Right Hon. L. S. ST. LAURENT (Secretary of State for External Affairs): The hon. member for Stanstead (Mr. Haekett) raised a question on May 4, 1948, concerning the appearance before the Ontario municipal board of the consul general of the United States in Toronto. At that time I gave an undertaking that I would inquire into this incident and report to the house.
By international custom or treaty, and in accordance with instructions from their home states, consuls perform functions pertaining to the promotion of commerce and industry, the supervision of merchant shipping, protection for nationals of the appointing state, and certain notarial functions.
In the performance of these functions pertaining to commerce and industry, consuls must be allowed by the receiving state to watch over the execution of commercial treaties, to send reports to the home state on everything which can influence the development of its commerce and industry, and to give information to merchants and manufacturers of the appointing state necessary for the protection of their commercial interests. It is also generally admitted that in addition to the exercise of these duties of protection, consuls
may render certain assistance and help to their nationals who may be litigants before the courts of the jurisdiction where they perform their functions.
It seems clear in international law that a diplomatic envoy cannot be compelled or even requested to appear in a court as a witness in a civil, criminal or administrative procedure. But if he chooses to appear the courts may, and usually do, allow him to do so. By analogy, though there does not appear to be any clear rule of international law on this point, it would seem that a consul may ask a court within his consular jurisdiction to hear his statement on any matter in which the local interests of a national of his state may be involved. The court, of course, having control of its procedure, may decide the conditions upon which a statement may be given, and, having heard it, decide what weight, if any, should be attached to it.
In this particular instance, public notice had been given by the Ontario municipal board that it would hear the application of the M. & G. Convoy Company of Buffalo for a licence to carry automobiles in bond over provincial highways from one point in the United States to another. I understand it is the practice of the board to hear anyone whose statement is expected to be relevant. In the case of Mr. Russell, the chairman of the board decided to allow him to be heard. It is also our information that the proceedings of the board are usually informal and that witnesses are rarely put under oath.
I am informed that the consul general was acting in conformity with instructions from the United States Department of State, and for this reason he felt that he could not properly take an oath or be examined as an ordinary witness. This is quite clear from the letter he sent to the chairman of the Ontario municipal board on April 30. If I understood his statement aright the hon. member for Stanstead said it was competent to the board to receive a letter which would not be received as proof in an ordinary court of justice. I should like to read the letter sent to the chairman of the Ontario municipal board on April 30; I think it puts the matter in its proper perspective:
American Consulate General, Toronto 1, Canada, April 30, 1948
Chairman, Ontario Municipal Board, Parliament Buildings,
I have the honour to refer to the hearing before your board on the morning of April 29, 1948, and beg to confirm herewith my verbal statement at that time . . .
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