Canada rejects pro-Assad diplomat after outcry

Ottawa (AFP) –


Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Wednesday rejected an unapologetic supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from his posting in Canada, following a public uproar over his appointment.

Canadian officials last month had quietly signed off on Montreal businessman Waseem Ramli's appointment as Syria's honorary consul in Montreal, Macleans magazine reported.

Upon learning of this, Freeland said that his views expressed to the media and on social media "are shocking and unacceptable," adding that he never should have been approved to serve in the job.

"I have instructed officials to immediately revoke his status," she said.

Ramli's appointment was unsettling for the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in Canada and the US who would have to engage with him on consular matters such passport renewals, arranging for remittances to family members or obtaining a birth certificate or school records from Syria.

Canada has sanctioned 234 officials from the Assad regime, which it holds accountable for "war crimes" that include "abhorrent chemical weapons attacks against civilians."

Canada as also resettled more than 60,000 Syrian refugees who fled war.

A senior official told AFP on Tuesday that vetting of the relatively low-level appointment -- which comes with no pay -- would have been handled by the department's protocol office, adding that someone "dropped the ball" because Ramli has posted pro-Assad views online and protocol bars diplomats from publicly espousing political opinions.

Macleans magazine said Ramli was often seen driving a bright red Humvee with the license plate 1SYRIA and windows emblazoned with a Syrian flag and a portrait of Assad.

It also published a photo of Ramli with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a recent Liberal party fundraiser.

The Liberals are in a tight race against the Conservatives lead by Andrew Scheer, ahead of October 21 elections.