January 10, 2016 - 8:35 AM
VANCOUVER - Canada's immigration minister says the pepper spraying of Syrian refugees in Vancouver was an "isolated incident" that won't tarnish the country's migrant-friendly reputation.
John McCallum says the world recognizes that Canada is very welcoming to refugees and predicts that message will resonate despite the pepper spraying of a group of Syrians Friday night.
Vancouver Police said a large group was gathered outside a Muslim Association of Canada centre during an event for newly arrived Syrian refugees when a man on a bicycle sprayed the crowd.
Police said about 15 people were treated for exposure to the spray and they are investigating the incident as a hate crime.
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 says 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 says.
"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 says she is dismayed that the province will be talked about across the country because of a "shameful act."
She says 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 says.
"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."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016