Police have arrested a 28-year-old refugee from Syria for allegedly murdering a 13-year-old girl in Burnaby, British Columbia. The story has already been used by one demagogue to promote an anti-immigration agenda, suggesting it may soon become a talking point by the far-right.
Earlier today police charged Ibrahim Ali—who authorities describe as a Syrian national who has been in the country for 17 months—with the first-degree murder of Marissa Shen. Shen’s body was found in Burnaby’s Central Park in July of 2017—authorities have not informed the public or media how she was killed or if she was sexually assaulted.
At a press conference on Monday announcing Ali’s arrest, Donna Richardson, the superintendent with the Integrated Homicide Investigative Team, said that authorities “believe this crime was a random act” and that the Ali and Shen did not know each other. Richardson, and others at the presser, did not divulge more information on a possible motive.
The murder investigation was one of the largest ever undertaken by the IHIT and involved hundreds of interviews and reviewing thousands of hours of video. Shen’s parents provided a statement to media in which they thanked authorities for their “hard work and perseverance.” They also thanked local media for not allowing the story to be forgotten.
“We hope that justice will now be served and that Marissa can finally be at peace in heaven,” reads the final portion of the letter.
Ali had no criminal record and no prior history of mental illness. Police say they became aware of his possible involvement with the crime around two weeks ago. According to IHIT, Ali came to Canada just months before the murder of Shen—they did not specify whether he was sponsored by the government or private citizen.
Shortly after the announcement, Canada’s leading anti-Muslim and anti-immigration pundit, Ezra Levant sent out a tweet saying Syrian refugees have “brought the Syrian culture of rape and murder” to Canada. Sadly, this type of commentary following a murder has come to be expected in the modern day political climate, prompting the Immigrant Services Society of BC to preemptively issue a statement warning against smearing an entire population as murderers.
“This was a horrific case and we share the public's and the victim's family's desire for justice for Marissa,” reads the statement. “At the same time, we wish to caution the public against stigmatizing an entire ethnic community for the alleged criminal act of one individual from that community.”
The ISSBC weren’t the only ones to anticipate this kind of reaction. Richardson, a woman who helped arrest and charge Ali, indicated at the end of the press conference that there is a good chance people will use this crime to stir up hate for refugees.
“Historically we have seen that happen. I am hoping that in this case we do not see that happen,” said Richardson at the end of Monday’s press conference. “I think by in large the refugees that come to this country are hardworking citizens that are very happy to be in Canada.”
“I would just hope that we look at this incident for what it is, it’s a one off situation.”
Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.
Follow Mack on Twitter.