Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Defence Minister Reaches out to Syrian Refugees in Wake of Pepper-Spray Attack

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Defence Minister Reaches out to Syrian Refugees in Wake of Pepper-Spray Attack

Article excerpt

Sajjan decries pepper spraying of refugees

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VANCOUVER - A prominent member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet is reaching out to Syrian refugees after a group of newly arrived migrants were pepper sprayed at a welcome event in Vancouver.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan described Friday night's attack as an "isolated incident" and said the Syrian refugees he met with the following day were resilient and happy to be in Canada.

"In the last 24 hours I was able to visit a mosque, a church and a Sikh gurdwara, all communities who are supporting and welcoming refugees. That's the real Canadian way," he said on Sunday.

"It's so good to see communities rallying around after an event like that to be able to say that, 'No, this is who we really are.'"

A crowd was gathered outside a Muslim Association of Canada centre during an event for government-sponsored Syrian refugees on Friday around 10:30 p.m. when a man on a bicycle rode by and pepper sprayed about 15 people, said Vancouver police spokesman St. Randy Fincham.

Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Sajjan spoke with some of the Syrian refugees present for the attack during a welcome gathering in his Vancouver-area riding Saturday evening that was planned before Friday's pepper spray incident.

"They're so happy to be able to be here in Canada," he said, describing the event's atmosphere as celebratory.

"Because of the positive reaction that they're getting from everywhere they go, a horrible but isolated incident like this can be quickly forgotten and they can get on with their life."

Tima Kurdi, a prominent member of Canada's Syrian community, dismissed the attack as a one-off event that doesn't reflect how the majority of Canadians view the newly arrived migrants.

She said the support Canadians have shown to refugees is "unbelievable" and they shouldn't be blamed for Friday night's incident.

"To be honest, Canadian people would not do this, the majority of them," she said. "They are big supporters to the refugees. …

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