A group of prominent Syrian-Canadians has released a statement on behalf of their community after a Syrian refugee was arrested for the “despicable” murder of Vancouver-area schoolgirl Marrisa Shen, 13, telling her family that “our hearts go out to you”.
The statement, signed by 16 Syrian-Canadians, including academics, business figures, and political figures, also pleaded against a “backlash” on other refugees.
It was issued in response to the police announcement on Monday that Ibrahim Ali, 28, had been charged with murdering Shen, who was killed just three months after Ali arrived in Canada. The schoolgirl’s killing stunned the region when her body was found in a Burnaby, British Columbia, park in July 2017, sparking a vast 14-month manhunt.
“The Syrian community in Canada join their fellow Canadians today in shock and condemnation of the despicable homicide of young Marrisa Shen,” the statement said. “We also share in the grief and sorrow of her family. Our hearts go out to you.”
On Monday, Superintendent Donna Richardson, the head of the Vancouver region’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, addressed the potential for a backlash after announcing Ali’s arrest for the murder of the daughter of Chinese immigrants.
Richardson described refugees, generally, as “hardworking citizens who are very happy to be in Canada”, and said she hoped that others would see “this incident for what it is: a one-off situation”.
Monday’s statement by the Syrian Canadian community members – issued in English, French and Arabic – thanked police for their efforts to investigate “this horrible act”, and said Ali should face justice with “the full force of the law”.
“At this moment of deep sadness, we earnestly join all Canadians in mourning and hope this terrible incident won’t result in a backlash against refugees.”
It said the Syrian community would be lighting candles for Shen in front of the Vancouver Provincial Court where Ali is due to make his first appearance on Friday, adding “everyone is welcome to join”.
Signatories included author Danny Ramadan, Sam Nammoura of the Canadian Syrian Centre, chocolatier Tareq Hadhad, and Mustafa Alio, co-founder of the Refugee Career Jumpstart project in Toronto.
Police said Ali was a Syrian national and permanent resident of Canada, who had family members in the country. Richardson did not respond when asked whether Ali came to Canada on a private or government sponsorship, under Canada’s two-stream asylum system. He had no criminal record in Canada.
The hunt for Shen’s killer was one of the biggest manhunts in British Columbia’s history, involving 300 officers at its peak. More than 2,000 persons of interest were investigated and ruled out, before Ali came to the attention of officers two weeks ago. Richardson would not say how he fell under investigators’ spotlight.
She said Shen and Ali did not know each other, and police “still believe this crime was a random act”.
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