Global Affairs Canada ordered closing of Syrian consulate in Montreal

Global Affairs Canada has ordered the closing of the Syrian consulate in Montreal and terminated the post of its honorary consul, a letter obtained by Radio-Canada shows.

Honorary consul, an outspoken supporter of the Assad regime, was disciplined by Order of Pharmacists

A portrait of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad hangs in the Syrian consulate, which was ordered closed by the Canadian government. (Radio-Canada)

Global Affairs Canada has ordered the closing of the Syrian consulate in Montreal and terminated the post of its honorary consul, a letter obtained by Radio-Canada shows.

The letter dated Feb. 26, 2016 does not outline the reasons for the termination.

It only states that Nelly Kanou, an outspoken supporter of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, can no longer carry out her duties as honorary consul and that the premises at 235 Côte-Vertu Boulevard cannot be identified as consulate.

It also says its archives must be relocated.

A photograph at the Syrian consulate in Montreal shows honorary consult Nelly Kanou with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. (Radio-Canada)

A spokeswoman for Global Affairs did not provide further details.

"The exercise of foreign diplomatic missions and consular posts in Canada are matters of foreign relations conducted confidentially between states," Amy Mills wrote in an email.

The consulate was the only service point for Syrians in eastern Canada and the eastern United States.

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

Honorary consuls were allowed to stay because their mandate is purely administrative and not diplomatic.

The letter from Foreign Affairs, dated Feb. 26, 2016, does not detail the reasons for the consulate's closing. (Radio-Canada)

Vancouver consulate only left in North America

Several Syrians were seen last week, papers in hand, at the consular office. They had not been informed of the closure. Inside, an employee was responsible for returning documents to clients.

"How am I going to renew my passport or certify my diploma," a Syrian asked at the premises.

"Send the papers by mail to Vancouver," answered the employee. The consulate located 4,000 kilometres away is now the only Syrian consular office in North America.

Nelly Kanou became honorary consul in 2008.

In an interview, she regretted that the service centre is closing at "a critical and difficult time for Syrians" who are settling by the thousands in Canada and are living through "an extremely urgent humanitarian situation" with the country's civil war.

Censured for unauthorized medicine sales

Kanou, a Canadian-Syrian Christian who immigrated in 1985, avowed her support for the Assad regime, but said she serves all her compatriots, whatever their position.

"For us, a Syrian is a Syrian.… All I wanted was to help the Syrian people," she said.

"Mr. Assad appointed me because of my loyalty to the Syrian community here in Montreal."

On September 2015, Kanou, who is also a pharmacy owner, was temporarily suspended by the disciplinary board of the Quebec Order of Pharmacists.

She pleaded guilty to selling without authorization $1.5 million in drugs to be sent to Syria between 2008 and 2011.

The drugs came from one of its pharmacies near the consulate.

Good news for the Assad opponents

Since Syria's turmoil began 2011, the UN says more than 250,000 have been killed and well over a million wounded. An estimated 11 million others have been displaced.

In 2014, Assad was elected in Syria's first multi-candidate presidential election in more than 40 years. The vote was only held in government-controlled areas, and opponents denounce the election as a farce.

​Nedal Alnajjar of the Canadian Alliance for Syrian Aid, was "very happy" with Canada's decision.

"She was doing everything to promote the dictator Assad," he said. 

Alnajjar said he was told to pay in cash and in U.S. dollars at the consulate in Montreal.

"We did not know what she did with that money. Was it declared to the government of Canada? Was it sent to Syria?"