SURREY — Let’s imagine we have a time machine.
First we’ll hop back to Feb. 17, 2009. Surrey’s mayor is Dianne Watts, and Canada’s prime minister is Stephen Harper. Six people have been shot in Surrey in the past two weeks, and four of them are dead.
One of the dead, gunned down in broad daylight, was a young woman running errands and her four-year-old son had been in the back seat of her car.
“What we’ve seen here in Surrey is unacceptable,” the mayor seethed. “I’m meeting with the federal solicitor general tomorrow and I’m going to tell him we want more police officers on the street right now.”
One year earlier, then-mayor Watts had called on the Conservative government to provide cities with more money to help them cope with rising police costs.
“It is unrealistic to have the expectation that policing costs should be borne by the municipalities and the cities,” she said at the time.
Watts served as Surrey’s mayor from 2005 to 2014, having first been elected on Nov. 19, 2005. Harper was first elected prime minister on Jan. 23, 2006.
On Oct. 19, 2007, six men were slain in gang violence in a penthouse suite in Whalley’s Balmoral Tower.
Less than a month later, in November 2007 Stockwell Day – Canada’s minister of public safety at the time – announced at Surrey city hall that the Conservative government had earmarked $249,488 for a youth crime prevention program called iR3 (Intervention, Rethink, Refocus and Reintegrate) aimed at helping students avoid the lure of gang life.
Just last week, Day – who retired from politics in 2011 and is not personally running for office – was stumping in Surrey with local Conservative MP candidates Watts (South Surrey-White Rock), Harpreet Singh (Surrey Newton) and Sucha Thind (Surrey Centre).
They promised that a re-elected Conservative government would “help steer youth aways from gangs” by increasing funding to the Youth Gang Prevention Fund, which currently receives $7.5 million annually.
In 2008, there were 32 gang-related homicides in the Lower Mainland, and 36 in 2009, 18 in 2010, 10 in 2011, 18 in 2012, and 13 in 2013. In 2013, under Watts’ watch, Surrey recorded 25 homicides, the city’s highest number to date in a single year. There were fewer in 2014.
So far, in 2015, there have been 47 shootings on local streets. Police believe many are related to a dial-a-dope turf war. Under great pressure, the Conservative government announced it will provide Surrey with 100 more Mounties.
In May, the government also said it will earmark $3.5 million toward the Surrey Gang Reduction Program over the next five years.
Conservative MP Nina Grewal, Fleetwood-Port Kells, said the money would provide some 400 at-risk Surrey youths aged 11 to 19 with life skills to help “keep them from violence and the gang lifestyle.”
“Lately our streets have become a battle ground for rival gangs and drug dealers, with the violence reaching near crisis proportions,” Grewal said in May. “This gang violence is unacceptable and demands action.”
Jasbir Sandhu, the NDP MP for Surrey North, said the announcement was misleading.
“This is not additional money,” he said. “It’s continuing the same program onwards, that’s all it is.”
Sandhu’s first private members bill, in 2012, asked for the federal government to provide long-term sustainable funding to help youth at risk, but it wasn’t dealt with before parliament was dissolved. He said an NDP government would take a multipronged approach of education, prevention and enforcement to help youth at risk, and would hire 2,500 additional police officers nation-wide, with many of those to serve in B.C.
The Liberals, meantime, believe legalizing marijuana would take the profit out of drug dealers’ sales.
Sukh Dhaliwal, Liberal candidate for Surrey-Newton, would like to see a “made-in Surrey” gang task force with funding from all three levels of governments.
“Right now, marijuana continues to be the cash cow for much of the gang activity in Surrey, and heavily traded with the U.S. in exchange for cocaine and illegal handguns,” he noted.
Eileen Mohan, whose son Christopher was an innocent victim in the Surrey Six gang murders, said so much is focused on money for intervention programs and hiring more police officers, “but we need to look what’s happening behind closed doors.”
She noted that a “tremendous” amount of taxpayers’ money has been made available for programs aimed at helping young people avoid a life of crime, but the trouble is, “parents are not coming out to support all the resources that are put out for them.
“So many programs are there for them. If they don’t seek help, we will not be able to help them.”
Mohan noted that gangsters will continue to be created as long as parents turn a blind eye to their children’s activities. The lure of money is so appealing, she said, and “they are bringing the flow of money into their parents’ home.
“The family members just hide in the shadows,” she said. “It’s about how parents are motivating their children’s behaviour. Unless we put the pressure back on the parents, this gang war will never go away.”
Mohan suggests that the government should make better use of civil forfeiture laws that enable the state to seize property that has been bought with crime money.
Mohan, who will forever grieve the loss of her son, said parents and other family members of gangsters need to realize they are not only responsible for their family’s safety but also the safety of their neighbours.
As for the gangs and their nefarious activities, Mohan said, the public needs to “take the blame away” from government and “put it right in front of the doorstep of the people commiting these crimes, and their parents.
“Take it back to their doorstep.”
Well, our trip through time is nearing its end.
Stepping back into our time machine, back to Oct. 8, 2015, Surrey’s current mayor Linda Hepner is still awaiting another 48 of the 100 new Surrey Mounties the federal government has promised to send her in light of the 47 shootings.
What does this all mean?
As Surrey continues to grow, it will always need more police officers to investigate shootings, more money for programs aimed at helping young people avoid the lure of gang life and, inevitably, more rallies against violence will be staged and more editorials will be written calling for more police officers and for the federal government to do something about Surrey’s crime problem.
Mayor Hepner, during the last civic election campaign, said she’d like to see a ferris wheel built in Surrey. What she is instead encumbered with – as her successors will inevitably be – is more akin to a hamster wheel, at least as far as fighting crime is concerned.
Maybe Mohan is right – the real fix begins at home.