Drunk Russian diplomat kills Canadian woman
January 31, 2001 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Drunk Russian diplomat kills Canadian woman
He claimed immunity and was sent home. Should ambassadors be held accountable by local laws in extreme circumstances such as these?
posted by Starchile (32 comments total)
Lawyers in Russia suggested the chances of Knyazev facing trial are slim.

"Maybe our government will see fit to put this diplomat on trial in order to appease the Canadians," said Alexander Ostrovsky, a leading Moscow trial lawyer.

"But in the past, Russian diplomats who got into that sort of trouble abroad usually suffered nothing more than professional disgrace and perhaps a forced change of job."

posted by Starchile at 12:25 PM on January 31, 2001

I think canada should retaliate w/ their own particular brand of "diplomacy." hehehehheh. heh.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:26 PM on January 31, 2001

sonogsamiam, what are you talking aboot?
posted by Brilliantcrank at 12:28 PM on January 31, 2001

Uh, yoo know, diplomat wars.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:29 PM on January 31, 2001

What aboot diplomat wars?
posted by Brilliantcrank at 12:37 PM on January 31, 2001

If it was a normal citizen, wouldn't they be under canadian juristiction? I would think that they would be detained and jailed.
posted by tomorama at 12:46 PM on January 31, 2001

If they're going to give diplomats immunity, I think they should be required to wear a big sandwich-board sign everywhere they go saying "IMMUNE FROM PROSECUTION - BEWARE!" so that potential victims can steer clear of them.

This will be implemented as soon as I rule the Earth.
posted by beth at 1:01 PM on January 31, 2001

When I rule the earth, I will do away with the laughable nootion og "diplomats."
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:02 PM on January 31, 2001

Diplomatic immunity, however irritating it might be in certain circumstances (like this one) is a crucial element of modern international relations.

How would you feel if it were a Canadian diplomat that had been sentenced to five years hard labor in China for "defaming the revolution"? Or perhaps some mullah in Qom decided that the local consular agent had made inappropriate remarks to a married woman, and therefore had to be stoned to death?

Diplomatic immunity is very important. More important than civic justice. Diplomats have to be nearly untouchable, or else nobody would have embassies -- they wouldn't want to risk getting their staff arrested/killed on the whim of some local yokel cop who wanted to start an international incident.
posted by aramaic at 1:17 PM on January 31, 2001

I say we let Danny Glover take care of the baddies... (sorry - I couldn't resist...)
posted by Jako at 1:30 PM on January 31, 2001

They should just send William Shatner over to kick some boot.
posted by Brilliantcrank at 1:33 PM on January 31, 2001

In Ottawa, the cars belonging to diplomats have license plates with red letters. I used to joke that if you saw one coming, you should run away. Some joke that turned out to be.

Diplomatic immunity should simply not apply in these sorts of circumstances. The Vienna agreement should be amended to exclude crimes that take place outside of a diplomat's official duties. In this case, the drunk diplomat was coming back from ice fishing.
posted by tranquileye at 1:37 PM on January 31, 2001

Aramaic, I don't think that's necessarily true. This man could be tried in his OWN country for this. In which case, clearly his country would find him innocent of a silly charge like "defaming the revolution." A level of diplomatic immunity is necessary. Diplomats allowed to act in whatever way they want isn't.
posted by Doug at 1:38 PM on January 31, 2001

tranquileye - I would come at it in a different way. I think blanket immunity should exist, but that there should be bilateral agreements between countries that have large contingents in a country that in cases such as this (the guy could barely walk, let alone drive) the immunity would be waived. Russia should have waived it on principle in this case.
posted by mikel at 1:44 PM on January 31, 2001

Generally speaking, in a case like this where someone with a red-jacket passport commits a very serious crime, the government of the country where it happened will apply diplomatic pressure to have the diplomat either waive immunity and stand trial, or to stand trial in the home country. If that doesn't happen, there are various degrees of sanctions which can be used, including trade sanctions (not a trivial threat in the case of Canada wrt Russia), recall of ambassadors, expelling the other country's ambassador, and other things like that.

If nothing else leads to justice, this can lead to a declaration of war. However, I seriously doubt it will go that far in this case. Short of that it can lead to a very long chill in relations.

Russia cannot afford to get the Canadians mad. Russia needs all the good will it can get in the world, especially from rich countries. It is easy for us in the US to underestimate how powerful and important Canada is. Canada has one the seven largest industrial economies in the world (the so-called "G7"). Its economy dwarfs that of Russia right now. Canada's technology is equal to that of the US. Canada also has a formidable miliitary, including one of the world's best navies. The only reason Canada doesn't have nuclear weapons is because they don't want them. If they did, they could produce working ones in less than two years.

Finally, Canada has many extremely formidable allies, and no enemies to speak of. Canada is held in very high esteem all over the world.

There is no economic or political alliance in the world stronger than the one between Canada and the US. Canada is the US's largest trading partner (by a long margin) and if an American diplomat had done something like this, he'd probably be turned over to Canadian justice.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:54 PM on January 31, 2001

including one of the world's best navies ...of course, West Edmonton Mall has more submarines than the Canadian Navy (or, at least, that's what WEM always said). ;-)
posted by aramaic at 1:59 PM on January 31, 2001

mikel, yes, that would be another way to deal with it. Actually, you could probably get the G& or G8 to agree to a multilateral agreement along those lines.

I really don't know why the Russians didn't waive the immunity in this case. There are some important issues on the table for the Russians, not the least of which is the foreign aid Canada provides, and Canada's opposition to Bush's silly Star Wars 2.

If the Russians don't deal with this, there will be long-term problems for them. The families of the women are not going to let this drop.
posted by tranquileye at 2:03 PM on January 31, 2001

The thing I thought was disturbing aboot the article was the standing order from Russia for all diplomats not to cooperate with breathalizer tests. WTF?!?

They're basically saying, "Yeah, we know you're going to go overseas, get ripped, and go driving. Just don't give them anything to hang you on."

That is weak, totally. Does anyone know if the US has the same policy?
posted by ritualdevice at 2:03 PM on January 31, 2001

I hear hitmen in Russia are pretty cheap.
posted by dithered at 2:04 PM on January 31, 2001

The thing I thought was disturbing aboot the article was the standing order from Russia for all diplomats not to cooperate with breathalizer tests. WTF?!?

If they're immune from local prosecution, why on earth would they submit to or should they be required to submit to what amounts to an investigation by local authorities?
posted by daveadams at 2:36 PM on January 31, 2001

something very similar to this happened here in Washington DC within the last year or two. A drunken diplomat mowed down some pedestrians near Dupont Circle. People were outraged, but the drunken russian (polish?) diplomat was sent home, scott free.

You take your life in your hands when you drive in the DC area. As a resident of the commonwealth of Virginia, I give people with diplomatic plates nearly as wide a berth as I do for those with Maryland plates. ;)
posted by crunchland at 2:52 PM on January 31, 2001

The US passed a law in '98 regarding documenting all criminal incidents by diplomats and adopting a sense of the Congress that diplomatic immunity reform should be "explored". There are also several cases where local US jurisdictions have prosecuted diplomats, though generally in absentia.
posted by dhartung at 3:45 PM on January 31, 2001

why on earth would they submit to or should they be required to submit to what amounts to an investigation by local authorities?

He's immune from Canadian prosecution, but apparently not Russian courts. So unless the Russians are just BSing about their commitment to carrying out justice in this case, shouldn't they know exactly what crime was committed? Wouldn't their courts want a breathalyzer on record to verify that yes, in fact, he was drunk so they know what they're punishing him for?

I just find it disgusting that they have a specific policy on not taking breathalyzers. I'd expect more from someone selected to represent my country.
posted by ritualdevice at 5:32 PM on January 31, 2001

Please note, it was a diplomat, not the ambassador, who mowed someone down. There's only one ambassador to any country from another country (so only one ambassador to Canada from Russia), but there are countless diplomats (in this case, any Russian foreign service folks posted to the embassy or consulates in Canada).

In the US, foreign diplomats are immune from all criminal prosecution, but not from traffic prosecution. DC was losing heaps of revenue due to not being able to collect on tickets issued to diplomats, so Congress revoked this immunity. US diplomats abroad are likewise bound by foreign traffic laws. Still, if Canada is like the US, there is no legal obligation to take a breathalyzer test ever.

Any crime bigger than that, immunity is the rule, but the diplomat's nation has the right to wave immunity. In this case, however, Russia didn't have to do it:

Knyazev and another Russian embassy worker also charged with drunk driving in a separate accident Saturday were expelled from Canada on Monday after exercising their right to immunity.

So anyone who read the whole article should realize, they weren't immune from prosecution in the end anyhow.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:29 PM on January 31, 2001

I just find it disgusting that they have a specific policy on not taking breathalyzers. I'd expect more from someone selected to represent my country.

If you're American, I can vouch for the fact that US diplomats abroad do voluntarily take breathalyers & submit to foreign traffic laws. At least, the ones I've met.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:31 PM on January 31, 2001

perhaps the two governments should get together and make sure this guy gets prosecuted. have the trial in Russia if they must, but make sure there is a trail and he is duly punished. and if he's found guilty they can let him rot in a Russian jail.

if the situation in Russia that i have seen on tv in the winter is anything to go by, he'll be begging to be sent back to Canada to spend his incarceration in one of their jails.

i understand the whole thing about diplomatic immunity but stuff like this is just dodgy.
posted by endorwitch at 9:16 PM on January 31, 2001

As someone who knew the woman who was killed, (as a friend of her sons) I can say that not too many people here are screaming for immunity to be revoked. Her sons understand the need for diplomatic immunity as a sacrosanct part of politics, and they plan to travel to Moscow to attend the man's trial.

I don't think (for us, at least) the issue is the immunity, it's the fact that the man has been involved in two seperate drunk-driving incidents before this, including a hit-and-run. The fact he wasn't recalled prior to this, and there had to be a death before action was taken is what is upsetting most people here.
posted by Jairus at 6:02 AM on February 1, 2001

A drunken diplomat mowed down some pedestrians near Dupont Circle. People were outraged, but the drunken russian (polish?) diplomat was sent home, scott free.

Actually, I seem to recall the country in question - I think it was Azerbijan or one of the other former soviet "republics" - waived immunity and the official in question was charged here in the U.S. I don't recall the disposition of the case, but he either copped a plea or was convicted.
posted by mikewas at 11:51 AM on February 1, 2001

Let me repeat: This particular Russian diplomat waived his own immunity. Canada opted to kick him out rather than to try him.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:45 PM on February 1, 2001

Um... no. You are sorely mistaken. He EXERCISED his immunity, he did not waive it. He then left to Russia.

Trust me, if he could be held responsible for his actions here, he would be.
posted by Jairus at 1:58 PM on February 1, 2001

Okay, maybe I'm an idiot. No, definitely I'm an idiot. Thanks for setting me strait, Jairus.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:04 PM on February 1, 2001

When incidents like these happen, there is usually no way to have a happy ending that will please everyone. Speaking for myself and not my employer, (US Dept of State) as an American Diplomat who travels with a Diplomatic Passport AND my personal passport. If I were to do an act of stupidity like this in a foreign country, I would accept responsibility for my actions, but as an earlier e-mail pointed out, the laws of certain countries are quite brutal for what some would think of as minor offenses and are often suspect to political motives. If an Arab Nation wanted to start a fight with a Country, say, the US, without Diplomatic Immunity, they could probably find some bogus reason to arrest everyone at the Embassy. Jay-walking, Failure to use a turn signal, etc. The law was passed to prevent abuse, however leaves it open to be abused.

The Georgian Republic (not Russian) Diplomat that killed the person in Georgetown, was put on trial after his country waived his Diplomatic Immunity. I think he is still in jail, but he is in Jail in Georgia.

At the very least, the offending nation should pay a huge amount of money to the victims family. Having said that, I do know that it will not replace the pain and suffering of the family, but if the Diplomats had to answer to a pissed off boss, they might have more incentive not to do bone headed things like this.

My heart goes out to the family of the slain woman and there is little I or anyone can say to comfort their grief.

As hard as it is to accept at time, the law is necessary and if we lived in a perfect world, well..... that would be nice wouldn't it?!


posted by diplomat at 1:29 PM on February 8, 2001

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