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Canada withholds recognition of Syrian opposition coalition

9: John Baird – Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird had a steady year, with a spike in search traffic near the end of November, when he spoke at the United Nations to dissuade other countries from giving Palestinians upgraded UN status.

PATRICK DOYLE/REUTERS

Unlike its allies, Canada is choosing not to accept the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate voice of that nation's people, preferring to take a wait-and-see approach.

Concerned that extremist elements within the coalition could dominate the opposition or cause it to splinter, Foreign Minister John Baird intends to consult with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and cabinet before making any final decision.

The Harper government wants to see concrete evidence that the coalition, if and when it does replace the embattled regime of Bashar al-Assad as Syria's government, respects the rights of Kurds, Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims, ensures the rights of women and excludes radical jihadists from any role in the new regime.

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"These will be ongoing challenges in an increasingly worrying environment," said Mr. Baird at a Friends of Syria conference in Morocco.

"Canada is concerned by the rise in terrorist activity inside Syria and signs of growing sectarianism fuelled by those who wish to sow disunity rather than unity and who seek exclusivity rather than inclusiveness."

Earlier this week, the United States joined a group of more than 100 nations that have declared the coalition to be the sole legitimate voice of the Syrian people.

But "Canada will make its own decision," said Rick Roth, spokesman for Mr. Baird, in an interview.

The Arab Spring has given way to disappointment and unrest from Tripoli to Cairo, as hopes that democratic and non-sectarian governments would replace ousted strongmen fail to be realized.

A similar fate, or something worse, could await a fractured Syria once the Assad regime is finally overthrown.

Nonetheless, Mr. Baird said he had a good meeting with the new head of the opposition council.

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And Canada is donating an additional $15-million in humanitarian aid to the opposition forces and to neighbouring countries struggling to cope with the flood of refugees from the uprising.

At the conference, Mr. Baird again warned of the danger of a chemical attack by the regime.

"We remain deeply concerned about the potential loss of control over chemical-weapons stockpiles, missiles, and other conventional weapons, which could pose a wider global and regional threat," he said in the prepared text of his speech.

"But we are not only concerned; we are taking concrete actions to prepare for the worst."

Mr. Baird said the government would give Jordan $1.5-million worth of protective personal equipment to guard against a potential chemical- or biological-weapons attack in Syria.

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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