MONTREAL – The head of Syria’s main opposition group is planning to press Canada for more help when he meets this week with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
George Sabra, president of the Western-backed Syrian National Council, said he wants Canada to be a stronger international voice against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Syrian government’s purported use of chemical weapons in recent days should give the international community an even greater sense of urgency, he said.
“We need to see real movement now to protect Syrian people —not only statements, we need action,” Sabra said Saturday, prior to a town-hall style meeting in Montreal.
Sabra, whose coalition is based in Istanbul, Turkey, is scheduled to meet Baird on Wednesday in Montreal.
He will also stop in Ottawa and Toronto on his Canadian tour.
Sabra said the goal of his visit is two-fold: to explain the situation on the ground to Syrian-Canadians and press Ottawa for more assistance.
Sabra and Baird, however, don’t appear to agree on how to end the bloodshed in the war-torn country.
Sabra said he no longer believes a political solution is possible, when so many Syrians have been killed or forced from their homes.
“We have one-million children living in refugee camps,” he said in an interview.
“In this environment, who can talk about a political solution?”
Baird, however, has said a political solution is the only way out of the conflict.
The foreign affairs minister has maintained political pressure remains the best way to end the civil war, while at the same time pointing to what he calls “overwhelming” evidence of a chemical weapons attack against civilians in that country.
Baird’s spokesman Rick Roth added Saturday that Canada strongly supports the calls by the United Nations for a prompt investigation into reports of chemical weapons use.
Sabra said he wants to see action from U.S. President Barrack Obama, who has said he considers chemical weapons a “red line” in the conflict. But he said Canada should also play a larger role.
“When we think about Canada, we think about human rights. We expect a special role from Canada in this field,” he said.
That message was echoed by many Syrian-Canadians who turned out to hear Sabra speak at a Montreal college.
Maher Sawaf, a 58-year-old Montrealer originally from Damascus, said he’s concerned about family, friends and the country as a whole. He brought posters to the meeting that denounced the “chemical massacre” in Syria.
“We’re hoping that this time, after the massacre, that a Western coalition will take action against the Syrian regime,” Sawaf said.
Faisal Alazem, a spokesman for the Syrian Canadian Council, said his group has been asking the government for more aid and an improved refugee program that would reunite Syrian-Canadians with their families.
Sabra’s group, though, has faced criticism of its own regarding treatment of women and religious minorities.
He denied both charges on Saturday.
“We have documents that indicate word by word we will guarantee to improve the situation of women, and (we see) no difference from Muslims to Christians to Jews,” he said.
The Assad regime has denied the use of chemical weapons on civilians and has pointed the finger at rebel forces.