Happy to be here de­spite pep­per at­tack

Syr­ian refugees grate­ful for pub­lic, govern­ment re­sponse to pep­per spray in­ci­dent

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

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,” alSuleiman 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.”

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 said, adding 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. “We im­me­di­ately for­got about what hap­pened when we saw all of this at­ten­tion.”

CP PHOTO

Newly-ar­rived Syr­ian refugees Ha­neen Ma­ja­reesh, left, 1, and her older brother Mah­moud Ma­ja­reesh, 10, and sis­ter Reem Ma­ja­reesh, 8, back, look on at a ho­tel where 200 govern­ment-spon­sored refugees are liv­ing tem­po­rar­ily in Van­cou­ver, B.C., Tues­day. The chil­dren were present as other Syr­i­ans spoke to The Cana­dian Press about a pep­per spray at­tack at a wel­com­ing cer­e­mony last Fri­day.

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