In three of the five Surrey ridings up for grabs in the Oct. 19 federal election, crime is a hot topic.
That’s what the candidates are saying. They hear about it all the time on the doorsteps. People in Surrey-Newton, Surrey Centre and Fleetwood-Port Kells are saying there needs to be drastic changes so shootings and gang activity are reduced, if not eliminated.
It’s not surprising. There have been dozens of shootings this year and Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains’ nephew was shot to death this spring. Most, if not all, the shootings are linked to the drug trade.
Voters in Surrey-Newton are particularly concerned, as many of the shootings are taking place in their neighbourhoods. In one particularly troubling case, shooters were active near Strawberry Hill Elementary on Sept. 15, as children were playing in the area. One man was injured, and bullets struck the school building. That’s completely unacceptable.
Newton resident Meera Gill, who lives near the school, has had enough. She helped organize a meeting with candidates on Sunday to discuss the issue of gun violence. She and others wanted to hear what the candidates and their respective parties had to say on the issue.
Candidates are particularly responsive in Surrey-Newton, as it is a genuine three-way race and each vote will really count. NDP incumbent Jinny Sims is battling Sukh Dhaliwal, who was the Liberal MP for Newton-North Delta from 2006-2011, and Conservative Harpreet Singh, who is well-known for his television talk show.
At Sunday’s meeting, there were clashes over how quickly a contingent of 100 extra RCMP officers is arriving in Surrey. That is a valid issue, but extra police will have very little impact on the shootings. Surrey needs extra officers, and has for years, but the people who shoot at each other (and their homes, cars etc.) pay little attention to police.
There was also discussion about intervention programs, and such programs are likely a better long-term solution. Young people need to learn, before they are tempted by the easy money of selling drugs, what the ultimate price of such involvement is.
They also need to be given a wide choice of alternate activities. Young people who are involved in sports, music, drama, community groups and other things don’t have the time or inclination to get involved in selling drugs.
Surrey RCMP has an intervention program that works with 300 youth a year. The school district and RCMP also work together on the Surrey Wrap program, which assists youth at risk of falling into gangs.
The RCMP also sponsor several sports programs, and many other organizations are deeply involved in offering alternatives for youth. These types of programs likely do far more good than simply adding additional police officers.
Young people should be able to safely walk home at night and should be able to live their day-to-day lives without fearing shootings.
On Sept. 1, 74-year-old Ping Shun Ao was killed in Abbotsford as a result of shots being fired by members of a gang. They were actually shooting at a neighbouring home. Ao was outside in his yard and was killed.
No one wants to see a repeat of that tragedy in Surrey or anywhere else. Those seeking office on Oct. 19 in Surrey must commit to an active program of keeping youth disinterested in drug and gang activity.
Frank Bucholtz is the recently retired editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.