BY HARNOOR GILL
Grade 10 student
Christ The King Catholic Secondary
(PHOTOS: Harnoor with Eileen Mohan /Harnoor with Chief Superintendent Dan Malo / Harnoor with RCMP Staff Sgt. Baltej Singh Dhillon / Harnoor with VOICE’s General Manager Vinnie Combow and MP Jinny Sims)
I had a really eye-opening experience last week when I was able to go to a conference where most youth wouldn’t get a chance to go to. From July 23 to 25 I participated in the conference hosted by Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) at the Sheraton Guildford Hotel in Surrey, B.C. This was an opportunity for the community at large to participate in the Youth Strengths and Prevention of Delinquency and Gang Involvement Conference. As a celebration of International Youth Day, it was a dream come true to travel from my hometown of Georgetown, Ontario, to attend this conference.
Ihad the wonderful opportunity to meet two professors that teach at KPU. They were Dr. Farhad Dastur and Dr. Gira Bhatt who were great individuals that I was extremely proud to meet to end the influence of gang involvement among youth. Dr. Gira Bhatt was the leading founder of the Acting Together project, which began in 2007 to chart a path to strengthen the youth of our community to stay away from the dangerous life of violence. It was great to get to know Dr. Dastur who was the Master of Ceremonies and did a great job at adding a touch of humour to serious issues.
I was also able to meet Eileen Mohan who had an extremely touching story to tell all of us at the conference. It’s so sad because it could have been anyone but Eileen’s son just seemed to be at the wrong place in the wrong time. Chris Mohan had just stepped out of the door to go to basketball practice and was shot in the midst of gang violence that was going on in the community. Like most people, Eileen would have shut her doors and tried to forget about the whole incident like it never happened. But Eileen was extremely brave and courageous to stand up to reality, which is how she ended up forming the Chris Mohan Memorial Foundation to try and ensure that this will never happen again.
Another rather remarkable delegate that I also met at the conference was Michael Ungar, a professor of social work at Dalhousie University, who shared his thoughts at the one of the sessions for youth. It was interesting to see how the various ways to succeed in life involved us being able to fortify the strengths that we already possess.
There was also a keynote speaker from Portland, U.S., that really caught my attention: Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener. He had also led one of the youth sessions and his was by far the most impacting one. This is because he led us into a series of improv skits where we where to say the sentence, “I went to the store and bought …”. We were to go around and say a word that would replace the sentence ending in alphabetical order. For example, the first person went to the store and bought an apple, the second one bought a baboon and the third one bought a cantaloupe. At the end of the conference, he asked us if we still remembered the words we had said and sure enough we had. He stated jokingly that it was just another one of the many useless things that would be stuck in our head and wouldn’t get out for a while!
There was also another terrible story shared by Katy Hutchinson. Katy’s husband Bob McIntosh died from a kick to the head delivered by a drunk 20-year-old named Ryan Aldridge when he went to check on a party at the home of a vacationing neighbour. Ryan was sentenced to five years for manslaughter. Katy met with Ryan did the unthinkable, which was to forgive Ryan for what he had done. Katy now speaks to youth to think twice before they decide to go to a house party or smoke pot and drink under the age of 19 because you never know what could happen. She wrote a book titled “Walking After Midnight: One Woman’s Journey Through Murder, Justice and Forgiveness.”
DURING the conference, I also had the opportunity to meet Sgt. Charn Kingra. He was quite pleased that I had come from Toronto to attend a conference and decided to show me around the police station in Abbotsford. I was quite thrilled to get a behind-the-scenes look into what these officers do on a day-to-day basis in keeping our communities safe. I got to see how the operators in a police department respond to a 9-1-1 call and how they send crews to the area of crime. I even brought along family friends who also had a chance to experience what goes on at the Abbotsford Police Station and it’s definitely something I will never forget.
At first, I thought that I was one of the people that had come from the farthest place to come to this conference, but I was wrong. Josie Farrer had come all the way from Australia to participate in this conference and take back the knowledge and understanding and apply it to her own city back in Australia. She believes that the key to keeping youth at peace is to hear from young people themselves on how they want to see youth issues raised. She has even participated in the iStand Youth Summit to further reflect on how youth can be an integral part of their communities. Last but not least, I also met an individual who was from Australia but who now resides in Yukon: Chris Rider who believed that youth should become leaders amongst their peers in school. He even had a great idea of changing Pink Shirt Day into Black to further promote the cause of Mental Health as a fundraising campaign.
I also had the opportunity to meet Dan Malo, Chief Superintendent, District Officer of the Lower Mainland Regional Police Service, ‘E’ Division RCMP, who is behind the great initiative of creating ‘End Gang Life.’ The message that was being brought across was that now is the time to stop gang war and we have been doing great as the homicide rate has gone down since 2003. The sad part is that overdoses of heroin in the Surrey area have resulted in kids dying and the police have seized over 60,000 kilos of cocaine.
During the end of the conference, the panel board of the conference asked the audience, “Where do we go from here?” The panel board then also discussed bridging policy and practice regarding possible strategies for reducing youth violence and gang involvement. There were also many individuals that I had the pleasure to meet during the conference: Education Minister Amrik Virk, RCMP Staff Sgt. Baltej Dhillon, Surrey Mayor Diane Watts, Indira Prahst, Balwant Sanghera, Kathreen Riel, Jinny Sims, Sarjeet Purewal, Dave Hayer, Barinder Rasode, Devon Knight, Sandra Alfonso, Catherine Parlee and Preeti Hothi, among others. I also made connections with youth members who attended the youth conference and overall it was a great learning experience.
(Some photos by Chandra Bodalia / Some photos supplied by Harnoor Gill)