SURREY – More than 200 people gathered at Newton Seniors Centre for a much-publicized anti-crime rally Sunday afternoon (Sept. 28).
People at the event – both inside and outside the facility – held signs reading "Keep Predators Behind Bars" and "An Eye For An Eye," as well as "Stop the revolving door of justice." Among the crowd were Surrey mayoralty candidates, media players, selfproclaimed "angry" civilians and the family of Maple Batalia, a Surrey teen murdered in 2011.
The "Rally4Change," a non-partisan grassroots initiative with no political influence, took place less than two weeks after the body of Surrey teen Serena Vermeersch was found in Newton, on Sept. 16. The 17-year-old girl’s death was the 12th of 13 homicides in Surrey this year.
The Newton area was also hit with tragedy in December of 2013, when Julie Paskall was killed as she was picking up her son from hockey practice. Both Paskall’s and Vermeersch’s deaths are allegedly linked to dangerous offenders with criminal histories who moved to Surrey.
"We need to do more than just complain to our politicians," said rally emcee Bob Campbell, who spoke about solving the city’s crime issue. He noted that the rally was dedicated in Serena Vermeersch’s memory, and said that the community was "stunned" by her death.
Campbell also used the podium to talk about a lack of enforcement of bylaws in Surrey, and that the city has "a broad range of issues that are our ‘broken windows.’" Among the speakers was RCMP Sgt. Marc Searle, who said, "If you don’t call us, we don’t know. You need to call us all the time."
Community member Naida Robinson, an organizer of the event, also spoke to the crowd, saying that, "dead people in vehicles on (the) streets" is becoming a reality for
residents of Surrey.
"Until I hear that my and our world view and our perception is valid and what we as a community can do about it, nothing is going to change. It’s going to continue to be our reality," she said.
Last to speak at the event was Darlene Bowyer, an organizer of the event and coordinator of Surrey Association of Sustainable Communities, who gave an impassioned speech to "take back Surrey" and urged B.C.’s Minister of Justice to "stop the revolving door of justice…. Crime is rampant in Surrey," she said, noting that in her neighbourhood of Port Kells, four prolific offenders rented
a house together and had 1,100 negative interactions with police, including stealing from neighbours and burning down a home. "We were a community under siege. We were afraid… If you don’t feel safe in your own neighbourhoods, nothing else matters."
To much applause, Bowyer added, "Offenders with the label ‘risk to reoffend’ should never, ever be released into another community."
Community members at the event shared mixed feelings about the rally.
"I think rallies sometimes capitalize too much on people’s negative emotions," said David Dalley, a prominent community
member and leader of the Friends of the Grove group in Newton. "That can rile up short-term change, and feelings of anger and vengeance, and motivate people strongly in the short-term, but I think we have to play the long game."
Clayton Heights resident Gary Hees, who was holding a community "Block Watch" sign in the seniors’ centre, said he came to the event because "there’s just too many bad things going on in Surrey."
"I would say that people were dumping their stolen cars over there in Clayton Heights, so people were complaining about auto break-ins and stuff like that, so there was some need to take action," he told the Now.
Hees now runs an organized Block Watch in his own community and encouraged others to do the same.
"There’s certain hours of the day that we’re vulnerable, say between 2 a.m. to 5 p.m. People have really got to watch their own property in those vulnerable hours," he said.
Nicole Joliet, a trustee candidate for the Surrey school board, also shared some thoughts on the rally.
"As a woman, I get catcalled on the street when I’m walking to and from my house," she said. "I asked if we could try and address that somehow. I’m really sad because one of the big key factors in both of the murders, there were prior convictions for rape and they’re both examples of violence against women."
A recent report obtained by the Now suggested Surrey RCMP are solving fewer violent crimes while crime rates are increasing in the city.