Briefing Remarks by Minister Baird on the Situation in Syria

No. 2011/44 - Ottawa, Ontario - December 15, 2011

(Available in audio format)

Check Against Delivery

For many months now, the people of Syria have been calling for genuine democratic reforms.

The response from the Assad regime has been a brutal and violent crackdown, one that has injured or killed an estimated five thousand men, women and children.

As you know, the Government of Canada has reacted with a strong condemnation of Assad’s campaign of terror.

We took a stand, we spoke out, and we acted—quickly, decisively and repeatedly since the start of this crisis. We have also imposed tough and targeted sanctions against the regime and its backers.

These sanctions, in concert with those of our international partners, have isolated the regime and are having a noticeable impact.

The measures we put in place are not meant to bring further hardship to the Syrian people but to send a message to Assad and his thugs that their actions are absolutely unacceptable. Canada supports the efforts of all peoples to secure basic freedoms, and we look toward the horizon to a new Syria, one that lives in peace with its neighbours and respects the rights of its people.

Pressure on the Assad regime is not coming just from the West. We have seen Syria’s neighbours and former partners in the Arab League take a strong and commendable stand by formally suspending Syria from the Arab League and imposing tough sanctions on the country. The writing on the wall could not be more clear. The Assad regime has lost all legitimacy and its abhorrent behaviour will not be tolerated.

That message is as timely and as relevant as ever.

The deteriorating situation and the sanctions being imposed on Syria by the Arab League will have a significant impact on commercial air transport.

 

Canadians wishing to leave Syria may, therefore, find it increasingly difficult to make air travel arrangements as the security situation continues to deteriorate.

In addition, the Syrian authorities have imposed significant travel restrictions on Canadian diplomats. This will restrict their ability to move within the country and, therefore, to provide adequate consular assistance to Canadians in the event of an emergency.

And so, today, we are again urging Canadians to leave the country. To assist, we are launching a voluntary evacuation.

We have departmental staff from across government ready to provide specialized consular assistance. The Canadian embassy in Damascus is also available to assist Canadians in Syria, as well as their spouses and dependent children, with the needed travel documents and visas between now and January 14, 2012. We will continually monitor the situation in Syria through our embassy and update Canadians as the situation evolves.

These actions are meant to assist Canadians now, so that we are not put in a position in the future where our capacity to provide assistance may be reduced without warning.

I will end by reiterating, again, that we strongly encourage Canadian citizens and their spouses and dependent children to apply for travel documentation now and leave Syria. We will do everything we can to expedite those applications from Syria while options still exist.

I know that this is a difficult time for the people of Syria, and that they are facing incredible hardship in their struggle for a brighter future.

I know that people with loved ones in Syria will help us spread the message to them: the time to leave Syria is now.

Thank you.