Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has revoked the status of Syria’s honorary consul in Montreal following outrage over the diplomatic envoy’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and controversial social-media posts.
“The views espoused publicly by Waseem Ramli to the press and on social media are shocking and unacceptable,” Freeland said in a statement.
“No one who shares Mr. Ramli’s views should have ever been approved by Global Affairs Canada to serve in this capacity. Upon review of the department’s decision, I have instructed officials to immediately revoke his status.”
Global Affairs officials approved Ramli’s appointment as honorary consul over the summer after the Montreal businessman was nominated for the post by the Syrian government in Damascus.
The approval was granted despite Ramli’s outspoken support for Assad, whose government has used chemical weapons and other tactics to crush dissent during what has been a bloody eight-year civil war in Syria, as well as social media posts criticizing Western sanctions against the country.
Ramli, who was set to take up his new post on Oct. 1, also described the White Helmets humanitarian organization in Syria as terrorists.
Named for their easily recognizable head gear, the all-volunteer White Helmets have been lauded and supported by Canada and other Western nations for their role as first responders and humanitarian workers who have saved hundreds of lives during Syria’s brutal civil war.
Canada agreed to resettle dozens of White Helmets and their families last year following fears the Syrian government was intentionally targeting them.
“I would like to express my deep regret over the difficult situation this nomination has posed for many Syrians living in Canada, including the many brave White Helmets and other refugees who now call our country home and may be feeling fearful and distressed,” Freeland said.
Global Affairs officials have also been ordered to look at how such appointments are confirmed, added Freeland, who has repeatedly said neither she nor her political staff were aware of Ramli’s appointment until media reports earlier this week.
While Canada severed diplomatic ties with Damascus in 2012, the Syrian government has maintained honorary consulates in Montreal and Vancouver ostensibly to assist Syrians with passports and other administrative issues.
Some Syrians had expressed concern about Ramli’s political leanings and past comments, however, given that he would have been responsible for issuing passports and other official documents on behalf of the government in Damascus.
Canada has resettled tens of thousands of Syrian refugees since 2011, when Assad launched a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that quickly spiralled into a full-blown civil war.