YEAR IN REVIEW: Surrey’s Top 10 news stories from 2016

We countdown the biggest headlines from the past year.

  • Dec. 30, 2016 6:00 p.m.

The Now count downs the Top 10 stories from 2016. Let us know if you disagree with our choices by emailing edit@thenownewspaper.com

Here are our choices for the biggest news stories of the year in Surrey. Have we missed any? Disagree with our choices? Let us know by emailing edit@thenownewspaper.com

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Surrey RCMP Chief Superintendent Dwayne McDonald took over from Bill Fordy as Surrey’s new top cop. (Photo: TOM ZYTARUK)

10. Surrey welcomes its new top cop

Dwayne McDonald enjoyed one heck of a career milestone in 2016.

Standing behind a podium in the same room he wrote his RCMP entrance exam 24 years ago, he returned as the officer in charge of Canada’s largest detachment.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that one day I would be coming back as the officer in charge,” he told a roomful of reporters and dignitaries.

In early October, Chief Superintendent Dwayne McDonald became Surrey RCMP’s new top cop, taking over the reigns from Assistance Commissioner Bill Fordy, who was promoted earlier this year to Lower Mainland District Commander.

“As a young man I joined the RCMP for many reasons but at the heart of it all was and is a desire to help people, to meet their needs, to be available, to be open, to be transparent and accountable,” McDonald said.

“To protect and more importantly to serve. There’s is no better place to do that than in Surrey. Surrey is an amazing city.”

McDonald began as a constable in Burnaby, leaving that city as a sergeant to be a team commander for the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team and then transferred to the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, the province’s integrated anti-gang unit, in 2011, where he was team commander in charge of the gangland slaying of Jonathan Bacon. In 2012, McDonald made inspector and was an operations officer/senior investigator at CFSEU-BC. He then took charge of IHIT in 2014, after being promoted to the rank of superintendent, leading Canada’s largest homicide unit.

McDonald lives in New Westminster with his wife and three children but grew up in Guildford.

Surrey’s new police chief has two brothers. One is an officer in the U.S. military and the other is a minister, also in the U.S. His father Gordon McDonald is Pastor Emeritus of Calvary Christian Church in Guildford.

“I often say we’re all fighting evil, in our own way,” he said. “At the heart of it, for me, it’s about helping people.”

CLICK HERE to read original story.

Tom Zytaruk

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July’s fire in Burns Bog caused the loss of 193 acres, with billowing smoke that could be see from miles away.

9. Massive fires burn in Burns Bog and Newton

Surrey and Delta experienced two major fires in the summer of 2016, one in Burns Bog and the other at the Celeste apartment building in Newton.

The building fire, in August, forced at least 101 people out of their homes, at 8183 121A St. The Surrey Fire Department said the massive four-alarm fire began on a balcony on the second floor of the four-storey, 77-unit building.

At the time residents said they were told a group of partiers on the second floor were using a barbecue and it somehow ignited the outside deck. The fire was not deemed suspicious. Firefighters eventually determined it was accidentally started by someone smoking on a balcony.

In July, Burns Bog caught fire, losing 78 hectares, or 193 acres, with billowing smoke that could be see from miles away. The fire, along the western edge of the bog between 76th and 80th Streets, was precariously close to Tilbury Industrial Park. Authorities closed a stretch of Highway 17 between Nordel Way and the Highway 91 connector to traffic as roughly 100 firefighters from Delta, elsewhere in Metro Vancouver and the BC Wildlife Service tackled the blaze.

The fire started just west of 80th Street and east of Highway 17, near the base of a radio tower but how it started it has not been determined.

Tom Zytaruk

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Jim Foulkes, a director for Green Timbers Heritage Society, and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner.

8. Green Timbers ‘whittled away’

Keep your bulldozers away from our trees, City of Surrey.

That was the message city council heard from speakers who voiced opposition at a public hearing in May concerning a city application to rezone roughly five hectares of what used to be provincial land adjacent to the 183-hectare (425-acre) Green Timbers Urban Forest, which has second growth forest, wetlands, a lake, meadows and nature trails.

The property was sold to Surrey in 2014.

Surrey City council ultimately gave the controversial application the green light, amending the Official Community Plan bylaw to redesignate the forested site,  at 9900 140 St. and 14150 Green Timbers Way, from mixed employment to multiple residential and rezone the site from one acre residential to comprehensive development to permit institutional, civic, medical and government-related offices, residential uses, a care facility, emergency shelter, transitional housing, offices, a bio-energy facility, parking, retail stores and restaurants to be developed there.

The two properties at the northeast corner of Green Timbers Way and 140th Street are bounded by Green Timbers Park to the north, RCMP E-Division headquarters to the east, the Jim Pattison Outpatient Clinic to the south and multiple residential developments to the west, across 140th Street.

Jim Foulkes, a director for Green Timbers Heritage Society, said council should “preserve the trees to the satisfaction of the people of Surrey.”

“Basically our sole reason for being is to try to preserve your park from this slow whittling away of areas of it,” he said of his society, to applause.

“You can’t get it back,” he said.

CLICK HERE to read original story.

Tom Zytaruk

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Cindy Dalglish helped spearhead the fight against a massive development at 5750 Panorama Dr. (Photo: AMY REID)

7. Surrey parents and school trustees take stand as city classrooms overflow

Parents in Surrey took a stand against overcrowding in local schools this year.

Led by mom (and now education advocate) Cindy Dalglish, they took their message to city hall council chambers repeatedly and even rallied on the steps of the B.C. legislature.

The fight began in May with a controversial 287-unit development at the corner of 152nd and Panorama Drive.

Despite parents’ pleas to city hall, Surrey council passed the development, with amendments such as a plan to phase in the development.

Even Surrey school trustees got involved, passing a unanimous motion in April urging city hall to put a temporary halt on development in areas of massive growth until schools can catch up.

Though the provincial government announced there would be 2,700 student seats created in Surrey over the next three years, critics argue with an estimated 7,000 children in portables in the district, it’s not nearly enough, especially when considering enrolment grows every year.

“There is a huge disconnect between Surrey city hall approving everything under the sun and the provincial government not approving anything,” said school trustee Laurae McNally. “That’s the reality. It’s wrong. It’s really wrong.”

Amy Reid

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Mark Aylott, general manager of Whalley’s storied Flamingo Hotel (left) and Surrey land developer Charan Sethi, of the Tien Sher Group, sit inside the hotel’s lounge. (Photo: TOM ZYTARUK)

6. Huge plans announced for Surrey’s City Centre

Surrey’s City Centre has been developing for years but this year we learned of even bigger plans for the area.

The YMCA this year announced its intent to build a second Surrey location in this neighbourhood. Though a location has yet to be announced, it’s expected the facility will open in 2020 or 2021.

Also in the area, the Royal Canadian Legion plans to build a 16-28 storey “Veterans Village.”

Simon Fraser University also has big plans in City Centre.

The federal and provincial governments are pitching in a combined $90 million toward expanding the university’s technology program.

Just blocks away, at the site of the old Stardust roller rink, a developer plans to build a $200-million 50-storey education centre.  The 550,000-square-foot “GEC Education Mega Center” project, subject to city approval, is a partnership between developer WestStone Group and CIBT Education Group and would cater to international students.

Down King George Boulevard to the north at about 107th Avenue, developer Charan Sethi of the Tien Shier Group has plans to turn Whalley’s Flamingo Block into Surrey’s Yaletown.

And, already in the works, Century Group’s Civic Hotel will be the city’s first mixed-use hotel/residential project.

The 52-storey Marriott hotel will be home to a 30,000-square-foot Kwantlen Polytechnic University expansion that will be able to serve more than 1,600 students.

And, it will be the tallest building on the Surrey side of the Fraser River.

The Now

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Between Nov. 4, 2015 and Oct. 23, 2016 more than  2,092 Syrian government-assisted refugees (GARs) arrived in B.C. Nearly half (872) came to Surrey and most settled in Whalley and Newton.

5. Syrian refugees settle in Surrey

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kept good on his election campaign promise to allow 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada.

Between Nov. 4, 2015 and Oct. 23, 2016 more than 33,000 Syrian refugees settled in the country. Of those, 2,092 Syrian government-assisted refugees (GARs) arrived in B.C.

Nearly half (872) came to Surrey and most settled in Whalley and Newton. (Statistics are not available for refugees who arrived through private or blended sponsorships.)

It’s believed so many refugees pick Surrey because of affordable housing options and a growing immigrant population.

This influx of refugees meant a strain on the Surrey Food Bank. Since Feb. 1, the Surrey Food Bank has had 978 new Syrian refugee clients from 198 families. All told, 380 new students enrolled in the Surrey School District, with one-third being high school aged. And Surrey Christmas Bureau provided aid to at least 130 Syrian families this holiday season.

Service groups were also scrambling. Surrey-based DIVERSEcity reported 298 people on its wait list for English classes last June, 49 of whom were Syrian refugees.

Amy Reid

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Wanda stands in front of her belongings on 135A Street, where the homeless told the Now in April that the City of Surrey was treating them like “garbage.” (Photo: AMY REID)

4. Tension rises over homelessness

Homelessness along 135A Street increased this year and things became tense as the city stepped up enforcement.

Peter Fedos with Hyland House said in March that the increase of homelessness on 135A Street “happened so fast” and all involved were “scrambling on this one, to be honest.”

Additional shelter beds were opened in response and the city approved a new winter shelter in Guildford on 104th Avenue, set to open in January.

Meanwhile, homeless people said they were being treated like “garbage” and accused city hall of stealing their belongings but the city insisted it was only throwing garbage away.

The Now obtained an exclusive video shot by a former City of Surrey employee about staff interacting with a homeless woman. DJ Larkin with Pivot Legal Society, a human rights advocacy group in Vancouver said the video (which showed a woman begging for Surrey bylaw officers not to toss her belongings in the garbage) could show a violation of constitutional rights.

To clean up the area, Mayor Linda Hepner and Surrey’s top cop Dwayne MacDonald announced in December a plan to tackle 135A Street’s problems that includes a new Surrey Outreach Team.

Amy Reid

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In 2016, Surrey recorded 58 shootings confirmed by police.

3. Shootings continue to plague city

Surrey RCMP investigated 61 “shots fired” reports in 2015 compared to 88 in 2015.

“Shots fired reports decreased significantly which is in line with the decrease in violent crime last year,” Corporal Scotty Schumann noted.

In 2015, we sometimes found ourselves changing the numbers of drive-by shootings in our stories and editorials as they were being written.

The vast number were in Surrey, and a couple in North Delta – since the beginning of March. During a press conference in April, police said they believe two groups – one of Somalian decent, the other, South Asian – were responsible for most of the shootings to date. They characterized it as a fight over dial-a-dope turf.

At a press conference in 2016 RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bill Fordy told reporters he didn’t think the city is being plagued by a “gang war.”

“These people are involved in what I would call low-level drug trafficking and the shooting conflict is related to low-level drug trafficking,” he said.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner gave the RCMP 24-hour “real-time access” to all of the city’s 330 traffic cameras and also ordered 75 new cameras to help police investigate the steady stream of street shootings.

Tom Zytaruk

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Creep Catcher Surrey president Ryan LaForge. (Photo: TOM ZYTARUK)

2. Creep Catcher Surrey’s vigilantism stirs the pot

Creep Catcher Surrey made national headlines this year after a woman working with the group posed as a 15-year-old girl and allegedly communicated with an off-duty Surrey Mountie online after posting an ad on Craigslist.

Constable Dario Devic was arrested on Sept. 9 after Creep Catcher Surrey, a citizen group that aims to weed out “potential predators” and “blast” them online through YouTube and Facebook, did a sting outside a local mall.

A meeting was set up outside the Boston Pizza at Surrey Central Shopping Mall in Whalley and Creep Catcher Surrey president Ryan LaForge and his crew live-streamed the sting on the Internet.

Devic’s next appearance in Surrey provincial court is set for Aug. 3, 2017.

Supporters of Creep Catcher, wearing black hoodies and masking their faces with scarves, have rallied outside the courthouse on his previous court dates.

Devic  was originally charged with luring a child and breach of trust by a public officer but the Criminal Justice Branch stayed the latter, concluding it did not meet the branch’s charge assessment standard.

The Now first introduced Creep Catcher Surrey to local readers on Aug. 11, in an in-depth interview with LaForge.

The Surrey chapter was launched this past summer and has since been met with both widespread support as well as condemnation from critics who warn its activities could invite defamation lawsuits from those they target.

Nevertheless, chapters have popped up and collaborated with one another from coast to coast.

“You know what, I’m proud to be a vigilante, if that’s what it is,” he told the Now in August. “I believe most cops out there would love to be doing this, instead of writing tickets or something like that. So, as far as a vigilante goes, if it means someone standing up for the innocent, the weak that no one else will, then yeah, I’m a vigilante.”

Tom Zytaruk

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Reporter Amy Reid used her iPhone to capture the scene just moments after Jeff’s dramatic Narcan rescue in Whalley.

1. Fentanyl hits city streets, overdose deaths skyrocket

The number of people dying of drug overdoses skyrocketed this year leading the province to declare the situation a public health emergency in April.

The crisis has been linked to fentanyl, a potent painkiller that’s said to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Total overdose deaths reported by the B.C. Coroners Service now stands at 622 for the year up to the end of October, up markedly from the 397 deaths in the same 10 months of 2015.

The top cities where deaths have occurred so far this year are Vancouver (124) and Surrey (76).

The crisis hasn’t just affected more entrenched drug users. In Delta, nine fentanyl overdoses occurred within 20 minutes in September but all survived. Delta Police say they believe the drugs were tainted with fentanyl. All nine people were recreational users who believed they were using cocaine.

Ironically, it was International Overdose Awareness Day.

In November, there were two overdose deaths in White Rock, at least one of which was confirmed to be linked to fentanyl.

The situation has caused governments to act. Efforts were made to give first responders access to the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan (including firefighters and RCMP in Surrey). And regulations were eased to make Narcan available to the public at their local pharmacy.

Then, in early December, Fraser Health announced it was proposing two safe injection sites, one on 135A Street and another at the 94A Street Quibble Creek Sobering Centre. The health authority says it will now embark upon extensive consultation.

But just days later the provincial government announced it would be opening “overdose prevention sites,” including two in Surrey.

Amy Reid

 

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