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Dear Syrian Refugees: Canada Is Not Immune To Racism

01/12/2016 11:41 EST | Updated 01/12/2017 05:12 EST
Bernard Weil via Getty Images
TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 27: A Syrian refugee family, sponsored by a local group called Ripple Refugee Project, pose for photos. Lots are: Reemas Al Abdullah, 5 (little girl), Sawsan Al Samman (red coat), Nahla Al Abdullah (older lady), Aya Al Abdullah, 8 (girl), Anais Al Abdullah (brown coat), Mohamad Al Abdullah (white shirt), Oais Al Abdullah (orange sweater) and Abdullah Al Abdullah (black coat). Friends of Syria hosted a dinner for refugees at the Toronto Port Authority. (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

To my newest neighbours and soon-to-be Canadians,

Many of us are working hard to welcome you and hope that you will find peace and safety in our country. Good people are organizing across the country in homes, community centers and places of worship to do our best to respond to this humanitarian crisis half the world away.

On Friday night in Vancouver, some of you faced a horrifying assault during your first days here. As you were being welcomed and celebrated, a man in a white hoodie doused you in pepper spray in an incident that the Vancouver Police are investigating as a hate-motivated crime.

You are surely weary from your long journey and grieving from the losses you suffered in Syria. It is truly unfortunate that in these early days you were introduced to an awful truth about your new country.

Canada has a problem with racism and intolerance.

We are a young nation that is still working on re-writing our history books to fully include and understand the dark parts of our past. We are a country that was founded on principles of white, Christian supremacy. Unfortunately, there are still those among us that hold on to this view of Canada.

You may hear from people that this act does not reflect who we are as a nation. But you must know that this has not always been true.

"No one can promise that you will not face discrimination again. But there will be many of us that will stand with you when it happens."

The truth is that the unidentified man in the white hoodie has been with us since the beginning. During our worst times, he was controlling government. During our best times, he was openly shunned. Sometimes, he was just quiet. But lately, he has been empowered and emboldened by fear and political rhetoric aimed at galvanizing our worst selves.

Maybe he is still with us because he strikes a chord with enough Canadians to keep him relevant through the years.

As a nation, we continually struggle to find the courage to challenge intolerance directly. To move beyond our famous politeness where we handle hate crimes by removing comments from online news stories and evoking myths of a pluralistic and tolerant country.

You must be prepared. After this incident, we heard from the Vancouver police that they investigate approximately 50 hate crimes a year. I am sorry to say that no one can promise that you will not face discrimination again as you re-establish yourself in this country.

But I know that there will be many of us that will stand with you when it happens. You will be among those fighting to ensure our handling of this humanitarian crisis does not seed future shame and add to the list of times that fear and intolerance guided our actions.

Please surround yourself in the welcome and support of the majority of Canadians that want to help you make our country home. And be assured that this time the man in the white hoodie will not have the final word.

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