By John Horgan, Leader of the BC New Democrats
Victoria: I was heartbroken to learn Sunday morning that a young man had been shot and killed on the streets of Surrey.
That young man was Arun Bains. He was a son, a brother, and a cousin. He was a nephew to my friend and colleague, Surrey Newton MLA Harry Bains. Harry tells me Arun was a fine young man who loved his family and had a bright future ahead of him.
I know Harry and his family have been deeply touched by the outpouring of love and support from the communities of Surrey and Delta. Visits from other parents who have lost children to violence have been a particular source of courage and strength.
Arun’s death comes amid a terrible rise in gun violence in Surrey’s neighborhoods. Criminals have opened fire at people, cars and houses 23 times in the past six weeks. This is a shocking number, a number that seems impossible in a nation of peace.
On Tuesday night, I joined hundreds of parents, educators, police and community leaders in the gym at Tamanawis Secondary School to talk about the way forward from here. I heard anger. I heard longtime residents share their frustration that this problem has dogged the people of Surrey for so long. I heard the anguish of a man who also lost his child to violence.
But I also heard tremendous passion for the communities of Surrey and Delta. I heard a young man challenge his peers to program the police tips line into their phones right then and there. We got to meet Jesse Sahota, a young man with a remarkable message of redemption. As a teenager, Jesse was walking down the wrong path, seduced by the cars, guns and clothes of a gang life. But the teachers and counsellors at his school intervened. They set him on the right path and now Jesse is a two-time national wrestling champion and an SFU graduate. Today, Jesse works for the Surrey school district and it’s him that is intervening when a young person’s future hangs in the balance.
We need more resources in our school system to support the kind of work that Jesse Sahota does.
Several parents talked about sleepless nights spent waiting for a young person to come home. They are well aware that their child is heading in the wrong direction, mixed up with the wrong people, and they don’t know what to do or who to call. We need to make sure that everyone – parents, educators, police – have the tools they need to step in as a young person approaches that fateful crossroads.
Harry Bains has been a tireless advocate for his community against crime for many years. Over the past year he has championed the Surrey Accord. There are some strong policy ideas in the Accord that would go a long way towards tackling crime in the short term and addressing the root causes of crime. But what’s important about the Accord is not a policy, it’s a principle – co-operation.
Police need residents and parents to speak up when they see something amiss. Parents need resources and guidance on how to speak with their kids. Teachers need people like Jesse Sahota to help cut through the glamorous veneer of gang life to show kids the cruelty and heartbreak that waits underneath. We need to make sure that we don’t let a small number of criminals pit one community against another.
And all levels of government – federal, provincial, and local – need to stand united to provide the leadership and resources the community needs.
Only hours before Arun’s death, I was on the streets of Surrey with 300,000 other British Columbians celebrating Vaisakhi. I saw the joy and optimism and generosity that bring a community together. I strongly believe that those are the moments that define us. During the community forum, even amid the pain and frustration, I felt that same sense of community and sense of purpose. I am convinced that when we work together, we can take criminals off the streets, set our young adults on the right path, and build the safe, prosperous neighborhoods that the people of Surrey deserve. Let’s get to work.