'Unacceptable': Freeland responds to appointment of honorary Syrian consul who supports Assad
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says it is “unacceptable” that Global Affairs Canada signed off on a sympathizer of Syrian President Bashar Assad as that country’s honorary consul in Montreal, and she is promising the government will look into the appointment.
Montreal businessman Waseem Ramli’s support for Assad is no surprise to anyone who has seen his car -- Ramli drives around in a Humvee with Assad’s face and the country’s flag emblazoned on it.
Assad’s regime has been accused of war crimes, including the slaughter of children and using chemical weapons on his own people in Syria’s civil war. A report published in Maclean’s quoted Ramli as saying that a volunteer group of rescue workers operating in Syria’s war zone, the White Helmets, are a “terrorist organization” who “support al-Qaeda.”
Ramli told CTV News over the phone that he has “not seen any wrongdoing from my president towards the country.”
The beginnings of the Syrian civil war can be tracked back to 2011, when a group of students spray-painted an anti-government remark on the side of their school. Syrian troops captured and tortured the perpetrators, including teenagers. When peaceful protesters gathered to call for the release of the detainees, Syrian troops opened fire on the crowd.
In a separate interview with CTV Montreal, Ramli said, “I do see the country going forward, therefore I do support (Assad), yes.”
Among Ramli’s duties as an honorary consul in Montreal would be authenticating records such as birth certificates for the Syrian diaspora in Eastern Canada and much of the United States. This includes the tens of thousands of Syrians who sought refuge in Canada from the bloody civil war between rebels and Assad’s government forces that has been raging for almost a decade.
“Let them come, let them see how we’re going to be treating everybody, then judge me,” Ramli told CTV News.
Ramli was nominated for the position of honorary consul, an unpaid position, by the Syrian government, and his appointment was approved last month. He has a photo of himself with Assad displayed prominently on his Facebook page.
A photo of him posing at a June Liberal fundraiser with Justin Trudeau has also emerged, generating questions for the Liberal leader.
Speaking on the campaign trail, Trudeau said, “we are quite seized with this issue.”
“I have personally spoken with Minister Freeland this morning, who has assured me that she is looking very carefully into how this has happened,” he added.
Freeland told reporters that the “situation is unacceptable. And we intend to respond fully to it very promptly.” She had previously posted on Twitter that she was “shocked” by Ramli’s comments and the views “he has espoused publicly on social media and elsewhere.”
The news of Ramli’s appointment has struck fear into many in the Syrian Montreal community.
One woman, who works with Syrian refugees, spoke to CTV News under a condition of anonymity, afraid of retribution from Assad supporters.
“We fled to Canada and now Canada is … supporting that person who is representing openly and defending openly the butcher,” she said. “We are frustrated.”
She said that she understood that someone appointed to the position by the Syrian government would likely “be pro-regime, but someone that bad?”
Ramli is set to take the office next month.