Foreign diplomats in Canada are racking up more unpaid debts, breaking more traffic laws, and violating passport rules more frequently, internal reports from Global Affairs Canada indicate.
The reasons for the general rise in misbehaviour over the last two years are not clear, though may be related to outreach programs and tip lines that make it easier to report problems.
Under the Access to Information Act, CBC News obtained a series of quarterly reports from the protocol office at Canada’s Global Affairs, covering a 27-month period from late 2014 to this spring.
Identities of the offenders and their embassies are carefully blacked out under privacy and international-affairs exemptions.
The reports show the number of incidents that required intervention by the protocol office — which has official oversight of the diplomats living here — has risen from single digits each quarter to about two dozen currently.
The types of incidents range from being caught in a police roundup of ‘johns,’ to unpaid tax bills and stiffing local landlords and construction companies.
“Failure to pay property taxes on a state-owned property … has resulted in one of the worst debts of this nature attributed to a foreign mission recorded in recent history,” says one report, referring to tax arrears of about $210,000 owed to the City of Ottawa.
Unpaid tax bills
The most recent quarterly report cites one embassy’s $283,750 in unpaid taxes owed to the Canada Revenue Agency, $10,000 in salaries owed to workers at another embassy, and a diplomat who left Canada owing $4,700 to an Ottawa car dealership.
Another report cites a landlord allegedly stiffed for $23,000 in rent; yet another refers to $25,000 owed to a different landlord.
In another case called “the first of its kind to come to the attention of the Office of Protocol,” a diplomat attempted to illegally export two vehicles from Canada, though unsuccessfully.
The documents also reveal at least four separate instances in which diplomats fraudulently obtained Canadian passports for their children, some of whom were born here but not entitled to citizenship.
There were no impaired-driving incidents, but traffic violations included stunt driving, speeding, distracted driving, failure to stop at a red light, and one case in which a diplomat hit a pedestrian after driving through a stop sign. “The pedestrian thankfully did not require medical attention beyond that provided at the scene,” the documents reveal.
‘They won’t waive the immunity, but they’ll take care of the problem. They’ll send the people home.’
– Ottawa police Insp. Michael Laviolette
The 8,000 accredited foreign representatives living in Canada — about half in the Ottawa area’s 133 diplomatic missions — enjoy diplomatic immunity from domestic laws under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a 1961 treaty ratified by 191 countries.
The protocol office routinely requests a waiver of immunity in cases of illegal acts and, if an embassy declines — as is often the case — will seek assurances that the offender face consequences, such as denial of driving privileges. In extreme cases, Canada can order the expulsion of an individual.
The protocol office’s 91 employees also occasionally deal with alleged abuse of domestic workers, including claims of slavery. Some calls are likely the result of a Dec. 1, 2014, outreach session in which the office told domestic workers at Ottawa embassies about their labour rights and a confidential tip-line.
The office deals regularly with alleged family violence and abuse, the most recent quarterly report citing five suspected child-abuse cases referred to the Children’s Aid Societies (CAS) for follow-up. Fewer than 10 such cases were reported in all of the previous quarterly reports.
Declines comment on trends
A spokeswoman for the Ottawa CAS office, Cindy Perron, said the organization does not keep statistics on diplomatic child-abuse cases but confirms a general rise in all referrals. She also noted that CAS is involved in child-abuse cases much earlier than previously, avoiding more family crises.
Similarly, Ottawa police do not keep their own statistics on diplomatic misbehaviour. Insp. Michael Laviolette, the force’s diplomatic liaison officer, says most of the cases do not result in charges or a court hearing.
“Most cases, they’re dealt with by the [foreign] state itself, so they won’t waive the immunity, but they’ll take care of the problem,” he said in an interview. “They’ll send the people home.”
“I’ve never seen where the particular state has basically thumbed their nose up at us … They’ve always been co-operative.”
Global Affairs Canada declined to comment on the numbers of incidents over the last two years. “The department cannot address particular cases or trends for privacy reasons,” said Natasha Nystrom.
“Canada takes very seriously all reported incidents of alleged criminality or wrongdoing involving the diplomatic community.”
One of the most grievous cases of diplomatic transgression in Ottawa occurred in 2001, when a drunken Russian diplomat drove his car onto a sidewalk, killing Ottawa lawyer Catherine MacLean. Protected by the Vienna Convention, he returned to Russia without facing Canadian justice, but was later sentenced to a Russian prison colony for four years.
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