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Syrian community fears scapegoating after man new to Canada charged with murder of Marrisa Shen

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2018-09-11 CBC/Radio-Canada
a person standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Marrisa Shen, 13, went missing from her home near Central Park in Burnaby on July 18, 2017. Her body was found in the park early the next morning. © Tina Lovgreen/CBC Marrisa Shen, 13, went missing from her home near Central Park in Burnaby on July 18, 2017. Her body was found in the park early the next morning.

​Members of B.C.'s Syrian community say they are concerned the announcement of Ibrahim Ali's murder charge for the death of Marrisa Shen — and Ali's status as a former refugee — could lead to unwarranted backlash.

Police on Monday announced that Ali, 28, has been charged for killing Shen. They described him as a man with no criminal record who arrived in Canada 17 months ago as a refugee from Syria.

Those details caused concern for people like Danny Ramadan, who came to Vancouver from Syria four years ago, himself a refugee.

The acclaimed novelist and LGBTQ activist said for people in his community there is already fear of being vilified for one man's alleged crime.

"The saddest thing is mostly [I've] heard from other Syrians who are extremely shocked by what happened," Ramadan said.

"They're worried that, while they're trying their best to build a beautiful home for themselves here, this is a new challenge they may have to add to their plate of many challenges they are facing at the moment."

a man standing in front of a building: Novelist and activist Danny Ramadan says the Syrian community is shocked by the charge against Ibrahim Ali. © CBC Novelist and activist Danny Ramadan says the Syrian community is shocked by the charge against Ibrahim Ali.

Rahim Othman with the Syrian-Canadian Council of B.C. said there have already been negative comments surfacing on social media.

"This incident is an isolated incident," Othman said of the allegations. "It's unfortunate that there are sick and criminal people out there and these people can come from any community."

His group will be lighting candles for Marrisa Shen Friday morning outside Vancouver provincial court where Ali is expected to appear.

a man standing in front of a building: Rahim Othman with the Syrian-Canadian Council of B.C. plans to light candles for Marrisa Shen during Ali's next court appearance. © CBC Rahim Othman with the Syrian-Canadian Council of B.C. plans to light candles for Marrisa Shen during Ali's next court appearance.

Immigrants less likely to commit crime

Refugee and immigrant advocacy group Mosaic expressed its condolences for the Shen family while also expressing concern that media coverage is focusing too much on Ali's status as a former refugee.

"The focus on immigration status will negatively impact support for refugees, and erode the goodwill and generosity that the majority of Canadians have for this vulnerable population," a statement from the organization read.

"Ibrahim Ali is accused of a terrible crime, but if he is guilty, he is not representative of all refugees, nor of all Syrians.

"It has been shown that immigrants are statistically less likely to commit crimes than others, but as in everything else, there are always exceptions."

None of the allegations against Ali have been tested in court.

With files from Anita Bathe

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