Syrias pro-Assad representative in Montreal says he will serve everyone, regardless of political views – CBC News

Syria\s pro-Assad representative in Montreal says he will serve everyone, regardless of political views - CBC News
Freeland shocked by comments made by Syrias honorary consul in Montreal
The man chosen to serve as Syria's honorary consul in Montreal, a proud supporter of President Bashar al-Assad, says his job is to work for all Syrian nationals, regardless of their political views.

Waseem Ramli, a Montreal businessman, was nominated for the post this summer and approved last month by Global Affairs Canada. As honorary consul, he would be responsible for helping Syrian Canadians and in some cases, Americans, secure government documents.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday in response to a report by Maclean’s that she would look into how and why Waseem Ramli, a well-to-do Montreal businessman and “unapologetic supporter” of Assad, was approved for the post by Global Affairs Canada.

Ramli, who has held pro-Assad demonstrations in Montreal, drives a Hummer adorned with the Syrian flag and a photo of Assad.

He is clear in his support for Assad, saying he doesn't believe the regime has used chemical weapons and calls the volunteer rescue organization known as the White Helmets a terrorist group.

Then-foreign affairs minister John Baird found himself under fire in 2014 when he met Syria’s then-honorary consul in Montreal — a meeting Baird’s office later alleged was set up under false pretenses.

The White Helmets have been documenting the atrocities committed against civilians in Syria since 2013. Their efforts have earned international praise, but Russia and the Syrian regime have labelled them terrorists and purveyors of fake news.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says it is “outrageous” that Ottawa has allowed a sympathizer of Syrian President Bashar Assad to become that country’s honorary consul in Montreal.

In July 2018, several hundred people — volunteers and their families — belonging to the organization were extracted from Syria and taken to safety by an international operation.

Ramli told CBC Montreal's Daybreak that his job is to provide services to the Syrian people, and his beliefs won't get in the way of that.

Scheer says Ramli should never have been allowed in the first place and is demanding Freeland “do more than just a review.”

"For me, putting a picture of the president of my homeland, it's something I believe in," he said.

This isn’t the first time the Syrian consulate in Montreal has caused headaches for the government.

"It's just [like] anybody putting someone else's president's picture on their house, on their car."

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Assad has been repeatedly accused by the international community and human rights groups of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

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Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday she'll look into why Ottawa signed off on Ramli's appointment.

In a tweet, Freeland said she was "shocked'' by Ramli's comments and the views "he has espoused publicly on social media and elsewhere.''

The government's guidelines for appointing honorary consuls state that "diplomatic missions should avoid controversial or politically active persons."

Nedal Alnajjar, a Syrian living in Quebec, said the honorary consul job should be held by someone who "brings people together, not someone who sows hatred."

Another member of the local Syrian community, who works with organizations that support refugees, detailed the impact of Ramli's actions. CBC News has agreed to withhold his name to protect his identity due to fear of reprisals.

He said Ramli has been planting fear in Syrians who live here, taking photos of people who take part in anti-government protests. Ramli denied that allegation.

The man said he has heard from some people that the imagery evoked on his Hummer reminds them of what they lived through in Syria — more specifically, of the Shabiha, which he described as a group of people "who go around, terrorize people, beat them up, kill people, carry weapons, and commit all the massacres."

And now Syrians living in Canada will have to come into contact with Ramli in order to process their paperwork, a vital part of moving on with their lives, he said.

The need for consular services in the North American Syrian community is high — the only open consulate is in Vancouver. The other nearest service point is the Syrian embassy in Cuba.

The Syrian Embassy in Ottawa was closed in 2012 when Canada cut diplomatic ties with Syria and expelled Syrian diplomats.

In April 2016, Ottawa closed the Syrian consulate in Montreal and terminated the post of its honorary consul, Nelly Kanou, without saying why.

Kanou, who was also pro-Assad, was temporarily suspended by the disciplinary board of the Quebec Order of Pharmacists in 2015 after pleading guilty to the unauthorized sale of $1.5 million in drugs to Syria between 2008 and 2011.

In January 2018, Raed Mahko was appointed to the position and the office was reopened, but the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council found he was in a conflict of interest. Mahko was also an immigration consultant.

The conflict in Syria entered its ninth year in March. The most conservative of estimates puts the total number of those killed in the civil war at 400,000. 

According to the UN Refugee Agency, since 2011, 6.6 million Syrians have fled the country and 6.1 million more have been driven from their homes but remain in Syria.

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OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says shell look into why Ottawa signed off on a sympathizer of Syrian President Bashar Assad as that countrys honorary consul in Montreal.

A report in Macleans says Waseem Ramli, a well-to-do Montreal businessman and "unapologetic supporter" of Assad, was nominated for the post earlier this summer and approved last month by Global Affairs Canada.

As honorary consul, Ramli — a familiar figure who conjures fear and apprehension in the Syrian community in Montreal, the magazine says — will exert control over the affairs of the Syrian diaspora in eastern Canada and in much of the United States.

Ramli reportedly described the White Helmets, a volunteer group of first responders and war crime monitors that enjoys the support of the federal government, as a "terrorist organization" that supports al Qaida.

Freeland said on social media that she was "shocked" by Ramlis comments and the views "he has espoused publicly on social media and elsewhere."

She says neither she nor her team were aware that Global Affairs officials had approved his appointment and has asked the department to look into it right away.

2/2 Neither my team nor I were aware that officials at Global Affairs Canada had approved this appointment. I have asked the Department to look into this right away.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland makes a funding announcement at Tenaris in Calgary, Alberta on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley