by Ray Hudson
Surrey: It was standing room only as over 700 people came to Tamanawis School in West Newton, Tuesday evening for a Community Forum on the recent drug violence across Surrey and North Delta.
On hand to dialogue with the community were Mayor Linda Hepner, Police Chief Bill Fordy, Kevin Hackett, Chief officer of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit and his collegue, Sgt. Lindsay Houghton, Dr. Jordan Tinney, CEO & Superintendent of Surrey Schools and Jesse Sahota, a Safe Schools Youth Worker in Surrey.
Mayor Hepner again stated the community’s outrage at the events and reiterated that the behaviour was unacceptable. She confirmed that more police are on their way, and that the Attorney General had approved the hiring of a further 100 officers.
“The police are doing all they can but they need information. The cone of silence we’ve seen so far has only resulted in more heartache,” said Hepner. “This is a top priorty for the city and anything we can do to support this effort we will do.”
When Chief Superintendent Bill Fordy came to the podium he reviewed the issue facing the community, adding that the violence is keeping him awake. He underscored the need for community participation in helping the police solve the problem. He told the audience that the police had to work strictly within the law, whereas the bad guys don’t follow any rules.
“It is important for me to say, and for you to know,” said Fordy, “that the actions of those persons that have engaged in this criminal behaviour do not reflect this community.”
He appealed again for people to call the tip line, or in order to remain anonymous, to call Crime Stoppers.
“As Surrey becomes more and more engaged,” he said, “we will see gains. As our community says no, we will not accept this any longer, we will see progress.”
Chief Superintendent Kevin Hackett, said of his unit, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit “ They’ve seen it before in other areas of the lower mainland.” He added they have been never better suited to deal with the issue through education, enforcement and through better integration of communication.
“I want you to have confidence that we’re on it, that we get it and you can rest assured that we will do everything we can, with the resources we have available to focus on this,” said Hackett
Sgt Lindsay Houghton talked about a parent’s resource book, available now, which was developed out of the research done on gangs at Kwantlen Polytecnic University. It describes a number of the signs that indicate involvement by children, specifically the dial-a-dope “pizza” delivery of the drug world, often an entry point for youth.
Indicators are: Having a number of cell phones; leaving the house for short durations of time and coming and going at all hours of the day; having a lot of cash in small denominations; having records or score sheets for the sale, place and customer; demanding privacy by not letting family into their room; not wanting to let anyone know what they are doing; and even having drugs at home. The books are freely available at www.endganglife.ca and are in English and one other language, currently Punjabi or Chinese. Houghton said they will soon be released in many other languages including Spanish, Korean and Arabic.
Dr. Jordan Tinney, the CEO and Superintendent of School District 36 said that they know the youth who are at risk, and that they intervene and support them every single day.
“We know that when youth feel connected to their community, connected to an adult who is a positive role model, that makes a huge difference to the things that can change lives and change trajectories,” he said. We know your children and help to make those connections for them whether it is sports, fine arts or through other activities.”
“But I think it’s important for you to understand,” he added, “ that some people may think, well if you know you have children who are in a problematic trajectory in their life why not kick them out of our schools, why not suspend them from schools?” He said they felt the best way to impact that trajectory was to have them in school with the intervention programs, and if they’re suspended they “just stand across the street.”
Jesse Sahota, a Safe Schools Youth Worker in Surrey, brought the crowd to it’s feet in applause to his story and straight talk. He told of growing up in the neighbourhood and was called a gangster wannabe between 12 and 13 years old. He attributes the school system for helping turn his life around, identifying his negative behaviours and developing his strengths. He graduated from both Tamanawis and SFU, and went on to become a three-time National Champion Canadian Heavyweight.
“This is not an individual issue,” he said. “There’s no one person you can point your finger at and blame. This is a community issue and we’re all a part of it.”
“Parents are sadly often the biggest victims when their children become involved in gangs,” he said, “but at the same time they can also be the biggest enablers. I have witnessed this in working with families as many parents are reluctant to accept or acknowledge that their children are engaging in such negative and criminal behaviour.”
“You are competing with a 24/7 cyberworld, where your children are constantly connected to their peers,”
he said. If you only see your child for 30 minutes a day how can you compete with all the negative influences in their life through text messages, social media and other forms of connection. It is very important to know your child, know his or her friends, understand their environments and always know their whereabouts.”
“To the parents in our community,” he said, “I ask you to be careful about how much value you put on monetary success. Some of the families I have worked with put more value in money rather than actually having family values. Once again I’m going to be very frank with you. I had a student who told me ‘if you’re going to be doing criminal activity you might as well make me some money.’ So what am I supposed to say to a student like that?”
Audience Comments: There were many comments and questions in both English and Punjabi, and since space is limited we’ll present a few here:
* One of the most striking came from Gurpreet Saran, whose son was murdered and dumped on Colebrook Road in February 2013. “This sort of thing breaks you,” he said. “But I’m here today for this police force and I can’t even think how they do it. They are working for us. We have to come out of the shell we are (in), we are not leaving those old traditions we have from India. We don’t want to be rats, we don’t want to be this. Today I was sitting at Harry Bains’ house, and thinking that this family is also going through the same thing now.”
* One young man challenged the crowd on the issue of snitching. “I challenge you to take down that tip line number and anytime you see anything, don’t think of it as snitching, think of it as saving someone’s life.”
* From a North Delta mom: “I have a son in Grade 9, and I stay awake at night wondering what it’s going to be like tomorrow? Is he involved in gangs? I need parents to wake up cause God is not going to look after your kids. They’re your kids, you need to look after them.”
* “I raised my children in the community. They are 19 and 21. I have had my struggles and successes. When Bill Fordy asked if I could do more as a parent, I am saying yes. And I think every single one who’s here should also say yes.”
The community was heavily engaged at this event, and reports are that the police have had some action on the Tip Line. The number, which was posted all over the auditorium is 604.915.6566, or for anonymity, call Crime Stoppers at 1.800.222.TIPS (8477). See our website at www.asianjournal.com for complete photo coverage of the evening.
Photos: Ray Hudson