In the past, most expulsions of foreign embassy officials from Ottawa involved allegations of espionage. But with the Cold War over, diplomatic transgressions now tend to concern more common crimes. One case arose in April, when the RCMP arrested and charged a Montreal man who was seen loading 16 cases of tax-free cigarettes into a van outside the home of a Cameroon diplomat. The man was fined $9,000; the diplomat was not charged, but shortly afterward he returned to Cameroon. Other diplomats have been treated more harshly. Four foreign embassy staff members from two other countries, who used their diplomatic status to purchase cigarettes tax-free and later sold them at a profit, have been expelled over the past year as Canada begins to tighten the traditionally wide
definition of diplomatic immunity.
For the most part, Ottawa’s 10,000-member diplomatic community operates as a separate principality, with special privileges and protection from the law. Their parking and traffic violations go unenforced and, punishments for criminal offences are often left to the governments of the 110 individual -nations represented in Ottawa. Indeed, only the most serious infractions result in expulsion. During the Persian Gulf War in January, 1991, four of the seven diplomats at the Iraqi embassy were expelled, while in 1988, during a week-long spy scandal, Canada expelled or barred the entry of 19 Soviet diplomats suspected of spying.
Although external affairs department representatives say that they still prefer to settle disputes privately, they add that they are now less willing to tum a blind eye to flagrant abuses. The cigarette caper, for one, resulted from a tobacco industry report revealing that the number of tax-free cigarettes purchased by diplomats jumped by 400 per cent from 22 million in 1990 to 111 million in 1991. The
study concluded that the diplomatic corps was smoking one in five of the cigarettes and reselling the rest in a black market that in total had drained an estimated $1 billion from government revenues. Since the government began cracking down in February, diplomatic purchases of cigarettes have dropped sharply, and are now running at about 30 million a year.
Less serious violations have also captured Ottawa’s attention. Ontario conservation officials caught Russian Embassy staff members with too many fishing lines through the ice last winter. And on at least two recent occasions, Chinese diplomats received warnings after they were found illegally fishing for carp in the Rideau River. Cigarette peddling and illegal fishing hardly fit the once-exotic cloak-and-dagger image of the foreign service, but in Ottawa, it seems, profit takes precedence.
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