The Vancouver Police Department is going back to the drawing board on guidelines directing how officers deal with people claiming diplomatic immunity.
“They brought in some good points so we’ve got some more work to do on it,” Chief Jim Chu said after the policy, summarized in a seven-page report, was tabled Monday by the Vancouver Police Board, a civilian oversight body.
The review has been under way since 2008, but the chief said it was not prompted by any particular incident, but rather as part of an overall assessment of policies. “Sometimes these procedures come up for regular review, but we have not had an incident that precipitated the need for this review,” he told reporters.
The focus of the review was the power of police to arrest diplomats. It was deemed germane because Vancouver has six full-time consul generals and 25 honorary counsels.
However, according to the report, standard immunity for consular officers in other communities is “greater than our present procedure reflects.”
Current Vancouver Police Department policy grants immunity from prosecution to accredited ambassadors, their families and staff, but they can be restrained if their actions endanger public safety, according to the report. Under the new policy, consular officers would be afforded immunity in “limited circumstances.” They would be granted immunity from prosecution, and could be brought into “temporary protection” if their actions endanger public safety.
The federal Foreign Missions and International Relations Act makes clear that consular officers are not liable for arrest or detention pending trial except in cases of “grave crime” – one that carries a potential sentence of five or more years – unless a judge decides otherwise.
“[This] does not mean that consular officers cannot be charged, but it does greatly restrict when consular officers can be arrested and VPD procedure has to reflect this limitation,” the report says.
The VPD proposed the concept of “temporary protection” after consulting Toronto and Ottawa police as well as the federal Foreign Affairs Department and B.C. Crown. The measure means those with immunity could be taken into custody to “prevent injury, property damage, or continuation of criminal acts,” but the individual would not be considered under arrest.
“Temporary protection is found in both the policies of the Toronto Police Service and Ottawa Police Service in regards to diplomatic immunity,” said the report.
However, board members raised some pointed questions about the proposal, noting that some of the terms in the submission were vague.
Mary Collins wondered whether consuls stopped for speeding could just say they were on consul duties. “How do you define acting within consular duties?” she asked. “If they were going to a party as part of their consular duties and they were drunk, they were impaired, could they claim immunity?”
The matter was put over for consideration at a future police board meeting.