Syrian refugees grateful for support in wake of pepper-spray attack

VANCOUVER - Ahmad Hwichan gestures to his throat and grimaces as he talks about coughing up blood and hearing children screaming in the chaotic aftermath of last week's pepper-spray attack in Vancouver.

See Full Article

The newly arrived government-sponsored refugee from Syria was one of about a dozen people who were sprayed by a man on a bicycle outside a welcome ceremony around 10:30 p.m. on Friday.

Despite the suffering, the unsavoury incident has failed to temper the enthusiasm and gratitude Hwichan and other refugees feel toward their adopted country and its citizens.

"This doesn't change my point of view of Canada. It will never change," Hwichan said through a translator on Tuesday, four days after the attack.

"This was probably one guy who was drunk or, I don't know, crazy."

He added in English without the help of a translator: "I love you Canada so much."

The pepper spraying prompted universal condemnation from political leaders, including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Syrian refugee Youssef Ahmad al-Suleiman, also hit in the attack, recounted how he and his fellow newcomers were stunned after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter and apologized on behalf of himself and the Canadian people.

"We're not used to this back home in our own country," al-Suleiman said, using a translator. "(Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad killed around 300,000 people and did not apologize once.

"Canada stays Canada - Canada of dreams," he added. "One individual does not represent the whole Canadian people."

Al-Suleiman recalled seeing a man wearing a helmet cycle up to their group, which was waiting on the sidewalk outside a Muslim Association of Canada centre for a bus to return to their residence. The man sprayed something once or twice toward the crowd and quickly left, he said.

Hazaa Sahal and his son were also struck by the spray.

The 44-year-old father of three described resorting to a strategy used by protesters in Syria, who would pour Pepsi or Coke on their faces to counteract the effects of tear gas during anti-government demonstrations.

But he said the technique proved ineffective against pepper spray and actually worsened the stinging.

Sahal explained how immediately after the incident some refugees wished they had never come to Canada.

That feeling quickly evaporated when they saw the overwhelming positive response from police, health officials, the government and the Canadian public, he added.

"There is always good and bad. But in this country the good is more than the bad," Sahal said in Arabic.

"We felt like nothing bad happens here and goes without being punished, or the actor being held accountable."

Shadi al-Radi said the entire experience actually strengthened his faith in his new country.

"We saw the attention that was given by the prime minister himself. Now we have more confidence in Canada and more confidence in the government," said al-Radi through a translator. The 30-year-old came to Canada with his wife and one-year-old child.

"We immediately forgot about what happened when we saw all of this attention."

Vancouver police spokesman Sgt. Randy Fincham has said officers are investigating Friday's incident as a hate crime.

Canada has committed to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of next month.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Driver charged in death of Hamilton woman giving water to pigs at protest has first day in court

    Canada News CBC News
    A truck driver charged with careless driving causing death has his first day in court Monday after police say he killed an animal-rights activist who was giving water to pigs being led to slaughter. Police say the man, who police have not named, was driving his truck to Fearman's Pork plant in Burlington, Ont. Source
  • Meet Olaf Scholz, the man who might replace Angela Merkel as Germany's next chancellor

    World News CTV News
    Olaf Scholz has some big shoes to fill. The German Finance Minister has the best shot at forming a new German government after leading his Social Democratic Party (SPD) to a narrow victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections. Source
  • Indian farmers ramp up protests against farm laws

    World News CBC News
    now Source
  • Barbers in Afghanistan's Helmand Province are now prohibited from shaving beards and playing music

    World News CTV News
    Barbers in Afghanistan's Helmand Province are now prohibited from shaving men's beards and playing music in their shops, according to a statement issued by the province's Taliban-led department of virtue and vice. The new regulations mark the latest in a series of restrictions placed on the people of Afghanistan based on the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. Source
  • China to reduce abortions for 'non-medical purposes'

    World News CTV News
    BEIJING -- China will reduce the number of abortions performed for "non-medical purposes," the country's cabinet announced in new guidelines issued on Monday. The State Council said action would also be taken to avoid unwanted pregnancies and to encourage men to "share responsibility" in preventing them. Source
  • Edmonton family searching for answers after man in 'confrontation' with remand centre staff dies

    Canada News CBC News
    WARNING: This story contains a graphic photograph. A grieving family wants answers after 50-year-old Danny Robinson died following a confrontation with staff at the Edmonton Remand Centre. Robinson's family said he was pulled over by Edmonton police on Aug. 23, and taken into custody for unpaid traffic fines. Source
  • Landmark N.B. covered bridge to be demolished and replaced

    Canada News CBC News
    One of New Brunswick's most iconic covered bridges will be removed this week, following a lengthy fight by heritage advocates to protect it. The Vaughan Creek Covered Bridge in St. Martins was built in 1935 and has been closed to traffic for several years after inspections found it unsafe for heavy traffic. Source
  • India's farmers renew protests, challenging Modi government

    World News CTV News
    NEW DELHI -- Thousands of Indian farmers blocked traffic on major roads and railway tracks outside of the nation's capital on Monday, marking one year of demonstrations against government-backed laws that they say will shatter their livelihoods. Source
  • Fredericton housing crisis leaves some newcomers living in wretched conditions

    Canada News CBC News
    Hamadi Hamisi and his family spent 10 years trying to survive on meagre rations in a refugee camp in Kenya, living in a mud house with a bamboo roof. This year in Fredericton, as newly arrived refugees looking for a place to live, they stood in a dark, dank basement apartment, where mould grew on the walls, there was no proper ventilation, and the single, tiny window in one of the three bedrooms was broken. Source
  • Businesses, schools and cities to observe National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

    Canada News CTV News
    As the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation approaches, Alana Hogstead has decided as a small-business owner to close up her shop in honour of the day. Hogstead co-owns Martha's Music in Camrose, Alta. Source