Guidelines for establishing cultural sections of Diplomatic Missions and Consular Posts  

Last update: March 18, 2016

1. Definitions 

For the purposes of this policy: 

  • The term “cultural centre” designates the premises of a foreign State, owned or leased, where profit or non-profit cultural activities take place; also designates cultural centres created under a bilateral cultural agreement.
  • The term “cultural section” designates a cultural centre or the premises of a cultural centre recognized by the Government of Canada as a section within an existing diplomatic mission or consular post and that is eligible to privileges and immunities. 

2. Policy statement 

Foreign states seeking to establish cultural sections or to have existing cultural centres recognized as cultural sections of existing diplomatic missions or consular posts must obtain prior written approval from the Government of Canada. 

Global Affairs Canada’s Office of Protocol (the Office of Protocol) is committed to examining any request of accreditation of cultural sections from foreign States, provided that the activities of such cultural sections harmonize with diplomatic functions and consular functions as defined in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and meet the conditions set out below. 

This section contains information on the requirements and procedures involved in opening cultural sections eligible to privileges and immunities. This page replaces the “Other government offices and opening of offices of diplomatic missions and consular posts” section on the “Establishment of Diplomatic Missions and Consular Posts in Canada” web page. 

The Government of Canada reserves the right to review this policy at any time. 

3. Responsibility 

The Office of Protocol is responsible for implementing and monitoring this policy. It is further responsible for ensuring liaison with federal and provincial authorities on related matters. 

4. Conditions for the establishment of cultural sections 

The Government of Canada has not generally accorded special status or privileges and immunity to cultural centres or to members of their staff. As these centres have not been accorded inviolability or protection, none of the accredited staff of diplomatic missions or consular posts can consequently perform their diplomatic and/or consular duties on an ongoing basis within these centres, or have work areas within them. 

However, the Government of Canada allows in principle the establishment of cultural sections in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. To this end and considering Canada’s high regard for respecting the principles of equality, coherence and even reciprocity in the processing of requests to recognize cultural centres as cultural sections, foreign States that wish to establish cultural sections must meet the following conditions: 

a. Location

A cultural section must be established in the same city as the diplomatic mission or consular post to which it is attached. However, it is not necessary for a cultural section to be on the same site as the diplomatic mission or consular post to which it is attached, as long as the activities that take place there fall within the scope of diplomatic and consular functions.  

b. Scope of activities 

A cultural section must focus on fostering good cultural relations between the foreign State to which it is attached and Canada. Any disregard for this principle could prevent the granting of the section’s diplomatic or consular status or result in its withdrawal. 

The Government of Canada leaves it to foreign States to propose cultural activities that, if in keeping with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and other applicable international instruments, will be examined to determine whether it is appropriate to grant diplomatic or consular status. 

Cultural activities and areas that cannot be part of a cultural section seeking privileges and immunities include, but are not limited to: 

  • teaching activities, language schools and language resource rooms;
  • rooms used for exhibitions, concerts, seminars and public conferences; and
  • public spaces such as media centres and libraries. 

Furthermore, all cultural sections must be non-profit and the sale of memberships is prohibited. Public access to premises recognized as a cultural section must be limited. 

c. Ownership

The diplomatic mission or consular post (i.e. the sending State) must be the sole owner or tenant of the premises. The cultural section should not have a legal personality distinct from the sending State. 

d. Designation 

In cases where foreign States are seeking diplomatic or consular status for existing cultural centres, the centres in question, once the status has been conferred, must be renamed as the “cultural section” of the diplomatic mission or consular post, as applicable. All communication products and designations, including websites and stationery, must be modified to reflect this fact. No exceptions will be allowed. 

e. Accreditation 

In terms of the staff working in a cultural section, the Department will provide them with accreditation only if these individuals’ activities and functions are consistent with the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act and applicable Canadian policies, and if they are under the ultimate authority of the Head of Mission accredited to Canada. If they are honorary consular officers, their appointment must respect the relevant Canadian policies and guidelines for appointing honorary consular officers. 

f. Compliance 

If a foreign State already has a cultural section which may no longer meet the criteria set out in this policy, the Office of Protocol will contact the diplomatic mission or consular post of the state in question, as applicable, to discuss possible modifications that will allow for compliance with this policy. The diplomatic mission or consular post could be asked to justify certain aspects of its cultural section’s activities and structure. If the required modifications are not possible, the Government of Canada will revise the cultural section’s status or the scope of its privileges and immunities. 

Other conditions may apply. 

5. Procedure 

A foreign State wishing to open a cultural section or to create premises within a cultural centre as cultural section of a diplomatic mission or consular post must submit a request to the Office of Protocol by way of Note. 

The request may be issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the diplomatic mission of the sending State and must include the following information: 

  • detailed justification of the need and importance of establishing such a section;
  • information on the nature and scope of the activities that the sending State expects to conduct in this section;
  • information on the size and location of the cultural section. The diplomatic mission or consular post must specify whether the section’s premises are included within commercial spaces that are not used exclusively for diplomatic or consular functions. The diplomatic mission or consular post must also specify whether operation of the cultural section will result in an increase in diplomatic or consular staff;
  • information on the real property that will house the cultural section, notably on acquiring this real property. 

The Office of Protocol will relay the Government of Canada’s decision by way of Note, normally within four to six weeks; provincial protocol offices are notified of this decision at the same time. 

6. Acquiring and moving properties 

In cases where the property that will house a cultural section is in a location that is separate from the mission or consular post to which the section is attached, the foreign State must receive written authorization before acquiring the property. This issue is examined in detail in section 3 of the Directives on Property: Acquisition, Disposition and Development of Real Property in Canada by a Foreign State

The relocation of a cultural section, even temporarily, is also subject to the prior approval of the Government of Canada. If a foreign State establishes or relocates a cultural section without written approval from the Office of Protocol, such section would not be considered to be inviolable. 

7. Establishment of cultural centres not eligible to privileges and immunities 

This policy is not intended to prevent the opening of cultural centres without special status or immunity in accordance with Canadian laws and regulations. 

Any foreign State that wishes to establish a cultural centre that does not have official standing with the Government of Canada can proceed without seeking consent from the Office of Protocol. As a courtesy, the state may however inform the Office of Protocol about the establishment of such a centre.             

Cultural centres not eligible to privileges and immunities must be incorporated as a corporation. Foreign states wishing to establish such a centre are strongly encouraged retain a local corporate law or accounting firm, in order to determine the corporate structure required for the cultural centre to be operated as a legal entity distinct from the mission of the concerned foreign State. As well, the use of expert advice would help determine the tax regime and liabilities the cultural centre would be subject to. 

The Government of Canada has no obligations in terms of protection and security or taxation matters as regards a cultural centre that has not been recognized as a cultural section in accordance with this policy and with Article 3 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Articles 3 and 5 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. 

8. Enquiries  

For more information on the interpretation and application of this policy, diplomatic missions, international organizations and other offices established in Canada should contact the privileges and immunities unit within the Office of Protocol. 

Service is normally available from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. 

Telephone: 343-203-2983 | 343-203-3021
Fax: 613-943-1075
Email address: Office of Protocol