TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada has revoked its approval of a diplomat in Montreal who is a supporter of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Wednesday.
Freeland previously came out strongly against Waseem Ramli’s appointment to the position of Syrian honorary consul and promised timely action, but she had first wanted to hear Global Affairs Canada’s explanation for approving the position.
“Upon review of the department’s decision, I have instructed officials to immediately revoke his status,” she said.
Canada joined several other countries in ejecting all Syrian diplomats after the 2012 Houla massacre, but Syria has maintained honorary consul positions in Montreal and Vancouver to “provide basic consular services to Syrians in Canada,” Freeland said.
However Ramli’s appointment to the position caused fear in the Syrian refugee community living in Canada, according to activists, and shocked Freeland, who said she and her staff were not informed of Ramli’s approval by Global Affairs Canada.
Ramli posts frequently on Facebook in support of Assad, and told Canada’s Maclean’s magazine that the White Helmets, a group of volunteer first-responders in Syria, are a “terrorist organization” linked to al Qaeda.
Ramli could not immediately be reached for comment.
“No one who shares Mr. Ramli’s views should have ever been approved by Global Affairs Canada,” Freeland said in her statement.
Her announcement is a “big relief” for the Syrian community, Bayan Khatib, a Syrian-Canadian in Toronto, told Reuters, adding the community is happy the Canadian government has responded with “appropriate action.”
She also expressed satisfaction that Freeland said she will initiate a review of how appointments are processed.
“The point for me is not about sides,” Khatib said. “It’s about having someone that ... is neutral and isn’t blatantly making people uncomfortable.”
Canada accepted 58,650 Syrian refugees between 2015 and 2018 through both government and private citizen sponsorship, according to the most recent government statistics.
(The story corrects status of Bayan Khatib to Syrian-Canadian instead of Syrian refugee in Canada, paragraph 9)
Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Matthew Lewis