Misbehaving diplomats struggle to hide behind immunity in Canada: reports

Diplomatic immunity is a centuries-old, now-codified international convention intended to let one country's official representatives do their work without interference even if their government is at odds with the host country.

But as CBC News reveals, some are all too willing to use their diplomatic passports as a Get Out of Jail Free card. The reports CBC News obtained under Access to Information legislation also show the miscreants don't always get to saunter off with no consequences at all.

CBC acquired several quarterly reports compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs Office of Protocol detailing alleged or suspected criminal activity involving diplomats, family members or staff in the last 18 months. The documents were censored to remove the names of the individuals and their home countries but the nine offences range from a punch-up over a restaurant tab to suspected child sexual assault.

Perhaps the most serious incident involved a call to Ottawa police by the Children's Aid Society about the possible sexual assault of a child in the care of a person with immunity — the son of a diplomatic agent. The agent's spouse had been running a daycare out of the home. The daycare was closed but no charges were recommended because the complaining party refused to co-operate, CBC News said.

In a similar incident of child assault, however, the protocol office was able to get a waiver of immunity from the country of the accused who had diplomatic status, allowing a court case to go ahead. A deal allowed the individual to participate in "extra-judiciary activities relevant to the nature of the incident," CBC News reported.

A member of a diplomatic mission involved in an alleged spousal assault had his accreditation withdrawn but the Crown later dropped the charges.

[Related: Canada expels Syrian diplomats over Houla massacre ]

Drinking often figures into run-ins between police and diplomats or their relatives. The protocol office reports detail several incidents, including the case of Montreal police twice busting an individual for impaired driving. The representative's government refused to waive immunity so Ottawa ordered the person out of the country.

The most notorious case of diplomat misbehaviour in Canada occurred in January 2001, when allegedly drunk Russian diplomat Andrei Knyazev lost control of his car on an Ottawa street and ploughed into two women on the sidewalk. Catherine MacLean was killed and her friend Catherine Doré was badly hurt.

Knyazev refused to take a breathalyzer test, citing diplomatic immunity, at the scene. The Russian government refused to waive his immunity so Canada expelled him.

But he didn't get off scot-free. After a joint Canadian-Russian investigation, Knyazev was charged with involuntary manslaughter. He was tried in a Russian court and sentenced to four years in a penal colony.

The incident led to a crackdown on diplomatic drinking-driving cases, resulting in three diplomats surrendering their driver's licences after waiving immunity in 2005, CBC News noted.