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Calgary man warning others after ‘humiliating’ experience at U.S. border crossing

Click to play video 'Calgary couple turned away from U.S. for pardoned criminal record' Calgary couple turned away from U.S. for pardoned criminal record
WATCH ABOVE: A Calgary couple found out the hard way that Canadian pardons are not recognized in the U.S. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, legal experts say U.S. border authorities have been clamping down on people with criminal records, pardoned or not.

Bill McLevin’s planned holiday to Phoenix ended when he tried to get across the border into Montana at the Coutts, Alta. crossing on Saturday.

The 66-year-old Calgary man said he’s been to the United States a half dozen times in the past 40 years by air and car with no problems. But this time, he said he was asked if he had a criminal record.

“I said, ‘yes, I have a pardon.’ The next thing I know, they are pulling me into the front office,” McLevin said.

READ MORE: What are Canadians’ rights at the US border? Slim to none

McLevin was charged with drug trafficking 43 year ago and spent four months in jail. He got a pardon 10 years later.

At the border crossing, he said he was photographed, had his fingerprints taken and was denied access.

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”It made me feel like I was a real criminal again,” McLevin said.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s not fair.”

READ MORE: Crossing the Canada-U.S. border with a criminal record

Canadian record suspensions are not recognized by the U.S. Even with a pardon, a person can still be barred from crossing the border. While you might not have had a problem crossing the border in the past, this might not always be the case should the U.S. find out about a conviction.

“If–for one reason or another–they believe that you were a problem, they will stop you and turn you back,” said Allan Johansson with Legal-Ease Document Service in Calgary.

The Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) shares police records with the U.S. National Crime Information Centre (NCIC). Johannson said even when the CPIC updates information, once a record suspension is granted, the NCIC still has the information of past criminal record.

“They have really tightened up in the last couple of years in terms of stopping people and having them fill out their applications and apply for the waiver,” Johannson said.

READ MORE: 5 things you need to know about new Canada-U.S. border agreement

The only option for McLevin if he wants to go to the U.S. now is to pay for a waiver.

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The waiver is called Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as Non-immigrant. There is an application fee of USD$585, which can be paid by cheque made out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The process can take up to a year.

The first Waiver of Inadmissibility is good for one year for Canadians, depending on the offence. A second waiver may be granted for a longer period of time, up to five years. Re-applying will include the same steps as the first application.

It’s left McLevin and his wife wondering if they should have lied when asked about the old criminal charge.

“That’s where honesty gets you, I guess. I thought after he answered all the questions and everything was all said and done and he was honest about it, they would say, ‘OK we have all your information. Go ahead, carry-on with your holiday,’” Lynda McLevin said.

But Johannson said it’s never a good idea to lie at the border.

“It’s worst thing he could do, because sooner or later they’re going to find you in their searches. Even at that particular moment, they can go through CPIC or look through the suspended records or they can go to the international fingerprint database, and they will find you.”