SURREY – – The province has committed new funding to a Surrey youth program in the wake of repeated gunfire in the city in the past several weeks, but critics say it’s not nearly enough.
At city hall Tuesday, Premier Christy Clark announced a one-time contribution of $270,000 to the Surrey Wraparound Program (Wrap), aimed at intervening when students show signs of gang-related activity.
Clark said there are only two outcomes for those who choose the gang lifestyle: "One is a jail cell. One is a grave."
Currently, the Wrap program serves 60 students. The new funding will support 15 to 20 more, reducing the current waitlist in half, according to the province.
Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains, whose nephew Arun Bains was killed in one of the recent shootings, said for the government to only help half of those on the wait list "shows a lack of commitment."
"All 40 people need help today. Not six months from now, not in a year… These are kids who are on the brink of moving into a gang lifestyle. Early intervention is key."
While the funding was welcomed by Surrey school district chairperson Shawn Wilson, he would have liked to see a longterm commitment. "If you were to say we’ll fund this for five years, then we can build the program out and we’re assured that it’ll be sustainable. We can get the right people, we can put them in place, we can do new things, come up with strategies. To say we’ll be there for you, well what does that look like next year? Whoops, there’s not enough money? "The problem is going to be there to deal with again next year and the year after that," he added.
As well as the Wrap funding, Clark said she’s supporting Surrey’s request for 100 more officers, hoping to help fast-track it.
Bains said RCMP need more resources as soon as possible.
"Police do not have resources they need to proactively go after gang violence. They’re only reacting," he added. "The bad guys have the upper hand over the RCMP. They’re winning."
Asked why obstruction of justice charges haven’t been laid against suspects and victims who police say aren’t co-operating, Surrey RCMP Chief Supt. Bill Fordy said the department must work within the boundaries of the law, and build cases that will "withstand the scrutiny of the courts."
"One of the foundations of the charter of rights and freedom is that people have the right to remain silent," said Fordy. "That doesn’t mean that police cannot try to persuade the witness…. And that’s what we have done. To try to help people that have chosen not to talk to make more informed choices, to demonstrate that they care about their loved ones, to demonstrate that they care about our community… and provide us with the guidance and assistance we require."
Mayor Linda Hepner said she’s grateful the province has "fast-tracked" the city’s request for 100 new officers, leaving it now in the hands of Ottawa.
"I can tell you that there will be a mixture of rookies, new officers and of those more front-line officers and more seasoned coming to the City of Surrey. That number will allow us to build on our youth unit, particularly at the times when children are more vulnerable – after school hours and before supper time."
Wilson said the school district has requested a meeting with the city in part to learn what will be done with the new officers to "ensure there’s a greater impact on schools." He hopes for more school liaison officers.