RCMP they are submitted under the Privacy Act, which means that you are giving permission for your pardoned criminal record to be disclosed. So if you lie to the Americans about a previous criminal record because you received a pardon, the Americans will know right away. And that means that you failed point 1. And that also means no FAST card for you.

So, if you are applying for a FAST card please keep in mind that it is much different than applying for a USA entry waiver or simply crossing the border to take the family to Disneyland. A FAST application is a different process and they do not want you lying to them for any reason. And what’s important to remember here is that, in relation to a pardoned criminal record, the Americans will very easily be able to tell that you have lied. And once you lie, your FAST application is over.

If you are a driver and you want to cross the border regularly and you have a pardon for a past criminal conviction you have two choices. One, you can choose to apply for a FAST card and you can be upfront and honest about. You have to be honest because they are going to find out anyway. Or two, you could just skip the FAST card altogether and cross the border like the rest of us. It might take a little extra time but at least you would not be discolsing your pardon and previous criminal conviction to the American authorities.

In a case like this you, the driver, must ultimately decide what is best for you.

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