Report 7—Consular Services to Canadians Abroad—Global Affairs Canada

At a Glance Report 7—Consular Services to Canadians Abroad—Global Affairs Canada

What we examined (see Focus of the audit)

Consular services refer to a range of services and assistance available to Canadians living or travelling abroad. The 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations allows Global Affairs Canada staff to help Canadian citizens in difficulty or distress in other countries. Staff can provide up-to-date travel information and advice, process and issue travel documents (such as passports), and coordinate responses in crisis situations, such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters.

This audit focused on whether Global Affairs Canada responded adequately to requests for consular assistance from Canadians travelling or living abroad.

Why we did this audit

This audit is important because as more Canadians travel or live abroad, the Canadian government is increasingly asked to provide assistance or to intervene on their behalf, particularly in serious cases, such as imprisonment. Significant incidents, such as terrorist activities and natural disasters, have affected travellers and required swift and intensive responses from Canadian missions. When up-to-date travel advice and country information is readily available, travellers are more likely to know about potential security risks and make safe travel decisions.

What we concluded

We concluded that Global Affairs Canada did not have the performance information necessary to ensure it adequately responded to requests for consular assistance from Canadians travelling or living abroad. The ability to provide consular services varied significantly across missions. Because it did not track performance results for most of its consular services, Global Affairs Canada could not ensure that services were effective or appropriate.

What we found about…

Providing emergency services to Canadians abroad

Overall, we found that Global Affairs Canada successfully provided consular services during international crises and deployed additional resources to help Canadians abroad. We also found that in crisis situations, Global Affairs Canada promptly updated its online advisories to provide information to travellers. However, it did not always complete mandatory cyclical reviews of its online Travel Advice and Advisories on schedule. Nor did it assess, as part of its communications and outreach, how to best engage the specific types of travellers who are more likely to face difficulties abroad and how to best target its advisories and information.

These findings matter because when Canadians are in distress abroad, they look to their government for assistance and information, and Canadian missions abroad are at the forefront of both. These findings also matter because if Canadians have access to current, accurate advice about the risks of travelling to various destinations, they may make safer choices, which could reduce demand for consular services.

  • Global Affairs Canada responded well to Canadians abroad in emergency or crisis situations

    Recommendation. To improve its ability to respond to future crises abroad, Global Affairs Canada should complete lessons-learned reports and action plans after each crisis and track the implementation of the resulting recommendations. As well, it should further develop a communications and outreach strategy, including an analysis of specific types of travellers, to inform Canadians about international travel risks and what consular services are available in times of crisis.

Contacting Canadians arrested or detained abroad

Overall, we found that Global Affairs Canada officers did not always contact Canadians who had been arrested or detained abroad within its service standards, and case files often provided no explanation as to why no contact was made. We also found that the level of consular assistance varied from one case to another. While assistance may vary due to local conditions or judgment of the consular officer, the files did not contain sufficient documentation to explain this variation. In cases involving allegations of mistreatment or torture of Canadians detained abroad, we found that consular officers took immediate action to contact detainees and make in-person visits when possible. However, we found that it took between one and six months for departmental officials to formally assess the allegations. Also, the Department did not provide sufficient training to consular staff on how to conduct prison visits.

This finding matters because Canadians detained abroad often require immediate contact and information from family members as well as lists of local lawyers. While consular officers cannot advocate for shorter sentences or release from prison, they can advocate for fair and equal treatment under local laws.

  • Global Affairs Canada did not always contact or assist Canadians detained abroad within its service standards

    Recommendation. Global Affairs Canada should strengthen its quality control process to ensure its consular officers contact and offer to help Canadians who have been arrested or detained, with a focus on those who may be at greater risk because of who or where they are. As well, consular officers should receive dedicated, cyclical training on arrest and detention cases throughout their careers. Such training should include how to conduct prison visits and provide tools for detecting incidents of torture, abuse, or mistreatment.

Providing passports and other travel documents to Canadians abroad

Overall, we found that Global Affairs Canada did not process regular passports for Canadians abroad in a timely way across all of its missions. As a result, passports were not delivered on time at several high-volume missions. However, we found that the Department provided other travel documents—such as temporary passports and emergency travel documents—quickly, usually by the expected date of travel.

We also found that that the timeliness of passport delivery was likely overstated in at least one quarter of the missions abroad. Global Affairs Canada did not track how well it delivered most of its other consular services, and as a result, it did not have the information it needed to ensure its missions were appropriately staffed to provide effective and timely services across the globe. We also found that the Department did not have sufficient quality information about its own workload to set an appropriate fee.

These findings matter because more Canadians are travelling and living abroad than ever before. When services are not delivered within established time frames, Canadians’ travel plans, jobs, and lives can be affected.

  • Several high-volume missions abroad Issued passports late

    Recommendation. Global Affairs Canada should examine the reasons for performance variations in passport delivery at its missions abroad in order to improve performance. It should also address weaknesses in its data quality for monitoring performance.

  • Mission resources were not aligned with workloads

    Recommendation. Global Affairs Canada should update its performance standards for the delivery of key consular services across its missions, and review the level of consular resources allocated across its missions to ensure an effective, consistent level of service to Canadians abroad.

  • The consular service fee was not set to cover costs

    Recommendation. Global Affairs Canada should update the cost method it uses to support the consular service fee and its funding arrangements. It should also update its performance information for the consular service fee.

Entity Responses to Recommendations

The entity agrees with our recommendation(s) and has responded (see List of Recommendations).

Related Information

Report of the Auditor General of Canada
Type of product Performance audit
Completion date 4 April 2018
Tabling date 29 May 2018

For more information

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