OTTAWA - Canada joined allies across the world Tuesday in expelling Syrian diplomats, as the slaughter of the innocent in Houla provoked a broad severing of global ties with the pariah Assad regime in Damascus.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada was expelling Syrian diplomats in the wake of the weekend massacre in Houla. The United Nations said 108 people died in the massacre, including 49 children and 34 women — one of the deadliest events in the 15-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
Canada took part in a co-ordinated diplomatic offensive along with the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria and the Netherlands as the UN revealed more gruesome details of the events in Houla: the massacre included the close-range shootings of scores of children and parents in their homes.
The report did not specify who carried out most of the killings.
In Ottawa, a small but noisy crowd began to gather outside the Syrian embassy as several RCMP officers stood guard on the sidewalk.
Halah al-Horani, a high school English teacher in Damascus until she emigrated to Canada four years ago, was initially numbed by the violence in Houla before she came out to add her voice to Tuesday's dissent.
"I spent two days not speaking," said al-Horani, 53. "All the time, I was imagining how those children were feeling when they were watching their friends, other families, getting slaughtered by those monstrous people."
Raed Arab, 46, said the diplomatic expulsion was long overdue.
"We asked for this a long time ago. But it took more lives for the Canadian government to take action. We thank the government for taking this action," said Arab, a Palestinian-Canadian, whose mother is Syrian.
"This regime is a Mafia," he added. "The latest killing just shows just how murderous this regime is. And how brutal they are."
Baird said all remaining diplomats in Ottawa and their families have five days to leave Canada. As is the case in several other countries, Syria's ranking diplomat is a charge d'affairs, not an ambassador.
As well, another Syrian diplomat waiting to come to Canada will be refused entry.
Baird said Canadians, like other people around the world, were horrified to learn on the weekend about the massacre, including nearly three dozen children under the age of 10.
"Canada and our partners are speaking loudly, with one voice, in saying these Syrian representatives are not welcome in our countries while their masters in Damascus continue to perpetrate their heinous and murderous acts," Baird said.
"The ongoing violence must stop immediately, and the Syrian people must be free to realize for themselves a better, brighter future. Canada remains committed to working with the international community to find solutions to this crisis."
Britain said further sanctions would be considered against Syria, but there was no prospect of any more intervention.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague signalled that Russia — a supporter of Syria — would face more pressure following Tuesday's action.
"We will continue to discuss this with Russia. Russia has particular leverage on the regime and therefore has a particular role in this crisis."
Hague said the situation in Syria is more complicated than the events in Libya last year, when the UN Security Council approved air strikes that ultimately contributed to the ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay wouldn't speculate on whether the Security Council would ever be able to act in unanimity, in the face of veto-wielding members China and Russia.
"China and Russia in particular have been very reticent to agree to a Security Council resolution, at least one that would mirror similar efforts to try to bring to an end the violence. But we continue to push along with our partners," MacKay said Tuesday.