Canadian minister says Syrian government to blame for chemical-weapons attack

Canada has become the latest to lay the blame for a deadly chemical-weapons attack in Syria last week at Syrian President Bashar Assad’s doorstep, despite Russian suggestions to the contrary.

“When it comes to this use of chemical weapons, it is clear to Canada that chemical weapons were used and that they were used by the Assad regime,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday.

Related: Explosions rock Syrian capital as Trump announces strikes

More than 40 people were killed and 500 injured — including women and children — after poison gas was used in an attack on Douma, a rebel-held enclave near the Syrian capital of Damascus, on April 7.

The Syrian government has denied responsibility and Russia has suggested Israel or Britain was to blame, the latter to justify increased western intervention into the war-ravaged country.

Freeland made the comments on the sidelines of a major international summit in Lima, Peru, which U.S. President Donald Trump skipped last minute to deal with the recent chemical-weapons attack in Syria, which culminated in the launch of U.S., British and French strikes against Syrian targets on Friday night.

Freeland, who spoke before the strikes were announced, said Canada is working with non-governmental organizations and others to collect evidence of war crimes and other atrocities in Syria.

“We have seen as a pattern in the world today is actors who behave in a reprehensible manner, then can be quite clever in trying to muddy the waters and in trying to dodge responsibility,” she added.

“Of course, it is important for Canada to be a country that acts based on facts. But it is equally important for us to be aware of the distraction tactics that some of the actors in the world are using today and to not allow those tactics to work.”

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence is attending the Summit of the Americas in Trump’s stead, and is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday.

“I think it is completely understandable that the president would feel that, given this crisis situation, he would need to be at home,” Freeland said, adding that the Canadian delegation is looking forward to its meeting with Pence.

While Trump announced the “precision strikes” in Syria, Trudeau has ruled out any Canadian participation.

Related: The Latest: U.S. and allies attacking Syria

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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