01/31/2012 02:42 EST | Updated 04/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Canada condemns Syria for 'slaughter' of innocents, urges UN action

OTTAWA - Syria is slaughtering innocent civilians and it's time for the UN Security Council to deal with the deteriorating situation, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Tuesday.

"Canada condemns the escalation in violence by Syrian security forces over the weekend, which resulted in the suspension of the Arab League monitoring mission on Saturday," Baird said in a statement.

"The Arab League has led international efforts to bring a peaceful resolution to the crisis."

There are reports that a draft Security Council resolution urging Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down is ready for discussion. However Russia, which has a veto on the council, opposes the move, saying pushing Assad out would lead to civil war.

Syria has been wracked by increasing violence in an uprising that began 11 months ago. Baird urged any Canadians still in Syria to get out.

He said the embassy in Damascus has been reduced to a skeleton staff, but is doing what it can to help Canadians escape.

Canadian officials have made thousands of telephone calls in the last month to Canadians in Syria, urging them to leave and offering what help they can.

Baird said it's hard to know how many Canadians are left in the country, but since Dec. 15, about 300 have told Foreign Affairs they have left.

While the Damascus embassy is still open and limited services are available through an honorary consul in Aleppo, there are problems outside those cities, Baird said.

"Due to travel restrictions imposed by the Syrian authorities and the ongoing deterioration of the security situation, our ability to help Canadians in other locations in the country has been significantly reduced."