Marrisa Shen’s accused killer appears in Vancouver court, sparking protests and fears of anti-immigrant backlash
Supporters of the Shen family and Syrian-Canadians all called for justice in the wake of a murder charge against a refugee
As the man charged in the death of 13-year-old Marrisa Shen made his first public court appearance on Friday in downtown Vancouver, sign-waving protests alongside an emotional vigil were taking place outside the courthouse.
Ibrahim Ali, a 28-year-old Syrian refugee, was charged with first-degree murder after his arrest on September 7, more than a year after Shen’s body was discovered in a park in the suburb of Burnaby in July 2017.
Near the courthouse, anti-immigration protesters and members of Canada’s Syrian community and others worried about backlash in the wake of Ali’s arrest gathered, lighting candles and holding placards.
Supporters of the Shen family carried signs and banners reading “No Bail No More Victims”, “We Want Justice” and “Comprehensive Security Screening Now.” They mingled with people fearful of a backlash against immigrants and Muslims.
Among them were Duncan MacLeod and Daniyah Shamshi, who said they were concerned about the division Ibrahim’s case might create.
“As part of the social justice committee from the St. James Church, I’ve worked with a lot of Syrian refugees because I’m an Arabic-speaking person,” MacLeod said. “I will tell you they are concerned, and they’re also showing compassion to the girl and her family.”
Shamshi said the murder charge against Ibrahim may allow people “to take advantage of the situation by pitting multiple marginalised groups against each other”.
Shamshi, a Canadian citizen born in the United Arab Emirates, said she worried that Shen’s murder would give rise to white nationalist and racist sentiments.
“I’m a Canadian citizen with Muslim roots, and despite having all the privileges of being a citizen, I can still experience part of the backlash just due to the colour of my skin,” she said.
Ali arrived in Canada several months before Shen was found dead in Burnaby’s Central Park on July 19, 2017. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she had been reported missing just hours earlier, after failing to return to her nearby Burnaby home.
Ibrahim reportedly lived with his family not far from Central Park and had come to Canada in March 2017 with the help of a community group and a church.
Superintendent Donna Richardson of the Vancouver homicide investigation team said after the arrest that the case involving Ali, a permanent resident of Canada, was “not related to religious ideology”.
The brief hearing on Friday, during which a defence lawyer was appointed, was delayed multiple times as the court awaited the arrival of an Arabic interpreter.
Behind glass, Ali stood wearing a pink shirt and red pants, his arms folded behind his back. He has yet to make a plea in the case, and faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted.
Some of the protesters outside the courthouse hurled criticism at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has promoted Canada as tolerant and accepting of asylum seekers.
“This is a Trudeau failed policy,” shouted Laura Thompson. “Why isn’t [Ibrahim] being immediately being sent back to his own country?”
After the hearing, Ali’s newly appointed lawyer, Danny Markovitz, said his client was “holding up … but confused by the process”.
“I received particulars today, and I haven’t had a chance to review them in any depth,” Markovitz told reporters. “I do want to say my heart truly goes out to the child’s family.”
Ali’s family, Markovitz said, are “puzzled and they’re horrified by the allegations”.
Ali’s next court appearance is set for October 12.
Said MacLeod, outside the courthouse: “Both sides are seeking justice ... Canadian justice.”