Monday, December 05, 2005

Diplomatic Licence

A conviction for drunk driving or some other petty criminal offence can be fatal to one's career prospects. Unless you're a diplomat, in which case one can just turn in one's driver's licence and rely on the embassy chauffeur. Or at least it so appears on the surface:

Three foreign diplomats have had their driver's licences suspended after being charged for impaired driving-related offences in Ottawa this year.

Ottawa police said the three diplomats refused to waive immunity after it was determined there was "sufficient evidence" to warrant the laying of criminal charges.

"A formal request for immunity to be waived was made, but not obtained," said Ottawa police Supt. Charles Bordeleau, adding all three opted to avoid prosecution by turning over their licences to Foreign Affairs under Canada's zero-tolerance policy on impaired driving by diplomats.


Among the stranger items diplomatic agents are accused of attempting to steal in the past 11 months were a Halloween costume, used coat and boots from the Value Village store on Bank St.

The most recent incident occurred last Sunday when police were called after a woman was caught at Sears in the Rideau Centre for allegedly swapping pricetags on a manicure kit to save $5.

In another incident on Sept. 5, three diplomatic agents were caught allegedly trying to steal a CD holder, a can of WD-40 and Scotch tape worth only $33 from the Canadian Tire store on Coventry Road.

Although there have been seven shoplifting incidents, criminal charges weren't laid in any of them, police said. Instead, police relied on trespassing notices and diversion programs, including letters of apology.

"This is much like any other individual we end up attending to for shoplifting, due to the circumstances they are often issued trespassing notices and banned from the store," said Supt. Bordeleau. "Had these not been diplomats, the same outcome would have taken place."

Police also investigated 11 incidents involving traffic tickets, driving complaints or car accidents, including one driver who was so bad that police sent a letter to Foreign Affairs who subsequently withdrew the diplomat's driving privileges.

Diplomatic immunity is one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts in international law, mostly because people think it means that diplomats and their families can commit crimes in their host countries with complete impunity.

Far from it. The protection has evolved over centuries to prevent diplomats from being harassed or imprisoned during disputes between their countries and their host countries. They remain subject to their home countries' laws; in some cases, they might prefer to face Canadian courts than their own.

And once they act outside their official scope of duty, immunity no longer covers them; their own countries' laws kick in, or their immunity can be waived.

Outrageous as it sounds to let shoplifters and drunk drivers be sent home without facing Canadian justice, think what might happen to Canadian diplomats in places such as North Korea, Iran or Cuba if they didn't have the protections of diplomatic immunity against trumped-up charges.

Source: Ottawa Citizen

Recommended Reading: The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations sets out the nature and scope of diplomatic immunity in Articles 29-44.

No comments: