Arrest and Detention – Emergency Assistance For Canadians Travelling Outside Canada

Arrest and detention

If you are arrested or detained in another country, you should clearly inform the arresting authorities that you want them to immediately notify the nearest Canadian government office abroad of your arrest.

In countries that are party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (176 States Parties as of 2013), the arresting authorities are obliged to advise you of your right to access consular representation and to arrange for this access. They are not required to inform a Canadian government office of your detention or arrest unless you specifically ask them to do so.

Consular officials will not arrange your release from prison. You are subject to the criminal justice system of the country where you are arrested and imprisoned.

Arrested or detained abroad

If a Canadian citizen is arrested and detained abroad, Canadian officials abroad can:

  • ask the appropriate authorities for immediate and regular access to you
  • at your request, notify your family or friends of the situation and let them know how they can help
  • help you communicate with a representative, family or friends if direct communication is not possible or the need is urgent
  • contact your relatives or friends on your behalf to request funds
  • recommend that you hire a lawyer and approach family, friends or a local legal aid society if you can’t afford to pay
  • provide an up-to-date and accurate list of local lawyers and legal translation service providers
  • provide you and your family with general information on the local legal and prison system and approximate times for court actions
  • obtain information about the status of your case and encourage authorities to process it without undue delay
  • advocate for your fair and equal treatment under local laws
  • advocate to ensure that your health and well-being are protected, including basic nutrition, medical and dental care 
  • transmit concerns through official channels about any treatment that could affect your health and well-being to local officials and prison representatives
  • arrange for the purchase, at your expense, and if permitted, of necessary food supplements, essential clothing and other basic items not available through the prison system
  • deliver letters and permitted reading material if normal postal services are unavailable
  • undertake clemency intervention if you are charged or convicted of a crime punishable by death 
  • inform you of transfer of offender options – either by treaty or by administrative arrangement with the country where you are imprisoned – that may allow you to serve your sentence in a Canadian prison and provide you with the documents to apply for a transfer if you are eligible
Canadian officials abroad cannot:
  • get you out of jail
  • post bail, pay lawyers’ fees, or pay fines
  • try to obtain preferential treatment for you or exempt you from the due process of local law
  • provide legal advice, interpret local laws and interfere in legal matters, criminal defence cases or judicial affairs in another country
  • recommend lawyers or guarantee their reliability or competence in the matter at hand
  • become involved in matters between you and your lawyer
  • investigate a crime or death or intervene in a local police investigation
  • forward or deliver parcels entering or leaving the country, or clear them through customs
  • bypass prison rules on what can and cannot be brought into or taken out of the detention facility
  • make travel or accommodation arrangements for your family or friends

The Government of Canada cannot intervene in ongoing legal proceedings in other countries or regions unless it is requested to do so by local authorities. These requests are rare. The procedures required in legal proceedings or police investigations may be different from the procedures in the Canadian legal system. If you are involved in these proceedings, you may face long delays in the effort to resolve your case.

If your international human rights are known to have been violated, the Government of Canada may take steps to pressure the foreign authorities to abide by their international human rights obligations and provide basic minimum standards of protection.

While having dual citizenship is legal in Canada, it may not be legal or recognized in the country of your second nationality, which could limit the ability of the Government of Canada to assist you if you are arrested in that country. You should still request access to Canadian consular officials, who aim to assist all Canadian passport holders.

Contact the appropriate foreign government office in Canada to address these issues before you go abroad.