Canada has dumped the controversial pro-Assad honorary consul in Montreal – CTV News

Canada has dumped the controversial pro-Assad honorary consul in Montreal - CTV News
Freeland revokes appointment of Assad-sympathizer as Syrian consul in Montreal
The appointment of an honorary consul who raised concerns due to his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been revoked.

Waseem Ramli, a Montreal businessman and outspoken supporter of al-Assad, was nominated for the post this summer and approved last month by Global Affairs Canada. He was set to take up the new role on Oct. 1

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In an interview with CTV Montreal, Ramli said he had "not seen any wrongdoing from my president towards the country." Al-Assads regime has been accused of war crimes.

On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was "shocked" by some of Waslis views, including referring to White Helmets, a volunteer group of first responders and war crime monitors supported by the federal government, as a "terrorist organization" that supports al Qaida.

She said neither she nor her team were aware that Global Affairs officials had approved his appointment, and that she would look into it. 

The approval was granted despite Ramlis outspoken support for Assad, whose government has used chemical weapons and other tactics to crush dissent during what has been a bloody eight-year civil war in Syria, as well as social media posts criticizing Western sanctions against the country.

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On Wednesday, Freeland posted on Twitter that she had rescinded the position, saying "no one who shares Mr. Ramlis views should have ever been approved by Global Affairs Canada to serve in this capacity." Freeland also said she has also instructed Global Affairs Canada to initiate a review of the system by which these appointments are processed.

"I would like to express my 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.

Ramlis appointment worried many in Montreals Syrian community, some saying he conjures fear and apprehension. In his position, he would have been responsible for issuing passports and other official documents for Syrians on behalf of the government in Damascus.

Named for their easily recognizable head gear, the all-volunteer White Helmets have been lauded and supported by Canada and other Western nations for their role as first responders and humanitarian workers who have saved hundreds of lives during Syrias brutal civil war.

Canada has resettled tens of thousands of Syrian refugees since 2011, when Assad launched a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that quickly spiralled into a full-blown civil war. – With files from The Canadian Press

The Assad regimes victory, enabled by the support of Russia and Iran, has spurred a halting and largely behind-the-scenes effort among some western powers to re-establish contacts with the Syrian government. This is driven by a variety of factors, among them the realpolitik of dealing with a central government that is there to stay for the time being, fear of a prolonged war, the possibility of an economic crisis spurring new waves of refugees and migrants, the chance to mediate in a political solution between the regime and the opposition, and a desire for a slice of the lucrative reconstruction pie.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says a known sympathizer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will no longer serve as that country's honorary consul in Montreal.

The Syrian state is an unavoidable interlocutor for a variety of routine transactions, such as renewing a passport, designating power of attorney or getting married. It has taken advantage of that position to raise millions of dollars at a time of economic hardship and war. The Syrian passport is one of the most expensive in the world and in a country like Turkey, which has more than three million refugees and is teeming with members of the opposition, it can cost more than $1,000 to get an expedited passport that might only be valid for two years.

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Freeland issued a statement on Wednesday saying she's revoked Waseem Ramli's status, meaning he will not be allowed to carry out any consular functions in Canada.

Mr Ramli had been due to take up his post next week, a position that would have given him the authority to handle the affairs of thousands of Syrians in Canada, including refugees who had been resettled in the country by the Trudeau government, as well as about 250 members of the White Helmets, the volunteer rescue group that saved countless lives from the rubble of areas decimated by Assad regime airstrikes.

As first reported by Maclean's, Global Affairs approved the Montreal businessman for the posting last month after the Syrian government nominated him.

Ramli has held pro-Assad demonstrations in Montreal and drives a Hummer adorned with the Syrian flag and a photo of Assad. He also refers to the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue organization also known as the Syrian Civil Defence, as "terrorists."

Canada revokes consul position of supporter of Syrias Assad

Assad has been condemned by many world leaders for human rights violations in the course of his government's prosecution of Syria's civil war. Canada was among the countries that cut diplomatic ties with Syria in 2012 in response to the Houla massacre, which claimed the lives of dozens of people.

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"No one who shares Mr. Ramli's views should have ever been approved by Global Affairs Canada to serve in this capacity. Upon review of the department's decision, I have instructed officials to immediately revoke his status," she said in the written statement.

"I would like to express my 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."

The move sent ripples of fear and dismay throughout the Syrian refugee community, most of which tends to be solidly opposed to Assad, whose scorched-earth warfare is the reason most of them are refugees in the first place. As for Syria’s celebrated White Helmets, Canada resettled 250 of the heroic first-responders and their family members last year following a daring operation to rescue them from Assads advancing army adjacent to the Golan Heights. The operation was coordinated out of Canadas embassy in Amman, Jordan, with the help of the Israeli Defence Forces. In my conversation with him last Sunday, Ramli told me the White Helmets are terrorists. They are a terrorist organization, Ramli said. They support Al Qaida. They are just an affiliate of Al Qaida.

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"Honestly, I don't have much to comment about it. It's [an] unfortunate decision to be made based on personal views that I have which my Canadian rights grant me," he said.

Waseem Ramli, the proprietor of the Cocktail Hawaii restaurant on Rue Maisonneuve, drives a bright red Humvee with a 1SYRIA custom licence plate and a portrait of Assad on a side window. His Facebook profile features a picture of himself standing beside Assad, smiling. Only days after he posed for photographs with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an $800-per-ticket Liberal Party fundraiser in June, Ramli travelled to Damascus and obtained a formal appointment from Assads Baathist regime to act as an honorary consul in Canada. The Global Affairs departments Office of Protocol registered and authorized Ramlis appointment in Montreal last month.

"It's unfortunate also that many, many Syrians will not be able to have their documents authenticated and processed through our honorary consulate. Hopefully another solution can be found."

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Let me be very clear that in my view, the current situation is unacceptable and we intend to respond very quickly, she said, though she added: I think its important to act with speed, but not with haste. And its important to hear out the public service.

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This individual should never have been appointed in the first place, Scheer said. Again we see people who hold extreme views who have made anti-Semitic comments and who sympathize with terrorists seem to feel welcome in the Liberal party of Canada.