Syrian refugees confused, disappointed by pepper spray attack in Vancouver

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer is calling a pepper spray attack outside a welcome event for Syrian refugees a very troubling hate crime and asked the perpetrator to turn himself in.

'It is a hate crime against new people who have come to Canada,' says Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer

Police, politicians, refugees and public troubled by incident 2:20

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer is calling a pepper spray attack outside a welcome event for Syrian refugees a very troubling hate crime and asked the perpetrator to turn himself in.

Shortly after 10:30 p.m. PT Friday 100 people were gathered outside of the Muslim Association of Canada Centre, located at 2122 Kingsway Avenue, when an unknown man on a bicycle rode up and pepper sprayed a group of men, women and children, which included newly arrived refugees from Syria.

Paramedics and the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service treated 15 people for exposure to pepper spray.

"It's a very troubling situation and the actions of one man shed a negative light on all of the positive work that's been done to welcome the Syrian refugees into our communities," Chief Const. Adam Palmer said at the Vancouver Police Department's main headquarters.

"We're going to put the necessary resources into this investigation to identify the suspect, solve the crime and make sure we assist the victims in this troubling incident."

Palmer said Vancouver police investigate up to 50 hate crimes a year, but this one is particularly concerning because it involves so many people.

"It is a hate crime against new people who have come to Canada and that is a pretty serious thing," he said.

Meanwhile, people have taken flowers to a hotel where some of the refugees, who were caught up in the attack, are staying.

Tarek Ramadan, a volunteer who translated for some of Syrians who spoke to CBC News, said they are surprised by the incident.

"A little bit of disappointment and a little bit of anger also, because they don't know, like, why. 'What's the reason? We haven't done anything wrong,'" he said.

He added that most though are thankful to be in Vancouver and Canada despite being hit with pepper spray.

"What happened does not make us think less at all of any Canadian or the Canadian government," he said, translating for a man asked by CBC what he thought of the attack.

"We still actually thank them for what the did for us," he added.

Political leaders speak out 

This incident drew condemnation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and both opposition leaders.

 "This isn't who we are," Trudeau said in a tweet. Robertson, also on Twitter, described the incident as a "disgusting display of hate."

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair called it "a despicable, violent act," while interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said it is "not reflective of an inclusive Canada."

Police are searching for the man on the bicycle, who is believed to have been wearing a white hooded sweatshirt and is described as having a slim build.

No arrests have been made. Police continue to canvass for private surveillance video and use community liaison officers, along with other resources, to reach out to the Muslim community, while Palmer appealed directly to the suspect himself.

"I would ask them to turn themselves in and explain yourself and let's get to the bottom of this," he said.

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