If you have a provincial or Canada-wide warrant for your arrest, it should be dealt with to avoid travel restrictions to international destinations, including the United States. Domestic travel within Canada should not be an issue, however, if airport security is informed of a warrant by the RCMP, it may restrict your ability to travel domestically.
If this article, we explore international, US, and domestic travel restrictions for individuals with a warrant.
What is a warrant?
A warrant is an Official Legal Document that permits law enforcement to arrest, hold in custody, or bring before a judge in court any individual who is accused of an offence. It is endorsed by the Court and is typically issued by a judge or a justice of the peace.
There are several different types of warrants including:
- Bench warrants;
- Arrest warrants;
- Warrants in the first instance;
- Unendorsed warrants (in which only a provincial court judge has the authority to release the accused);
- Warrant to hold;
- Surety warrants;
- Witness warrants; and
- Tele-warrants (which allows police not to have to appear in person before a justice or a judge).
For example, if you are released on conditions after having been charged with an offence and you do not abide by the conditions of your release, a warrant for your arrest may be issued.
The Criminal Code of Canada (“the Code”) gives the Court jurisdiction to issue warrants. Section 29(1) of the Code states:
A warrant includes the name of the accused and the offence they have allegedly committed. It also authorizes the arrest of the accused by specifying that a peace officer has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the accused is involved with an ongoing or past criminal offence.
When a peace officer arrests an individual, they must have the warrant on hand and provide it to the accused if they ask why they are being arrested. The peace officer(s) must also indicate that they have the authority to arrest the individual through and because of the warrant.
A warrant may remain on your criminal record permanently if it is not executed or appropriately resolved.
Detention in a custodial facility on account of a warrant can be avoided if a Promise to Appear is granted by the court as opposed to a warrant. As the name suggests, a Promise to Appear specifies a date and time for a court appearance that the individual with a warrant must commit to.
An experienced criminal defence lawyer may be able to negotiate with the Crown Prosecutor to allow the accused to be released (or avoid being held in custody altogether) on the promise that they will appear in court at another time.
With a Promise to Appear, the outgoing warrant will not be executed (i.e., the individual with the warrant will not have to stay in jail until their trial commences).
How do police obtain a warrant?
To obtain a warrant, police have to swear an affidavit to a judge or a justice of the peace and establish that they have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed by an alleged perpetrator.
This means that the police have to attest to information regarding how and when the alleged offence was committed and the name or general characteristics of the accused.
As an alternative to a warrant, the judge may choose to grant a notice of appearance, which would require the accused to appear in court on a specified day.
How to find out if you have a warrant?
The most obvious way you will know if you have a warrant is if you are arrested or detained by police. However, if are not arrested or detained by police, there is a good chance you have a warrant if you commit any of the following offences:
- Failing to appear in court;
- Breaching the terms of a court-ordered sentence;
- Failing to testify as a witness after being summoned with a subpoena;
- Failing to identify yourself through photo verification at a police station after you have been charged with a criminal offence; and
- Committing the same offence multiple times.
You may also have a warrant if a peace officer needs to communicate with you but are unable to determine your whereabouts. For example, if police want to speak with you regarding a criminal investigation but cannot locate you, they may seek a warrant for your arrest.
A warrant is often used by peace officers to secure evidence or establish the identification of wanted individuals.
If you suspect that you have a warrant, you can confirm this suspicion either by contacting the police, making an inquiry at your local courthouse, or hiring a criminal defence lawyer to contact the Crown Prosecutor’s office on your behalf.
When is a warrant considered to have been executed?
A warrant is considered to have been executed when you have surrendered yourself at a police station or the police have arrested you.
In rare circumstances, you may be able to appear before a judge and request that the warrant be considered complete because you have come into court through your own accord.
This approach is often only successful when either the applicant’s legal counsel has made a legal or procedural error, or the issuance of the warrant is not due to the individual’s own wrongdoing. The presiding judge will likely question why the individual was unable to turn themselves in at a police station instead.
Regardless of which approach you choose; you will need a zealous lawyer who is knowledgeable about warrants and the ways in which they can be resolved most effectively.
Our lawyers at Strategic Criminal Defence are skilled at vacating or having warrant charges withdrawn for our clients. As an example, in one case, we negotiated with the Crown Prosecutor to have our client pay a charitable donation in exchange for a clear criminal record. In another successful case, we were able to withdraw warrant charges for an individual who had several counts of failing to comply with their probation order.
For a more comprehensive list of our successful cases which deal with warrant charges, please see our Successful Cases page.
Travelling in Canada
If you have a warrant for your arrest, domestic travel within Canada will likely not be too troublesome. This is because airport personnel at domestic airlines do not have access to the relevant databases that flag the names of passengers who have warrants on their criminal records.
Likewise, airline staff at the security checkpoint and those at check-in do not have the time or ability to administer such background checks. They are often preoccupied with making sure that passengers board their flights on time.
These sorts of checks are also not built into any of the mechanisms used to check in passengers who are travelling between provinces, such as the kiosks in the airports or through security.
However, if someone goes out of their way to inform security agents about an outgoing warrant you have and that you intend to travel or if security finds something illegal in your luggage, you may be prevented from travelling even domestically.
If security becomes concerned, they may ask you to divulge personal information (which they wouldn’t otherwise) and this may lead to the disclosure of your warrant and subsequently your arrest.
If you have a warrant for your arrest in one province and you choose to travel elsewhere in Canada, you may or may not be transported back to the province in which you have a warrant if police agencies in the alternate province discover its existence. This depends on the discretion of the respective police agencies, the expense of transport and the severity of the offence which the warrant is for.
However, it is rare for police agencies to make the effort to transport offenders across the country. This course of action is often reserved for very serious crimes.
For example, if an individual is charged with murder, and travels to another province, it is likely that the police agency in the subsequent province will make the necessary arrangements to send the accused back to the province in which they have a warrant if the existence of the warrant comes under their radar.
Travelling to the United States
Passports are routinely checked at customs. Customs is a governmental agency that controls the import of goods in a country and imposes tariffs. For instance, Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) manages customs at the ports of entry into Canada.
When customs check your passport, any warrants on your record will appear. This is because CBSA officers (customs agents) have access to several databases, including Canadian Police Information Center (“CPIC”).
CPIC is a database that consists of information about outstanding warrants (as well as those that have been dealt with) and criminal records. If law enforcement has ever “wanted” an individual for any reason, it is likely that this information will be available on CPIC.
If you are travelling to the United States and you have an outstanding warrant in a Canadian province, this will likely be flagged by CBSA officers.
It should be noted that warrants do not expire, and customs agents have access to information about matters that have been resolved.
When Canadians travel to the United States, they will typically pass through customs before they depart Canada, as opposed to upon arriving in the United States. This means that if you have a warrant for your arrest, you may not be able to leave Canada to go to the United States.
As neighbouring countries, Canada and the United States share a lot of information regarding criminal matters and police agencies in the respective countries are often willing to cooperate to return or send offenders as needed.
If you have a warrant in Canada, it will be especially difficult for you to travel anywhere outside of Canada or the United States.
When Canadians travel to a country on another continent, they typically go through customs after arriving at their destination. This means that if you have an outstanding warrant, you may not be able to leave the airport of the country you intend to enter.
If the warrant is for a serious criminal offence, you may be arrested immediately when you land. However, it is more likely that you will be put on a plane and forced to return to Canada as soon as there is an available flight.
The customs agents may also choose to notify the Canadian police agency who issued the warrant that you are returning to Canada. If this is the case, police may be waiting to arrest you once you land on Canadian soil.
Are there individuals with warrants who cannot travel at all?
Some individuals are prohibited from travelling altogether. For instance, if you are incarcerated, have been convicted of trafficking drugs in between countries or if there is a Canada-wide warrant for your arrest, you will likely not be able to board an airplane whatsoever.
Similarly, if you are subject to a court-ordered sentence or a penalty which expressly denies travelling, such as a parole sentence or a rehabilitative program, airport personnel will respect the terms of your sentence and refuse to accommodate your travel plans.
Finally, you may also be prevented from travelling if you are behind on child support payments as paying these fines is considered to take precedence over travel.
Our team at Strategic Criminal Defence is skilled in addressing warrants and ready to assist. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you navigate this process.