Community forum emphasizes need to end Surrey’s drug turf war

NEWTON — “It needs to stop.”

Those words, uttered by Mayor Linda Hepner, reflected the public’s consensus at Tuesday’s community forum on crime.

Hundreds packed the gym at Tamanawis Secondary to hear what the City of Surrey, school district and Surrey RCMP will be doing to address the latest rash of gunfire: 23 shootings (three in Delta) in six weeks. Most, if not all of the shootings, are believed to be related to a street-level drug turf war between two groups – one of South Asian descent, the other Somalian – though police have been careful not to call it a gang war.

CLICK HERE FOR AN INTERACTIVE MAP AND TIMELINE OF THE SHOOTINGS

“I want you to have confidence that we’re on it, we get it and you can be rest assured that we’re going to do everything we can with all the resources we have available to us,” said Chief Supt. Kevin Hackett, the chief officer of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU-BC).

The Q&A panel also included Surrey RCMP Chief Supt. Bill Fordy, Surrey Schools CEO and Superintendent Dr. Jordan Tinney, and Staff Sgt. Paul Dadwal, who is team commander of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT).

Concerns from residents included violence at schools, parental accountability, the social stigma around snitching and distrust of law enforcement by immigrants who have had negative experiences with corrupt police forces in their home countries.

Arguably, the most noteworthy statement came from Jesse Sahota, a Tamanawis grad who went from being a juvenile delinquent to now mentoring troubled teenagers through the school district’s Safe Schools program. He referenced the photos of the shooting victims and intended victims released by the RCMP, and described how some youth misconstrued their mugshots as glorification of violence.

“I was shocked when a handful of students came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you see this guy? That’s my cousin. I can call him anytime,’” he said. “That’s not why those pictures were released. We don’t want to give a sense of notoriety to these criminals.”

One young man who attended high school with many of the victims said he wasn’t surprised to see them on the wrong side of the law. He challenged other students who know people involved in the shootings to write down the dedicated tip line and call in any information, even if they think they would be ratting out a friend.

“The dial-a-dope guy that was around in my neighbourhood, they found him with a bullet in his head and his car burned,” he said. “Don’t think of it as snitching. Think of it as saving someone’s life.”

While Fordy and Hackett fielded numerous questions, Hepner remained quiet until one man criticized Surrey city council for not being more active in the community.

The mayor highlighted the addition of 34 officers to the Surrey RCMP, with another 100 recently approved by Justice Minister Suzanne Anton. Hepner also noted her duties as mayor don’t leave her a lot of time to be visible in the community.

Surrey councillors Tom Gill, Bruce Hayne, Vera LeFranc, Mary Martin, Mike Starchuk and Dave Woods were also in attendance, as well as B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and MLAs Sue Hammell, Marvin Hunt, Amrik Virk.  Surrey-Newton NDP MLA Harry Bains, whose 22-year-old nephew, Arun Paul Singh Bains, was killed in the latest shooting, did not attend the forum.

Anyone with information about the any of the shootings is asked to call the tip line at 604-915-6566 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

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