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Demonstrators protest against Syrian repression outside Buckingham Palace in London on May, 24, 2011.

Alastair Grant/AP

Ottawa will bar senior members of the Syrian government from Canada as part of sanctions to punish the country for an "abhorrent" crackdown on civilian protests.

The new measures, including a ban on arms exports to Syrian security forces, were adopted on Tuesday by the new cabinet committee on national security chaired by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

At a news conference on Parliament Hill, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called the current wave of repression in Syria a "grave breach of international peace."

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"This abhorrent crackdown must end," he said.

Mr. Baird said the move is designed to punish the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and to support demonstrators seeking democracy and the protection of human rights.

"We urge Syrian authorities to respect the rights of people to freedom of assembly and to freedom of expression," Mr. Baird said. "We call on certain authorities to immediately stop using force against peaceful demonstrators."

While the United States and the European Union have already taken action against Syria, Mr. Baird said that Canada's decision was delayed by the campaign for the May 2 election.

The current wave of democratic unrest in the Middle East and in northern Africa will be on the agenda when the leaders of the G8 gather in France for a summit on Thursday and Friday. In a statement, Mr. Harper said the Syrian government's actions, which have led to hundreds of deaths and thousands of arrests, are destabilizing the entire region.

"The sanctions being announced today are a repudiation of Syria's blatant violation of its international human rights obligations that threaten the security of the entire Middle East," Mr. Harper said.

The Canadian government is trying to ensure that members of governing families in dictatorships do not seek refuge in Canada or use the country's banks to hide their wealth. The government is still trying to find a way to confiscate funds in Canada that belong to the former ruling family of Tunisia.

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"Canada will ensure that persons associated with the Syrian government who are believed to be inadmissible to Canada are prevented from travelling to Canada," the government in the statement that laid out the latest sanctions. "Canada will impose an asset freeze against people associated with the current Syrian regime and entities involved in security and military operations against the Syrian people."

Recent statistics show that Canada's exports to Syria totalled about $60-million in 2009.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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