BY JOHN HORGAN
Leader, BC New Democrats
THE past two weeks have been a difficult and painful time for the people of Surrey and Delta.
Following the wave of gun crime and the fatal shooting of Arun Bains, many of us have been searching for answers about what happened, and what needs to happen next.
I strongly believe we will end this violence when we work together. When I say “we” I mean all of us: police, educators, parents, community leaders, and all levels of government. We all have a part to play, and we all need help to succeed.
First we need to show up, and I have seen the people of Surrey and Delta pack into rooms at several community events recently with police and educators. I have been troubled by the late arrival of Premier Christy Clark in this conversation. I hear a lot of frustration from people who feel their elected officials only show up for fundraisers or cultural celebrations.
We need to avoid blaming each other or any specific communities. I hear the premier return again and again to a call for the community to do its part. I believe that repeating this over and over takes us down a dangerous path. A small number of armed criminals absolutely do not represent the South Asian community or the Somali community. I do not recall this kind of response to violence from the Bacon brothers or the Hells Angels. I think the comments made by Minister Amrik Virk – “You live a life by the sword and unfortunately you shall die by the sword” – are totally unhelpful and cause more harm.
Families, schools, and police are doing the best they can with the tools they have. It’s our job as politicians to bring them the resources they need and help develop a plan to work together.
But for many years now, principals and superintendents in Surrey schools have been forced to cut back rather than invest in the future of their community. This is the wrong direction. I have personally asked the premier to commit to providing the resources needed in Surrey to clear the waitlist on the Wrap Program and get all these kids the guidance and mentorship they need. She agreed to spend $270,000 to clear only half of the waitlist. Compare that to the $11 million of your tax money she spent on a Bollywood awards show, or the $5 million spent on a do-nothing audit office, or the $1 million she spent on the Resort Municipality of Jumbo, a made-up town with no buildings and no people.
I believe that keeping kids out of gangs should be a serious priority, not a quick photo-op.
New Democrats have been working on this issue for a long time. Sue Hammell, Harry Bains, and Bruce Ralston continue to press the provincial government to move forward with the Surrey Accord. The Accord has several policy pieces to address policing, courts, addiction, mental health and poverty, but at its core the Accord is about co-operation between all levels of government.
What I hear from parents and teachers, and what I hear from the Bains family, is that we need a much stronger emphasis on crime prevention. That means putting resources into identifying young people at risk of joining gangs and intervening early. We have to stop crime before it starts.
There are some good ideas and good programs on the table already, like Wrap. But make no mistake – resources matter.
When there are only 10 police liaison officers trying to make a difference in the lives of more than 70,000 students in Surrey, it’s no surprise that kids are slipping through the cracks. When there are dozens of at-risk kids on a waitlist for the Wrap Program, it’s clear that government isn’t doing its part. Our school system is where we will have the most success in turning young people’s lives around. I was truly inspired to hear the story of Jesse Sahota. Jesse was headed into the gang lifestyle before teachers and counsellors intervened. Thanks to them, and thanks to the school system, Jesse is now a two-time national wrestling champion and a university graduate. Jesse is giving back to Surrey schools now, mentoring young men who are facing the same choices he did at their age.
Every dollar spent on intervention and mentorship will save us many more dollars in law enforcement, courts, and prison costs.
More importantly, crime prevention programs will give our streets and our neighbourhoods back to the people who live there. Most importantly, crime prevention will save lives and spare families the wrenching agony of grief.
The people of Surrey and Delta have endured street crime and gun violence for too long. It is clear to me that the community is hungry for change, and ready to help drive that change. Now is the time for government to bring the resources and leadership we need to make that change a reality.