The Canadian Minister of State of Foreign Affairs recently issued a reminder to Canadians traveling overseas on the importance of careful planning for safe travel and what consular officials can and cannot do:
“During this holiday season, the many Canadians travelling abroad are reminded to be proactive in reducing the risks and increasing the chances of having a safe and enjoyable trip. Consular services are available in more than 150 countries around the world, it is important for Canadians to know which services we do and do not provide.
“Consular Officials CAN:
Provide advice and information for medical services.
Contact relatives or friends when you need serious help.
Provide sources of information for local laws and customs.
Replace lost or stolen passports.
“Consular Officials CANNOT:
Ask your mother-in-law to leave your house.
Purchase tickets for a musical or entertainment event.
Settle disputes between you and your partner.
Pick up your dog at the airport.
Tales from the consular front lines
A family called about their son, who had been arrested for trafficking drugs in Germany. They wanted to know if the Government of Canada was planning to send a helicopter into the prison yard to rescue him. They were very surprised to learn this wasn’t a service provided.
An U.S. citizen called wanting to know how she could get a Canadian passport. When told she could not get one, because she was not a Canadian citizen, she said that she thought an American going to Canada needed a Canadian passport.
A Canadian citizen visiting Chicago wanted to know if consular officers could get tickets for The Oprah Winfrey Show. Another Canadian, flying into London, wanted to see a play that was ending that night and asked consular officers to line up that morning for cheap, same-day tickets.
A Canadian asked the Embassy in Beijing if someone could come and pick up his dog at the Beijing airport after the dog was refused boarding due to lack of proper paperwork. He wanted consular officers to pick up the dog and take care of it until he could get things sorted out—and he did not want to miss his flight and lose the ticket.
A Canadian citizen living abroad had an argument with his girlfriend, after which she kicked him out. He wanted consular officials to talk to the girlfriend and negotiate his return home.
A Canadian living in Cairo asked consular officials to escort her mother-in-law out of the Canadian woman’s apartment.
An excellent reminder, not at all different from what American consular officials can and cannot do for Americans overseas. The helicopter rescue must be a fairly common expectation. Below is the State Department's response on why it does not use the U.S. military, including helo rescues in every evacuation:
"We use the resources that are most expedient and appropriate to the situation. Expectations of rescue by helicopters, the U.S. military, and U.S. government-provided transportation with armed escorts reflect a Hollywood script more than reality. While some evacuations involve U.S. military or other U.S. government assets, most rely on commercial transportation and local infrastructure. Any level of departure assistance constitutes an enormous logistical effort."