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Baird raises pressure on Syria with expanded sanctions

Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird responds during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 19, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Canada put more pressure on Syria Friday, as Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced an additional 47 people and three companies would be barred from business dealings under Canadian sanctions already imposed on the war-torn country's shaky regime.

The three companies - Drex Technologies S.A., the Cotton Marketing Organization and Syrian Arab Airlines - and many of the individuals on the Canadian list were similarly barred from dealings by the European Union in July.

The state-owned Cotton Marketing Organization provides financial support to President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Drex Technologies is owned by Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Mr. al-Assad and an active supporter of his rule.

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In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department declared they would freeze any U.S. assets held by Mr. Makhlouf and barred Americans from conducting business with him. Mr. Makhlouf, the department said, "improperly benefits from and aids the public corruption of Syrian regime officials."

Syrian Arab Airlines, a national airline that provides financial support to the Assad regime, has faced sanctions before. In 1986, ticket sales for the airline were banned in the U.S. by the Reagan administration as the Syrian government faced accusations of terrorism.

At a Toronto press conference Friday, Mr. Baird reiterated the federal government's opposition to Mr. al-Assad and his supporters. "We continue to urge the UN Security Council to adopt binding sanctions against Syria as a clear sign from the international community that the Assad regime must go," he said.

This includes those Security Council members, he said, who have "previously blocked action and allowed this regime to soldier on." China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, have both been reluctant to put pressure on Mr. al-Assad's regime.

Mr. Baird said he would stop short of supporting an interim government put together by the Syrian rebel opposition, which he called too "fragmented" at this point to form a cohesive governing body. French President Francois Hollande said this week that France would be willing to recognize a provisional government.

"I don't think you can say there's a single political voice," Mr. Baird told reporters.

Mr. Baird also said Friday that the Conservative government was "actively working" on opening an embassy in Myanmar, which was first announced in July. Canada reduced sanctions on the southeast Asian country, formerly known as Burma, following its by-elections in April. International Trade Minister Ed Fast is visiting the country this week to encourage Canadian investment.

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The Foreign Affairs Minister said he wants Canada to be part of the country's economic growth, and encouraged Canadians to do business with Myanmar – but noted that they should "be vigilant in ensuring they are dealing with people who are reputable, and who have acted and will continue to act with a high degree of integrity."

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About the Author

Josh O’Kane is a reporter with The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. Since joining the paper in 2011, he has told stories from New Brunswick to Nairobi. More

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