Vancouver Police Board seeks changes for diplomatic immunity rules

Policy changes aimed to tighten up how Vancouver police deal with people claiming diplomatic immunity from arrest were met with more questions than answers from the Vancouver Police Board last week.

As a result, the seven-member civilian oversight body sent back a report Dec. 12 on the proposed changes to the Vancouver Police Department to clarify questions posed by board members Wei Shao and Mary Collins.

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Shao said the definition of an honorary consul is vague and he urged the department to provide more clarity around how a person gets accredited to represent a foreign agency in Canada.

The proposed procedure adds diplomatic agent and representative of an international organization as people who would be afforded immunity.

Not everyone selected by an international organization would enjoy immunity, said Shao, who wants more detail from the Department of Foreign Affairs on accreditation protocol.

Collins wondered how far diplomatic immunity would go if, for example, an honorary consul was caught speeding in a vehicle or was impaired after attending a party related to their role in Vancouver.

How would you define acting within consular duties? she asked.

Police Chief Jim Chu acknowledged the report needed more work to give clear direction to officers working in a city that has six consul generals and 25 honorary consuls.

The departments existing procedure states accredited ambassadors, their families and members of their staff are granted immunity from prosecution.

Under the proposed procedure, a consul general may be arrested if they commit a grave crime and a warrant has been issued for arrest.

A grave crime, as outlined in the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act, is defined as a crime that carries a potential prison sentence of five years or more.

If their actions endanger public safety, they can be restrained and brought into temporary protection, says the proposed procedure.

The temporary protection provision is found in policies of the Toronto Police Service and Ottawa Police Service. The VPD consulted with both police services, regional Crown counsel and the Department of Foreign Affairs in writing the new procedure.

The VPD has had the procedure under review since 2008.

After the board meeting, Chu told reporters there was no incident with a diplomat in the city that prompted the policy changes.

Were just trying to clarify for our officers an area that they may find tricky to deal with, Chu said of the proposed changes.

In December 2008, then-Polish consul general Tomasz Lis left his post in Vancouver after allegations surfaced that he was impaired when his Volvo collided with a fire truck on Robson Street.

A spokesperson for the Polish embassy in Ottawa told CBC at the time that Lis did not invoke diplomatic immunity when arrested. Lis has since died, according to VPD Const. Brian Montague, a media liaison officer.

In another Vancouver case, billionaire David Ho pleaded guilty in February to confining a prostitute in his Shaughnessy house. Ho, the founder of now-defunct Harmony Airways and former member of the police board, was the honorary consul of Seychelles at the time of his arrest. Ho also did not invoke diplomatic immunity in the case against him. According to the Consular Missions of the Republic of Seychelles website, Ho retains that post.

Twitter: @Howellings

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