TACKLING gang violence in Surrey was the priority at Tuesday’s release of the report on Surrey Mayor’s Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention.
In addition to recommending enhanced police enforcement, an expanded gang exiting program and the launch of an Inadmissible Patrons Program, the Task Force is responding to the identified need for enhanced early interventions and stronger neighbourhood-based, culturally appropriate prevention programs.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner highlighted that while the City will continue to show leadership on these issues, coordinated action and funding from the federal and provincial governments is essential.
“I’m extremely proud of how the Task Force members came together from across our community to systematically address this important issue and that our Federal and Provincial partners also see the value in this work,” said Hepner. “What really surprised me as we conducted this review is how young children are when they begin to get involved in gangs. It is critical that we support our young people early to reduce the chances of them getting involved in the gang lifestyle.”
“Partnerships are key when addressing complex public safety issues and I commend the City for drawing people together,” said Gordie Hogg, MP for South Surrey–White Rock. “The Federal Government is committed to supporting Surrey in their efforts to help stop the gang violence that is occurring in B.C. communities.”
“I’d like to thank the City of Surrey and the Mayors Task Force for their important work toward preventing gun and gang violence and improving the quality of life for citizens in British Columbia,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “We’re proud to support their work and we’re committed to ensuring we provide the resources necessary to enable early interventions for our youth and support for those who seek to exit the gang lifestyle. Our government will continue to target gun and gang violence head-on and work with police agencies, anti-gang units and our federal partners to make sure our youth are knowledgeable and resilient, and that police have the tools and structure they need to prevent crime and disrupt organized crime groups.”
In October 2017, Hepner launched the Mayor’s Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention. The Task Force brought together 23 community partners with representatives from the provincial government, law enforcement, business community, school district, social service agencies, citizens and local media.
Some interesting information from the report:
Some evidence suggests that BC gang members come from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. Unlike gangs in other regions, such as the United States or other parts of Canada, youth in BC gangs appear to come from a mix of affluent, middle-class, and low-income households.
According to research by McConnell (2015) on the nature of BC gangs, traditional factors leading to gang involvement in other regions tend to stem from issues related to poverty, lack of a stable home (e.g., single parent or foster care), and racism while, gangs in BC are considered ‘nontraditional’ because they are multi-ethnic and from diverse economic backgrounds. Interviews revealed that some youth in BC join gangs because of a choice to pursue the gang lifestyle, instead of a necessity due to a lack of opportunities. According to CFSEU-BC analysis of 344 gang-related homicides and attempted homicides in BC between January 1, 2006 and June 30, 2015, some ethnic groups are over-represented in BC gangs (the highest proportion of victims were Caucasian and 25% were South Asian, while South Asian individuals represented only 8% of BC’s population in 2016).
An initial review suggests that gang members are exhibiting criminal and anti-social behaviours at young ages. The Surrey RCMP reports that the average age of gang members involved in the 2014-2016 gang conflict was 23 years, while the average age of their first criminal offense was 16 years old and age of first suspension from school was 13 years old.
According to interviews and Task Force discussions, older, more entrenched gang members may be directing orders to kill. However, they are using younger gang members to carry out these orders on their behalf, to reduce their level of risk of retaliation or criminal charges. Youth are having to carry out violence to prove themselves but are more likely to face criminal charges, being victims of gang violence, and money problems (e.g., owing debts to other gang members). Sixteen-year-old youth are particularly valuable since they have driver’s licences. According to the CFSEU-BC and interviews, the extreme, sporadic violence is in large part connected to retaliatory gunfire between young people running dial-a-dope operations.
Females are not immune from gang-related homicides and attempted homicides and possess different risk factors, according to law enforcement stakeholders. According to CFSEU-BC analysis of 417 gang-related homicides and attempted homicides in BC between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2017, 17 victims were female. In some cases, females are killed due to retaliation or are caught in the crossfire due to their association with a gang member. According to research and interviews, females are involved in gangs as girlfriends and increasingly as active participants.
Because females are less likely to be targeted by enforcement, they are being used by gang members to carry guns and drugs, and to provide their names for houses, cars, credit cards, and cell phones. Females are also becoming more involved in drug trafficking, recruiting, and committing gang violence. Females are sometimes extorted into prostitution by gangs (e.g., they develop a drug addiction or debts to the gang and are forced to pay through prostitution).
Initial findings suggest that youth from a variety of backgrounds are vulnerable to gang involvement due to Surrey’s diverse, young and growing population. According to analysis from the Children’s Partnership Surrey-White Rock, Surrey is increasingly seen as an attractive place for young families to raise their children. The city is expected to become the largest city in BC by 2030. The City of Surrey is growing twice as fast as the rest of BC. According to Statistics Canada, Surrey had a population of 517,887 in 2016, representing an 11% increase since 2011, compared to the average 6% increase for BC.
Surrey’s birth rate was 480 births per month in 2016 (equivalent to adding 16 seats to a kindergarten classroom per day).
The city possesses the largest school district in BC, with 71,350 students from Kindergarten to grade 12 in 2016/17. Surrey is also home to a diverse mix of cultural and ethnic communities with visible minorities representing 58% of the population in 2016, the majority of which are South Asian (33% of the population). A total of 43% of residents are immigrants. Individuals who identify as Aboriginal3 represent 3% of the population.
Families living in Surrey live in a variety of socio-economic circumstances, with a median income of $68,060 for 2016 (higher than the provincial average of $61,280). Furthermore, while some young people in Surrey are involved in gangs, many are contributing positively to the community by volunteering, working, and furthering their education. For example, over 20,000 students were enrolled at Simon Fraser University and Kwantlen Polytechnic University Surrey campuses in 2017.
While the young, diverse, and growing population in Surrey presents a potential challenge in addressing gang involvement, it also is a key strength that, if adequately supported, could be leveraged to help the city achieve its economic, social, and public safety goals.