VANCOUVER — A high-profile member of Canada's Syrian community says Friday night's pepper spraying of Syrian refugees at a welcome event in Vancouver was likely a one-off event and doesn't reflect how the majority of Canadians view the newly arrived migrants.
Tima Kurdi — the aunt of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who drowned while fleeing civil strife in Syria — says 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," Kurdi said. "They are big supporters to the refugees."
A large group was gathered outside a Muslim Association of Canada centre during an event for newly arrived Syrian refugees last 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.
Fincham said the force is investigating the incident as a hate crime.
Canada's Immigration Minister John McCallum described it as an "isolated incident" that won't tarnish the country's migrant-friendly reputation.
The world recognizes that Canada is very welcoming to refugees, and that message will continue to resonate, said McCallum.
Canada has been praised on the world stage for its pledge to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of next month, and a photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcoming migrants at the airport was published around the world.
McCallum said his government utterly condemns the pepper spraying and says Syrian refugees have no reason to feel 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.
"I think that experience shared by so many of the refugees is going to easily trump this one isolated incident."
British Columbia's jobs minister Shirley Bond said she is dismayed that the province will be talked about across the country because of a "shameful act."
She said the incident is entirely contrary to what she's seen across B.C., where people have opened their homes and offered generosity to Syrian refugees.
"British Columbia is known as a place that is inclusive, that is incredibly multicultural," she said.
"I was heartsick, because this is not who we are. 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."
Geordon Omand, Laura Kane, The Canadian Press