Politics

Freeland vows swift response to 'unacceptable' appointment of pro-Assad official in Montreal

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is promising "next steps" will be revealed soon in the case of a known sympathizer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who is now that country's honorary consul in Montreal.

Freeland says her team wasn't aware of Waseem Ramli's appointment

Waseem Ramli, right, poses for a photo with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Ottawa says it is looking into Ramli's controversial appointment as Syria's honorary consul in Montreal. (Waseem Ramli/Facebook)

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said today the appointment of a known supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as that country's honorary consul in Montreal is "unacceptable" and is promising to respond to it quickly.

"I do think it's important for all Canadians, especially Syrian-Canadians and people who have fled the Assad regime, to know that in my view this situation is unacceptable and we will be responding to it promptly," she said Tuesday.

As first reported by Maclean's, Global Affairs approved Waseem Ramli for the posting last month. The Montreal businessman has held pro-Assad demonstrations in Montreal and drives a Hummer adorned with the Syrian flag and a photo of 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. 

The Syrian government has maintained honorary consulates in Montreal and Vancouver, but the offices have no power to issue new Syrian passports.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says neither she nor her team were aware that Global Affairs officials had approved the nomination of Waseem Ramli - a proud supporter of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad - as Syria's consul in Montreal. 1:18

Freeland said neither she nor members of her team were aware that officials had approved his nomination and she has asked the department to look into the matter right away.

When asked if rescinding Ramli's appointment is on the table, Freeland said, "I chose my words with care."

"I have great respect for our public service, and I'm giving them an opportunity to offer explanations and to offer me their advice," she said.

Just a few hours earlier, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised "next steps" will be revealed soon on Ramli's appointment.

"Obviously we are quite seized with this issue," said Trudeau while answering a question during a campaign stop in Burnaby, B.C.

"I have personally spoken with Minister Freeland this morning, who has assured me that she is looking very carefully into how this has happened and [will] ensure that we have next steps to share with you soon."

Ramli's Hummer, decorated with an Assad decal, a Syrian flag and a licence plate that reads 1SYRIA. (Waseem Ramli/Facebook)

As honorary consul, Ramli would be responsible for helping Syrian Canadians and, in some cases, Americans secure government documents.

Ramli defends himself 

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.

"For me, putting a picture of the president of my homeland, it's something I believe in," he said. "It's just [like] anybody putting someone else's president's picture on their house, on their car."

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

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called the appointment "outrageous."

"[Freeland] needs to do more than just a review. This individual should never have been appointed in the first place," he told reporters in Thorold, Ont.

"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."

With files from CBC Montreal and the Canadian Press

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