VANCOUVER — A man charged in the death of 13-year-old Marrisa Shen appeared briefly in a Vancouver courtroom Friday as dozens of supporters of the girl’s family watched from the gallery or protested outside.
Ibrahim Ali, 28, wore a light red jail uniform and spoke quietly with an Arabic interpreter but did not address the court, only glancing momentarily at the crowd gathered in the room.
The case was adjourned until Oct. 12 so that Ali’s lawyer, Daniel Markovitz, could review the Crown’s evidence. He declined comment outside court.
Ali was arrested last week and charged with first-degree murder in the death of Shen, whose body was found in Burnaby’s Central Park in July 2017.
Police say Ali is a Syrian national who moved to Burnaby as a refugee 17 months ago and is a permanent resident of Canada with no prior criminal history.
None of the allegations against Ali have been proven in court.
Demonstrators who gathered outside questioned the country’s immigration system under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, some clutching white flowers and holding signs that read “Justin Trudeau, where is your heart now?” and “No More Killings.”
Lu Lu travelled from nearby Richmond to participate in the demonstration and he said he’s not opposed to refugees, but he believes stricter background checks are needed.
“We are all immigrants. It takes many years to apply and to get the landing papers. I know for these two years, there were more than 30,000 refugees coming in,” he said.
“I think we can do better and more strict investigations of backgrounds to keep Canada’s public safety.”
A small group representing the Syrian community gathered separately outside court, lighting candles and holding signs that read, “Justice for Marrisa Shen.”
Nasser Najjar said he supports Shen’s family and one man’s alleged actions do not represent the Syrian or Arab community.
“We are really shocked,” said Najjar, who is Palestinian and arrived in Canada two years ago.
He said he hopes Canada continues to welcome refugees, adding that many work hard to give back to the country. His first job in Canada was with the Red Cross helping evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfires.
“Canada gave us a lot. Canada gave us security, love, jobs, feeling that we’re at home,” he said. “We come with pure hearts and we try to move forward.”
Shen was last seen in the evening of July 18, 2017. When she didn’t return home, her mother called police, and officers found her body in a wooded area of Central Park early the next morning.
The girl was seen on security video entering a Tim Hortons about 10 minutes after she left home at 6 p.m. and she was last seen around 7:30 p.m. walking near the coffee shop. Shen’s mother reported her missing at 11:30 p.m. and the girl’s body was found 90 minutes later, police have said.
The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team announced the charge against Ali on Monday, two weeks after police said they became aware of him. Supt. Donna Richardson, the officer in charge of the team, said Ali is employed and has family in Canada.
Richardson said the investigation of Shen’s death was one of the largest in the history of the team since its formation in 2003 and involved 600 interviews and the elimination of more than 2,000 persons of interest.
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Laura Kane, The Canadian Press