Canadian Passport Not a “Get Out of Jail Free” Card

December 16, 2013 - The Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Consular), today issued the following statement on consular services for Canadians ahead of the winter travel season:

“As the holiday season quickly approaches, Canadians look to the sand and sun to escape the winter cold. Last year, Canadians took more than 65 million trips abroad. While the majority of these trips went off without a hitch, Canadian consular officials stand ready to provide assistance when Canadians find themselves in serious trouble abroad.

“While Canadian officials strive to provide the best possible consular assistance to Canadians in all regions of the world, the Government of Canada cannot stress enough that a Canadian passport is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

“Canadians should recognize that they are subject to local legal procedures and processes, which are often different from those in Canada. Our government cannot intervene in these processes, just as we would not accept a foreign government intervening in ours. Canadians abroad are expected to adhere to local laws, just as they would in Canada.

“Canadian consular officials are there to ensure the well-being of Canadians who are in trouble or detained when abroad. Consular officials can contact family members upon request, advocate for fair and equal treatment under local laws, and advocate for general well-being, including basic nutrition.

“It is up to the traveller to make safe and smart travel decisions, so Canadians are strongly encouraged to read and follow our travel advisories. Our government recently overhauled the website to ensure that Canadians have easy access to the most up-to-date travel information, including security advisories and information concerning local laws.

“In circumstances where an advisory recommends avoiding all travel or non-essential travel, Canadian officials may be very limited in the help that they can provide, and their safety and security are paramount.

“Finally, Canadians are urged to always purchase travel and medical insurance before they leave Canada. In almost all circumstances, the Government of Canada—and the taxpayer—cannot help pay for a ticket back to Canada.

“As we head into the holiday travel season, please keep in mind that consular officials will help where and when they can, but safe and secure travel is ultimately the responsibility of the traveller.”

A backgrounder follows.

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Backgrounder - Safe and Responsible Travel

Although the Government of Canada offers consular services, it is important that Canadians know that they are responsible for ensuring their own safe and secure travel through proper planning before going abroad. With good planning, Canadians should be able to avoid most challenges, leaving consular officers free to help in case of real emergencies.

The best way to plan a successful trip is to follow the “3Rs” of international travel:

  • Read to get the latest on topics such as safety, security and local laws in the destination country by consulting the country travel advice and advisories;
  • Register with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service, which enables us to contact and assist Canadians in an emergency; and
  • Reach us 24/7 at our Emergency Watch and Response Centre.

Consular Services

Our team of consular officers stands ready to provide assistance to Canadians who run into trouble 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through a network of more than 260 offices in more than 150 countries. This network includes embassies, consulates, high commissions and other government offices. For a list of the types of offices and levels of service they offer, see Embassies and Consulates.

However, we ask Canadian citizens to be responsible and take sensible precautions. Canadian consular officials are not a concierge service, nor can they help you circumvent a foreign legal system. Here are some actual requests consular officials have received and cannot help you with:

  • ship emergency supplies of maple syrup;
  • drive you to chase down the thief who stole your purse;
  • help you research your family tree;
  • help you redeem Aeroplan points;
  • ask your significant other to let you back into the apartment;
  • chauffeur your poodle through the airport;
  • help you avoid court appearances or jail time if you break the law in another country; and
  • pay your hospital bill because you did not think purchasing travel medical insurance was necessary.

Consular officials can, however:

  • replace lost or stolen passports;
  • provide you with a list of local lawyers;
  • seek to ensure your well-being if you are arrested or detained;
  • speak with your loved ones in Canada concerning your situation;
  • request that local authorities investigate suspicious circumstances, in the event of an alleged or apparent crime or death;
  • recommend local organizations that can help in specific cases;
  • help facilitate repatriation; and
  • transfer funds.