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Canada working on imposing sanctions on Syria

A Syrian protest calls for Bashar Al-Assad's ouster at a demonstration in Amman on May 15, 2011.

Muhammed Hamed/Reuters/Muhammed Hamed/Reuters

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is following in the footsteps of his Western allies and looking to impose sanctions against the Syrian government in response to its crackdown on pro-democracy supporters.

As he prepares to travel to France for next week's G8 Summit, Mr. Harper is also moving on plans to promote religious freedom in the Middle East and to support the youth movements that have toppled long-standing dictators in the region.

On the issue of Syria, Mr. Harper's spokesman told reporters that Canada is "deeply troubled" by the actions of the country's security forces, which have killed 850 people since the start of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad two months ago.

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"The Prime Minister has asked for options on imposing sanctions on Syria, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs is currently working on those options," said Dimitri Soudas, who is Mr. Harper's director of communications. "The actions of the [Syrian]government are simply unacceptable."

The Americans and the Europeans have already imposed sanctions against Syria, but Canadian officials said their actions were delayed by the May 2 election. In addition, Lawrence Cannon, the previous foreign affairs minister, lost his seat. John Baird was named as his replacement on Wednesday.

The Harper government promised during the last election to create an Office of Religious Freedom at the Department of Foreign Affairs, in part to respond to violence against Coptic Christians in Egypt. Mr. Harper is working to ensure that the issue is also broached at the meeting of world leaders in Deauville, France, starting on Thursday.

Mr. Harper will also use the G8 Summit to speak with Canada's allies on the need to extend the current North Atlantic Treaty Organization mission in Libya. If Canada's participation goes beyond late June, the government will consult the House of Commons and put the matter to a vote, Mr. Soudas said.

Mr. Soudas added that Canada's position on world affairs is based on the rule of law and the protection of human rights, which is resonating in countries that are fighting for democracy.

"An increasing number of young people who are calling for these types of reforms will always see Canada as an ally," he said.

After his trip to France, Mr. Harper will travel to Greece to discuss, among other things, the financial crisis that has hit Europe. He will travel with two parliamentarians who have Greek roots, Treasury Board president Tony Clement and Conservative MP Costas Menegakis.

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Mr. Harper will visit the village of Kalavryta, where Nazi forces killed all males over the age of 12, including Mr. Soudas's grandfather, in 1943. Mr. Harper travelled to Greece in the 1970s, but this will be his first official visit to the country.

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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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