The Syrian regime has appointed a downtown Montreal restaurant owner as an honorary consul to Canada — and a Canadian government agency signed off on the appointment.
As reported in Maclean’s, Waseem Ramli is now one of two honorary consuls for the Syrian government in Canada. He also owns the restaurant Cocktail Hawaii on de Maisonneuve Boulevard in downtown Montreal.
Update (September 26): Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland quickly stemmed in to revoke Ramli’s diplomatic status.
With kitschy, somewhat dated tropical décor and a menu loaded with crepes (but no cocktails, or Hawaiian food), that restaurant’s tone seems a far cry from a government that has waged a brutal, years-long civil war. There are no signs at the restaurant of Ramli’s fondness for authoritarian Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in Cocktail Hawaii, but according to Maclean’s, Ramli prominently displays his affinity for the Syrian regime, as he gets around Montreal in a red hummer with a picture of Assad plastered in its window. His main Facebook profile photo also shows him posing with Assad.
As honorary consul, Ramli will oversee requests for passport renewals and official government documents (among other tasks) for all Syrians living in eastern Canada and much of the United States. Honorary consuls are not full-scale diplomats — they have limited responsibilities and often keep their primary jobs (beyond owning Cocktaill Hawaii, Ramli is also a management consultant). However, Canada and the U.S. expelled most Syrian diplomats in 2012, meaning Ramli is now one of just two honorary consuls in Canada — they are the only affiliates of the Syrian government active in the country. (The other consul, located in Vancouver, appears to be neutral, without links to Assad.)
On top of that, Maclean’s spoke to Syrian refugees in Canada, who said they felt intimidated by Ramli, and feared that he could deny them consular services, or might relay information about them back to the Syrian government against their wishes.
Ramli is also an avid supporter of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party, having appeared at a Liberal fundraiser in Montreal in June, posing with Trudeau and Montreal-area MP Marc Miller. While Maclean’s appears to pin the responsibility for his appointment on the Trudeau government, Foreign Affairs Minister Christia Freeland said she was unaware of Global Affairs approving Ramli’s appointment, and says she is investigating.
For his part, Ramli told Maclean’s that he had been properly vetted by the Canadian government, and pointed to his history of humanitarian fundraising for Syria — although much of that work was for a group that has been accused of funneling humanitarian aid money to the Syrian government, and is no longer recognized as an NGO by the United Nations.