AP NEWS

Freeland calls acceptance of Syrian envoy unacceptable.

September 24, 2019 GMT

TORONTO (AP) — Canada’s foreign minister called her government’s approval of a known supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad to a consular job in Canada “unacceptable” on Tuesday and said she will take action “very quickly.”

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she and her political staff were unaware her Department of Global Affairs approved Waseem Ramli to become an honorary consul general in Montreal.

Canada severed diplomatic ties with Damascus in 2012. But the Canadian government allowed Syria to maintain honorary consulates with Canadians leading them in Montreal and Vancouver to assist Syrians with passports and other administrative issues.

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

Freeland noted it is Syria that makes the appointment but acknowledged it was approved by her department.

“The current situation is unacceptable and we intend to respond very quickly,” Freeland said.

She said she spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about it earlier Tuesday and called it a “grave concern.” She called Ramli’s comments and social media posts shocking and said she is seeking explanations on how it was allowed to happen.

“Our government’s views on the Assad regime are very clear,” she said. “Our government has been very clear that Assad and his regime are guilty of war crimes and we have expressed that repeatedly.”

Freeland noted Canada has taken in over 60,000 Syrian refugees since Trudeau 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 won’t interfere with his role delivering services to Syrians.

He didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

A former Canadian ambassador, Ferry de Kerckhove, said the appointment of a new Syrian honorary consul should have been flagged given the country involved.

“I’m baffled that it wouldn’t have gone up,” said Kerckhove, who has been Canada’s top diplomat in Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt. “I’m somewhat surprised nobody at the political level seems to have known.”