Constituency Concerns: Surrey Newton
by Ray Hudson
A year ago, the Asian Journal began a series of interviews with the Members of the Legislature for the south Fraser constituencies, to step back from their wider provincial perspectives and have them focus on the issues of their own constituencies. Our first focus was on Newton MLA Harry Bains. So in our interview this year, we asked what had changed over the previous year?
Harry Bains: When I was door-knocking and meeting people, crime was the number one issue on people’s lips. If you don’t feel safe in your own home, in your neighbourhood, or when you go to public facilities, transit, the park or taking a stroll, go shopping or work in the business areas, nothing else matters in society. So I think security and safety in our own homes, safety and security of our children is of paramount importance to have a livable society. The Surrey Accord was a comprehensive workable plan for which we received praise from all corners, but it was referring to a different kind of crime than the gang violence we are seeing now. It was about the people who had underlying problems such as addiction and mental health issues and those are the people who committed crime to feed their habits, and in many cases I’m told over 65% have both mental health and addiction problems. If we were able to service their problems, and take even five or ten percent of them off the streets, that would be progress.
We had a proposal to have all levels of government sitting together, and law enforcement authorities and prosecution sit down and look at all those issues and deal with all those pieces if we were to be successful. But since that time the problem of gun violence and the drug trade is in escalation.
In the lower mainland over the last 20 years we have lost over 200 young men and women through gun violence and the drug trade. Finally the City declared that we needed 100 new police officers, that we needed to have more resources for police to deal with those issues on a day to day basis, put people in jail and do some preventative work. Finally the people in the positions have recognized that it’s an epidemic and we need to deal with it now.
Asian Journal: I understand that by February they will have achieved the increased complement of officers on the ground in Surrey.
Harry Bains: I hope that that is true because there are people leaving the force through attrition. We have officers on sick leave, maternity leave, holidays, retirement, so the question is what is the net gain here? I would like to know.
While additional officers are a benefit, it’s only one piece. If you look at the Surrey Accord, we also have to deal with the issues around addiction and mental health, we still haven’t dealt with the hundreds of unregulated, so-called, recovery homes here in Surrey. Only about forty or fifty of those houses are registered and work with Fraser Health. There are some good ones out there. I think the rest of them are for somebody to make money at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society. And those are the areas where the crime is higher as well. So clearly the evidence is there, the facts are there, the will and courage to put resources behind these issues is still lacking. Now, I refer you to a study, “The Value of Resources In Solving Homicides,” by MLA Darryl Plecas, who was studying crime and teaching criminology at the University of the Fraser Valley prior to his election. It concluded that there was a difference between the gang-related homicides and the non-gang related homicides. The former are harder to solve for obvious reasons. But even there, he said that when more resources were provided to investigating teams for undercover work, surveillance, wiretap, interview and police agents, the success rate was higher, but in most cases requests were denied because of a claimed lack of resources.
This leads to the next point. At a shade under 30% the success rate of solving homicides in BC, especially gang-related, is the lowest in all of Canada. And this has been true for years, because our investigating teams aren’t given the resources that they need. The message we are sending is, if these bad guys go and kill somebody, they have a seventy percent chance nothing will happen to them. The major pieces of the solution, dealing with unregistered recovery homes, improving mental health, addiction and a specialized court to deal with it, aren’t happening because of inadequate funding. Not much progress there, and still we have shootings.
Asian Journal: With the economy dropping, we aren’t likely to see more resources for some time.
Harry Bains: Like I said, if you’re not safe in your own home, your million dollar home or enjoying your million dollar salary, it doesn’t matter much. If you can afford it, you can move somewhere else, and I hear all the time people say they are moving out of here. But ordinary people can’t move. Besides, that’s not the way we want to leave our society. The people deserve better from our governments. People pay taxes, obey the law and work hard and they deserve at a minimum, that the government provide them with safe and secure neighbourhoods. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, and I think in this, we’ve failed.
Last year there were fifty-six shootings, over one shooting per week. Pick ten different neighbourboods between the Fraser River and Number Ten Highway. People will tell you that if you wait for a while you’ll see a drug deal in plain view. When I ask them if they had phoned the police, they say that all they get, in response, is a file number and that’s the end of the story, because the police don’t have enough resources. I don’t blame the police because I believe they are doing everything they can with what they have. But the drug dealers know that getting caught is a very unlikely, and there are no repercussions for their actions. That invites more shootings because other drug dealers and gangs will see the area as a lucrative place to do business, and will move in. The only way for police to deal with it, is to be on their tail as soon as they show up, and nip their activities in the bud. Once you catch any one of them doing these bad things, you need to deal with them quickly and impose a sentence that is a true deterrence. Unfortunately, there is no deterrence, there’s no proactive approach to deal with those people with underlying problems, so the problems continue.
Now we’ve added one hundred new police officers, they will bring more criminals in for prosecution. But without more resources for the courts to handle the increased workload, it could stall. Over the last two or three years we’ve seen a shortage of judges sometimes resulting in cases being thrown out because of delays. I’m all for a balanced budget, but at what cost in this province? We are jeopardizing so many absolutely necessary services to satisfy a political agenda.
Contact: Harry Bains.ca, opposition critic for Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations