Expelled Libyan diplomats claimed refugee status in Canada

Three ex-diplomats from Libya claimed refugee status in Canada last year after being declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country, CBC News has learned.
Anti-Gadhafi protesters demonstrate across the street from the Libyan Embassy in Ottawa, May 13, 2011. Three Libyan diplomats ordered out of Canada in 2011 later claimed refugee status, CBC News has learned. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Three ex-diplomats from Libya claimed refugee status in Canada last year after being declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country, CBC News has learned.

The immigration cases are listed in quarterly reports compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs Office of Protocol that track incidents involving alleged or suspected criminal activity involving diplomats, their family members and staff.

Summaries of diplomatic brushes with the law range from child sex assault, domestic abuse and impaired driving to making late-night party noise and shoplifting. There are also "debt cases" – including one where an embassy was in arrears for residential rent payments, but the report suggested diplomatic immunity would likely prevent eviction.

Immunity allows individuals with diplomatic status to avoid lawsuits and prosecution in the host country.

The reports, obtained by CBC News Network's Power & Politics under Access to Information, cover Sept. 15, 2010, to March 15, 2012, and show a total of 21 diplomats claimed refugee status for 51 people over that 18-month period. Identifying features such as names and the embassy or consular office's country are censored.

Neither Foreign Affairs nor Citizenship and Immigration would confirm the country or countries of origin for the ex-diplomats who sought asylum in Canada after being expelled from the country. According to the reports, the agents had been declared "persona non grata" by the department "for engaging in activities deemed incompatible with their status in Canada as diplomatic agents."

"While we can not comment on specific cases due to privacy reasons, in general someone who is declared persona non grata by the Minister of Foreign Affairs loses their diplomatic status in Canada and may be removed if they fail to depart from Canada as requested," said Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) spokeswoman Nancy Caron.

"In the absence of diplomatic status in Canada, these individuals are subject to the same requirements under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act as any other foreign national," Caron said.

Libyan diplomats ordered out

But CBC News has confirmed that the three refugee claimants were among five Libyan diplomats who were declared persona non grata and ordered out of the country in May 2011 for attempting to intimidate Libyans in Canada. Reports suggested the diplomats were trying to intimidate students and others opposed to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

"The activities carried out in Canada by the five Libyan diplomats are considered inappropriate and inconsistent with normal diplomatic functions," a news release from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said at the time.

Gar Pardy, who worked for Canada's foreign service for three decades, said individuals are declared persona non grata for a number of reasons – traditionally, for recruiting spies on Canadian soil.

While a bit of a "loophole" exists that allows individuals ordered out of Canada to claim refugee status, Pardy says historically there is sound reason to protect these individuals from potential harm in their own countries.

"I don't see a problem with a safety valve like this," he said. "I don't see it as an abuse of the system."

According to CIC, backlogs in Canada's refugee system mean it takes 4½ years from the time a claim is made until a failed claimant is removed from Canada. In some cases, it can take 10 years or more, but the government has tabled legislation aimed at speeding up the removals process.

The current status of three refugee applicants is unknown.