A group at the Muslim Association of Canada in Vancouver that was attending a welcome party for Syrian refugees ended up washing pepper spray from their eyes after a surprise attack from a cyclist. There were women and children in the group attending the welcome party, and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was quick to condemn the attack on social media.
“This isn’t who we are — and doesn’t reflect the warm welcome Canadians have offered,” Trudeau posted to Twitter on Saturday, according to the Toronto Star.
An unknown man on a bicycle went past a group of 20 to 30 outside the Muslim Association of Canada Center in Vancouver and pepper sprayed the assembled group. According to police, 15 were being treated for exposure, and the VanCity Buzz reports that the incident is being investigated as a hate crime. Immigration Minister John McCallum said that the condemned attack should not cause Syrian refugees to feel as though they might be unsafe in Canada.
“I think that the experience that the vast majority of them have, of being welcomed at the airport, and given what they need, clothing and hats and boots, and large numbers of welcoming Canadians… I think that sent a very clear message,” he said, according to the Times-Colonist.
Six thousand Syrian refugees came to Canada as of December, 2015, which fell short of the 25,000 that Prime Minister Trudeau had promised he would see come to Canada during his election campaign in October, 2015. The Canadian government had readjusted their projection as to how many refugees they would take in by the end of 2015 following the attacks in Paris in November. Now, the Liberal government has said that they are committed to bringing in 25,000 refugees by the end of February, 2016.
Mayor Gregor Robertson also condemned the attack and added that Vancouver will always support the influx of refugees. Christy Clark, British Columbia’s current premier, said that Canadians need to bond together to continue their support of refugees, and noted that the attack should be resoundingly condemned, regardless of motivation.
British Columbia’s jobs minister, Shirley Bond, said that she thought that the attack was not reflective of the behavior she has seen across the province, where many people have continued to open their hearts to the Syrian refugees that have come into Canada.
“I was heartsick, because this is not who we are,” she said. “It does not reflect our values. I think British Columbians need to stand up and condemn what happened, and I think that will be the strongest message we can send.”
Teenager Nawal Addo, who is of Syrian descent but grew up in Canada, said she was outside with a group of refugees when the group started coughing and people’s eyes began swelling. She said that she was hopeful that the attack would not be deemed a hate crime.
“I hope it wasn’t a hate crime,” she said, according to the Toronto Star. “You never know, maybe it was just a nut case that was going around. But if it was, then I’ll just say that Canadians should know better.”
The attack occurred at around 10:30 p.m. Saturday night, and police have yet to make an arrest. Vancouver Police Chief Constable Adam Palmer said that there were several sections of the police department that were helping with the investigation, including a Muslim liaison officer and a hate crimes detective. Police are currently canvassing the area for physical evidence and interviewing witnesses and victims.
A representative of the Muslim Association of Canada condemned the attack and said that Canadians as a whole should reject the sort of behavior shown in the attack.
“As Canadians, we will continue to draw on our shared values to reject this violence and send a clear message to individuals and groups that seek to divide us,” the association said as it condemned the attack.
[Image via Danielo/Shutterstock]