The government of Cyprus is closing its consulate general in Toronto and shipping its staff to Ottawa where the Mediterranean island nation will be setting up new digs in the form of its first-ever high commission in Canada.
Canada and Cyprus have close ties, said Consul General Constantinos Christofides in an Oct. 30 interview. Both are Commonwealth members. And Canada, starting in 1964, was one of the first countries to help in a peacekeeping mission in Cyprus, he said. That was when Greek and Turkish Cypriots were fighting each other.
The establishment of a high commission was an “overdue step,” said the consul general.
“We’re really hoping to further strengthen and enhance our bilateral relations with Canada, so by physically being present in Ottawa, we will be working towards that.”
The consulate in downtown Toronto is still open, but has temporarily suspended services as of Nov. 15 except for emergency cases and Mr. Christofides will be moving to Ottawa at the end of November. Joining him at the new high commission in a downtown Ottawa office at 150 Metcalfe St. will be the two other locally-engaged staff working at the consulate: Lenia Charalambous, consular affairs officer, and Aspasia Kourtesiotis, who covers media and communications.
Mr. Christofides will act as the mission’s chargé d'affaires until a high commissioner is appointed and arrives.
The Cypriot diplomat said they would take the first few months to settle down, evaluate needs and then look as possibly hiring additional staff.
“There have been provisions made from our ministry to do that,” he said.
Mr. Christofides, who started at the consulate in September 2014, was asked to look into the possibility of opening a high commission four months into his posting.
There was also discussion of a mission in Ottawa because the consulate’s lease for its office space in Toronto was set to expire around this time.
Preparing for the move meant travelling to Ottawa to find an office, handling the construction that was scheduled to take place there and sorting through everything at the consulate.
The diaspora, which is estimated to be around 25,000, is concentrated in Toronto, Mississauga and the Kitchener-Waterloo region of Ontario. Cyprus itself is home to more than 1.1 million people, according to the World Bank.
The bulk of Mr. Christofides’s work in Toronto was related to the community: attending events as well as processing visas, passports and other documents.
One of his goals upon arriving in Toronto was to be “as involved as possible in the communities.”
He acknowledged that while it would be difficult for diaspora members to see the consulate shuttered, the high commission would keep strong ties with the community.
“It’s not like we will stop providing the services or being close to the community,” he said. “Of course we won’t be able to attend every single event like we do here, but of course we will be here next to our community.”
Cyprus’s embassy in Washington has been handling political issues with Canada, and this is to be transferred to the Ottawa mission. Meanwhile, its mission in New York was overseeing trade work, which will likely be taken over by the Canadian mission as well.
Asked about his thoughts on the upcoming transition, Mr. Christofides replied with a smile. “It’s a challenge,” he said.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back into the political atmosphere,” said the diplomat.“I’m looking forward to it, there’s no reason to panic and stress out.”
He said he learned the art of staying calm from his ambassador while he was posted in Brussels from 2009 to 2013. While there, Mr. Christofides and his colleagues worked 14- to 16-hour days preparing for and helping carry out Cyprus’s first presidency of the Council of the European Union, co-ordinating a team that doubled in size to 60 people during the presidency in 2012.
“At that time, everyone just wants to drop everything and leave and go home because it is very demanding. But now that I think back, it was one of the best experiences a diplomat posted in Brussels can ever have.”
After returning to Cyprus, he dealt with multilateral organizations and the candidatures of Cyprus and other nations at international bodies. This included Cyprus’s successful campaign to get re-elected to the International Maritime Organization’s council in 2013.
Mr. Christofides thought about a diplomatic career after meeting the daughter of a Cypriot ambassador while doing his MBA in New York and learning about an exciting, exotic and challenging profession.
Toronto-based journalist and former Embassy staff writer Sneh Duggal writes on foreign consulates in Canada.
Clarification: This article has been changed to add a word left out of a quotation. It’s also been changed to clarify Mr. Christofides’s comments regarding Canada’s peacekeeping mission in Cyprus and to attribute the figure cited for Cyprus’s population to the World Bank.
Rapid fire with Cyprus’s consul general:
Favourite restaurant: Byblos, in downtown Toronto. A fusion Eastern Mediterranean restaurant that reminds him of home. He also likes discovering “little shady places” that people don’t expect to be good.
Roots: Born in the capital, Nicosia, also known as Lefkosia.
Music: Coldplay is a favourite.
Any other job: Vet or commercial pilot. Being locked up in the cockpit would keep him safe from “fussy passengers.”