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Global Affairs Canada: What are the lessons?

Published on 28 June 2024

Will actions taken by Global Affairs Canada to investigate and discipline its employees both in Canada and abroad result in changes in diplomatic behaviour? Lessons for others?

On 20 June 2024, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) published the report Addressing Misconduct and Wrongdoing at Global Affairs Canada: Second Annual Report. According to the National Post newspaper, ‘It found that GAC determined last fiscal year that nearly 100 of its employees had committed breaches ranging from administrative issues to apparent criminal acts.’ This followed the First Annual Report on the same topic, which can be found here.

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The misconduct ranged from criminal offences in the Receiving State (RS) to actions by the diplomat that endangered the reputation of Canada in its foreign relations, to failure to comply with Canadian policies and procedures.

These investigations into actions by Canadian diplomatic and consular staff, both in Canada and in missions abroad, found some serious misconduct by staff, and corrective actions were taken, ranging from warnings to dismissals.

Much of the information regarding wrongdoing was obtained from ‘whistle-blowers’ from within the department or Canadian missions abroad who witnessed the events. The government provided encouragement to people to come forward and report wrongdoing, and protection from any repercussions resulting therefrom. According to a National Post article dated 3 October 2023, this was precipitated by a feeling amongst GAC staff that the government was not taking wrongdoing seriously enough, resulting in the government instituting a very robust whistle-blower regime.

Some issues for discussion arising from this:

1. Does immunity embolden these bad behaviours?  In Canada, breach of Canadian laws by foreign diplomats seems to be quite common (see article ‘These Are the Worst-Behaved Foreign Diplomats in Canada’). Article 411 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomat Relations requires all diplomats to comply with local laws. It is clear that this law is frequently breached by diplomats.

2. To what extent did the misconduct occur because of lack of strong oversight by the government – did the people act on the belief that they were free to do as they wished? Note that Canada has only reported on their oversight activities in their First and Second Reports (noted above). Prior to those reports, there is no evidence that Canada engaged security teams to conduct investigations. As a result of these reports, which alerts Canadian diplomats that they are being watched, will they now act in a more circumspect manner? Should other countries adopt this same policy?

3. Canada developed a system of encouraging people (whistleblowers) to come forward with information, and the government seems to be quite diligent in investigating and taking serious action based upon such reports. How can we encourage otherer governments to do so?

4. Article 92 of the VCDR allows a Sending State (SS) to declare any diplomat Persona Non Grata (PNG). It would seem that the risk of a PNG declaration does not carry sufficient weight to deter many diplomats from acting in a manner which could cause the SS to declare them PNG.

5. While Article 9 of the VCDR does not require the PNG declaration to be accompanied with reasons from the RS would it not be preferable for reasons to be given, together with an expectation that the SS will take actions against the returned diplomat. Failure to take such action against the diplomat would result in a justified opinion by the RS that the SS does not take these misdeeds by its diplomats abroad seriously, resulting in loss of reputation by SS.

6. When Canada (or any other State) takes such actions against errant diplomats or other staff, it tends to bolster the morale of the diplomat cadre as it ‘weeds out’ those in the cadre that who not adhering to the professional standards expected of diplomats. In turn, this allows the State to attract and retain better staff, thus raising the level of diplomacy internationally.

1. Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.

2. The receiving State may at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable. In any such case, the sending State shall, as appropriate, either recall the person concerned or terminate his functions with the mission. A person may be declared non grata or not acceptable before arriving in the territory of the receiving State.

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