UPDATE (Jan.11, 2016): Vancouver police have updated the description of the man suspected of pepper spraying approximately 15 people Friday night.
He is now described as having a slim build and was allegedly wearing a white or grey hooded sweatshirt. He was riding a bike with a “rat trap” style rack on the back.
VANCOUVER – More than a dozen Syrian refugees were pepper sprayed late Friday night in an incident that police are treating as a hate crime.
The attack happened outside the Muslim Association of Canada Centre during a “welcome night” event for newly-arrived Syrian refugees.
City police said a crowd of men, women and children had gathered outside the MAC centre when a man wearing a white hoodie apparently rode by on a bicycle and sprayed about 15 people, including some young children.
Police said that a number of people were treated on scene, but there was no word of any serious injuries.
Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer says that not everyone hit by pepper spray was a refugee, and that all victims were treated on scene.
Police are canvassing the area for video and physical evidence and interviewing witnesses and victims, but made no arrest on Saturday.
“It’s a very troubling situation, and the actions of one man have shed a negative light on a lot of the positive work that’s been done to welcome the Syrian refugees into our communities,” Palmer said.
“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.”
In a statement, VPD Sgt. Randy Fincham said, “investigators are treating it as a hate motivated crime, until determined otherwise.”
Palmer said the man responsible could face assault charges when arrested, and urged him to turn himself in.
WATCH: Chief Constable Adam Palmer of the Vancouver Police Department says the sheer number of people who were affected by pepper spray at a Syrian refugee welcome event is alarming
Nawal Addo said she was standing outside with some refugees who were waiting for a bus when suddenly everyone began to cough and feel their eyes burning.
“We saw people coming out from the building and they were in worse condition than us,” she said. “Their eyes were really puffed up. They weren’t able to open their eyes.”
She said it appeared the fumes had gotten inside the entrance, where it affected people more powerfully inside the enclosed space. Some were children, including a girl who was about two years old, Addo said.
Tarek Ramadan of the Muslim Association of Canada said the attack marred an otherwise “wonderful event.”
“It was tragic,” he said. “It was not good for these people who came from five years of war.”
WATCH: Vancouver’s Muslim community hosts welcome event for Syrian refugees
On Saturday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, BC Premier Christy Clark and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson denounced the attack:
Former Vancouver mayor and current Senator Larry Campbell had one the of bluntest opinions of the attack.
“In my honest opinion, a wack job who’s probably living his mother’s basement. I’m insulted by it, but they should not think that’s Vancouver. Vancouver is not like that,” he said.
Campbell, who was a former RCMP officer and coroner before entering politics, added, “I would almost would say, because it was them, we’re more attentive to it, but I would be willing to bet this guy would do it to anybody who would be standing around.”
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum said in a statement:
“Canadians know that this incident is an affront to our values as a nation, and is at odds with the overwhelmingly positive welcome that Syrian refugees have received in communities across our country.
“I am sure that welcoming community spirit will endure, and will grow even stronger in the wake of this disturbing crime. I would also like to assure recently arrived Syrian refugees that those who gathered last night to support and welcome them embody the Canadian spirit. This attack in no way represents their new home.”
WATCH: McCallum ‘shocked and appalled’ by pepper spray attack on Syrian refugees
– With files from The Canadian Press
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