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Canada Revokes Status of Pro-Assad Diplomat

Canada Revokes Status of Pro-Assad Diplomat

Wednesday, 25 September, 2019 - 18:30
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. (Reuters)

Canada's foreign minister said Wednesday she has revoked the consular status of a supporter of Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad.

The action came a day after Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she did not know her department had approved Waseem Ramli as honorary consul general in Montreal.

"The views expressed publicly by Waseem Ramli to the press and on social media are shocking and unacceptable. No one who shares Mr. Ramli's views should have ever been approved by Global Affairs Canada to serve in this capacity," Freeland said in a statement.

Freeland's statement did not say how it happened, but she instructed her department to review the system by which such appointments are processed.

Canada severed diplomatic ties with Damascus in 2012 over violations of human rights, including chemical attacks. But the Canadian government allowed Syria to maintain honorary consulates led by Canadians in Montreal and Vancouver to assist Syrians with passports and other administrative issues.

Canada has sanctioned 234 officials from the Assad regime, which it holds accountable for "war crimes" that include "abhorrent chemical weapons attacks against civilians."

Ramli has defended the Assad regime on social media and is pictured with Assad on his Facebook profile. His Facebook page also includes photos of his red Hummer with a picture of Assad on a window.

Ramli has also described members of the White Helmets humanitarian organization as terrorists, according to Maclean's magazine, which first reported on the new consul's appointment.

"I would like to express by deep regret over the difficult situation this nomination has posed for many Syrians living in Canada, including the many brave White Helmets and other refugees who now call our country home and may be feeling fearful and distressed," Freeland said in her statement Wednesday.

Freeland noted that Canada has taken in over 60,000 Syrian refugees since her Liberal government took office in 2015 and among them are members of the White Helmets, the volunteer group of first responders and war crime monitors.

Ramli has insisted in several media interviews that even though he supports Assad, his comments on social media are within his rights as a Canadian citizen and his political beliefs will not interfere with his role delivering services to Syrians.

A senior official told AFP on Tuesday that vetting of the relatively low-level appointment -- which comes with no pay -- would have been handled by the department's protocol office, adding that someone "dropped the ball" because Ramli has posted pro-Assad views online and protocol bars diplomats from publicly espousing political opinions.

Freeland’s announcement is a “big relief” for the Syrian community, Bayan Khatib, a Syrian refugee in Toronto, told Reuters, adding the community is happy the Canadian government has responded with “appropriate action.”

She also expressed satisfaction that Freeland said she will initiate a review of how appointments are processed.

“The point for me is not about sides,” Khatib said. “It’s about having someone that ... is neutral and isn’t blatantly making people uncomfortable.”

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