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Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

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Canadian Policy and Practice on the Screening of Diplomatic Bags

Circular Note NO. XDC-0144 of January 28, 2011

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (Office of Protocol) presents its compliments to Their Excellencies the Heads of Diplomatic Missions and notified Chargés d’affaires, a.i. accredited to Canada, and the Heads of International Organizations and other Offices established in Canada, and has the honour to reiterate the Government of Canada’s policy and related expectations on the treatment and status of diplomatic bags.

Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) exempts the diplomatic bag from opening and detention. This exemption derives from the fundamental principle of protection of free communication that is owed to diplomatic missions for official purposes. Canada considers that x-ray or any other form of electronic scanning of diplomatic bags constitutes a constructive opening of the bag. Such opening can adversely affect the integrity and the confidentiality of the documents and articles contained in the bag and therefore impair the inviolability of the bag, and is thus regarded by Canada as creating an unacceptable breach of the VCDR.

Within the framework of its diplomatic relations, Canada continues to ensure, through domestic legislation and enabling regulation, that foreign diplomatic pouches, when these visibly bear external marks of their status and are appropriately sealed, are exempt from manual search, or any form of electronic scanning (by x-ray device or other method) and cannot be opened or detained. However, recognizing the importance of public safety and civil aviation security considerations and the need to safeguard against abuses, relevant Canadian authorities which may have serious reasons to suspect that a diplomatic pouch could constitute a threat are instructed to notify the authorities of the sending State and request that the bag be opened in their presence. If the sending State refuses the examination, the bag will be returned to its place of origin.

Therefore, the Department urges the Heads of Mission to bring to the attention of their Capitals the Government of Canada’s above policy with the goal of exempting Canadian diplomatic bags abroad from any policy, current or future, of x-ray or any other form of electronic scanning.

Since Canada does not, in the pursuance of its interests and activities as sending State, allow its diplomatic bags to be opened or screened by x-ray or any other method, the inability to send diplomatic bags via certain airports causes serious operational challenges. In fact, the Department stresses that its decision to send a Circular Note at this time was made necessary by the concern that rules and practices of certain States effectively permit the regular use of electronic devices, such as x-rays, for the examination and screening of diplomatic bags. In this regard, Canada continues to work bilaterally and in common approach with other concerned States to object to these actions taken by certain States.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (Office of Protocol) avails itself of this opportunity to renew to Their Excellencies the Heads of Diplomatic Missions and notified Chargés d’affaires, a.i. accredited to Canada, and to the Heads of International Organizations and other Offices established in Canada, the assurances of its highest consideration.

OTTAWA, January 28, 2011

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Date Modified:
2012-10-03