Free pool, rink and gym access for children and teens part of public safety plan: Surrey First

Tom Gill
Photos: Surrey First

SURREY First mayoral candidate Tom Gill on Wednesday said the municipal election on October 20 is all about Surrey families, particularly when it comes to public safety and keeping the city a great place to live, work and grow up.

“Keeping kids out of gangs is as important over the long term as keeping gangs and guns out of Surrey,” said Gill as he introduced part one of Surrey First’s two-part public safety plan which includes free access to local swimming pools, skating rinks and gyms for 125,000 Surrey children and teenagers aged 18 and younger. Gill said part two of the Surrey First public safety plan, which emphasizes additional policing and other initiatives, will be detailed next week.

“We need to get to our kids with positive programs and opportunities before the gangs do, and that means starting early,” said Gill who has three children. “We have 14 pools, five rinks and 11 community centres in Surrey, with more on the way. They’re the very best in the Lower Mainland and we’re going to put them to work alongside parents and neighbourhoods to provide our children with positive opportunities and experiences that help keep them safe and out of the reach of gangs. We know that gangs are targeting children as young as 10, so let’s get to kids early and show them the terrific things their community has to offer.”

Gill, who chairs the city’s finance committee, said the $1 million investment in free access is worth every penny and is part of a comprehensive five-year, $50 million commitment to prevention, intervention and new policing.

“We spend $160 million every year on policing, and we’ll continue to spend more, but I also want to make sure we’re investing in our kids,” said Gill. “They’re worth it and every dollar we invest in them today will pay big dividends in the years ahead. Free access to our public facilities is just a start, but this commitment is a first in British Columbia and demonstrates how serious we are. I really felt the time was right for something new.”

Gill was joined at the announcement by local parents, as well as two Surrey First council candidates, Linda Annis, executive director of Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers, and Upkar Tatlay, executive director of Opus Prep Foundation, one of BC’s most successful youth outreach and mentoring organizations.

Together they also announced that the Surrey First public safety plan will create a “centralized information hub” to help local parents find anti-gang information and programs with a single 1-800 call. The information hub will start with a forum immediately after the election, connecting community leaders and organizations working with youth and helping to provide a network that can be heavily promoted to parents and families.

The Surrey First plan would also provide additional intervention funding for more school and after school programs, as well as more RCMP outreach into local neighbourhoods. Gill said the combined intervention and prevention portion of the five-year public safety plan is $6 million per year.

Linda Annis

“The research shows that vulnerable children and teens are easy picking for gangs,” said Annis. “Giving our youngsters free access to our city’s pools, rinks and gyms makes good sense, and provides a terrific community environment to help keep them engaged in positive activities. Over the years, I’ve worked with every city and every police department across Metro Vancouver and I know how something like this can make a world of difference for families and their children. This is definitely a first in B.C. and I’m so proud that Surrey is going to lead the way. Creative initiatives like this are the reason I’m running for council, and Tom’s leadership just reinforces that.”

Upkar Tatlay

Recognizing the important role parents play, Tatlay said Surrey First wants parents to know “they’re not alone” when it comes to helping children and teens stay safe, resilient and engaged in the community.

“Right now, if you’re a concerned parent you probably don’t know where to turn if you think your child is vulnerable and heading into a gang,” added Tatlay. “Getting information and help should be easy, which is why our new 1-800 number to a central hub will be so valuable. There are already a number of programs, organizations and services to help, including the one I represent. The key now is to connect them all and make it easy for families to get help and information right away. I’ve been working with teens for years and I know how important it is to help them connect and feel part of something positive. When we do that, the results are incredible. By lowering any barriers to accessing our pools, rinks and gyms, we’re making them more accessible at a time when kids need them the most. I’m running for council because I know that with the right leadership, programs and services we can make a big difference in the lives of our kids and community.”

Gill said that while he will approach the federal and provincial governments to partner with the city on the public safety program, he is also prepared for Surrey to go forward alone.

“Our federal and provincial governments know how important public safety is and they have been active partners with Surrey in the past,” said Gill. “I’m going to ask them to be part of this five-year, $50 million plan, but this is an issue that is so important to our city that if we have to go it alone we will.”

Pointing to the Surrey First team, Gill said his council candidates represent Surrey’s diversity of ideas and cultures. “But, when it comes to our children, we speak with one voice. They’re our future, we want the very best for them and that starts by showing them that we care about them as a community. Surrey is all about families and this commitment shows we’re serious.”