Opinion: Murder charge not a licence to bash refugees

The news that a 28-year-old man had been charged with the murder of 13-year-old Burnaby teen Marrisa Shen was met with widespread relief.

Relief that perhaps our streets would be a little safer. Relief that the Shen family might somehow find a fraction of solace through our justice system.

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The case rocked this community, including those who live near Central Park and use its trails. Some people have claimed that the park isn’t safe based on this murder and some other attacks, but, as the Burnaby RCMP have assured the public, it’s a safe place.

Burnaby RCMP’s Chief Supt. Deanne Burleigh said her detachment ramped up patrols following the murder to “ensure everyone can feel safe,” she said.

Credit should go to the RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team for the exhaustive investigation in Shen’s murder – made all the more difficult because it was seemingly a random killing. Most murders are committed by people who know their victims, and so a case like this makes it extremely difficult to identify suspects.

IHIT said the man charged only came to the attention of investigators two weeks ago, after one of the longest and most resource-intensive investigations in the unit’s history. More than 1,300 residents were canvassed, 600 interviews conducted and 1,000 hours of video from 60 different locations were reviewed as part of the investigation. 

More than 2,000 persons of interest were identified and later eliminated as possible suspects in the last 14 months, police said.

And, in the end, a charge has been laid against a Syrian national with permanent residency in Canada after coming here as a refugee 17 months ago.

Merely mentioning this fact sparked outrage online – with some people saying the media shouldn’t be reporting this part because of the racist reaction it will produce. We disagree that it shouldn’t be reported on as part of the story.

But we also agree that, unfortunately, some people will use this fact to make racist generalizations against refugees as part of a political agenda.

The Immigrant Services Society of B.C. issued a statement on Monday urging people not to overreact.

“This was a horrific case, and we share the public’s and the victim’s family’s desire for justice for Marrisa,” the statement read. “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.”

RCMP Supt. Donna Richardson also addressed this issue at Monday’s press conference, saying she hoped the incident wouldn’t result in a backlash against refugees.

“Historically, we have seen that happen,” she said. “I’m hoping that in this case we do not see that happen. I think, by and large, our refugees that come to the country are hard-working citizens that are happy to be in Canada, and I would just hope that we look at this incident for what it is: It’s a one-off situation.”

We couldn't agree more.

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