Vancouver police are investigating after a large crowd of refugees gathered outside of the Muslim Association of Canada Centre on Kingsway were allegedly pepper-sprayed by an unknown man on a bicycle.
A number of men, women and children were treated for exposure to the pepper spray by paramedics and the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service.
Police are searching for the man on the bicycle who according to police “is believed to have been wearing a white hooded sweatshirt.”
The motive for the pepper spraying is unknown at this time.
No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.
VPD have added “Although the motive for the pepper spraying is unknown at this time, investigators are treating it as a hate motivated crime, until determined otherwise.”
Families simply panicked after being pepper sprayed outside of the Muslim Association of Canada last night.
High schooler Nawal Addo was among those who showed up to welcome the refugees.
“Me and my family were waiting outside, we were waiting for the bus, and all of a sudden we all start coughing and our eyes were burning.”
Addo says people just panicked.
“My little brother, he was inside the building, and he runs out saying ‘I can’t breathe!’. We were really worried.”
She says the timing of the attack could not have been worse.
“This was their first outing from their hotels, so it was a terrible welcoming.”
A number of people were treated for exposure to the pepper spray by paramedics and Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service.
“Well, we called 911 of course, and um, they start putting I’m just assuming water on their eyes, and some of them weren’t even able to open their eyes for a straight 5-10 minutes, and I don’t know, maybe more.”
The incident has a lot of people reacting on social media this morning, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Christy Clark and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.
I condemn the attack on Syrian refugees in Vancouver. This isn’t who we are – and doesn’t reflect the warm welcome Canadians have offered.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 9, 2016
Last night’s pepper spray incident was a disgusting display of hate – and Vancouver won’t stand for it. #VanWelcomesRefugees and always will
— Gregor Robertson (@MayorGregor) January 9, 2016
Last night’s attack on refugees is intolerable, regardless of motivation. Please join me in condemning it, and welcoming new Canadians.
— Christy Clark (@christyclarkbc) January 9, 2016
The Chief of Vancouver Police had a message for the man who pepper sprayed a group of about 100 Syrian refugees last night.
“If they are watching or listening I would ask that they turn themselves in and explain yourself and lets get to the bottom of this.”
Adam Palmer says they are looking for video footage to get a better look at the man.
Palmer says once caught he could face charges.
“So this would fall under the assault sections of the criminal code. Most likely things like assault with a weapons because pepper spray is considered a weapon or it could be assault causing bodily harm. As far as the issue of a hate crime so we are clear on that because I think people misunderstand how that works that is not actually a charging section in the criminal code. The way it works it is an aggravating factor considered at sentencing.”
Palmer is devoting as many resources as possible to nab the assailant.
“Well we just want to make sure we’re putting the right resources into it. Because if it is a hate crime against people that have newly come to this country, that’s a pretty serious thing and we want to put heavy resources in the front end for a proper investigation.”
Palmer added that the incident does not mean there is an increasing number of hate crimes in the city.
“I don’t have any numbers of whether it’s up or down, but my sense of it from looking at the stats over the years, we’re pretty similar.”
Police are also reviewing security camera footage in order to get a better description of the suspect.
BC Technology Minister Amrik Virk reiterated Mayor Gregor Robertson’s, Premier Christy Clark’s and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s condemnation of the pepper spray attack.
“Let me speak on behalf of government and the premier in the sense that this is senseless. It does not reflect our values as British Columbians, it does not reflect our values as Canadians and should in no way be construed as such.”
Virk implored anyone with information on the possible assailant to come forward.