For years, leaders in Surrey and beyond have tried to snuff the gang violence playing out on this city’s streets.
Despite that, the question asked 10 years ago is still being asked: How will Surrey put an end to that cycle?
On Tuesday, Surrey residents awoke to news of another shooting.
Two people had been shot and killed overnight in what police are calling a “targeted” shooting, near 188th Street and 40th Avenue around 10:30 p.m.
The victims were teen boys: 16-year-old Jaskarn Singh Jhutty and 17-year-old Jaskaran Singh Bhangal, both residents of Surrey. Neither were known to police.
“We’ve seen young victims in the past, but really, they were children,” said Corporal Frank of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team.
Police have not connected this latest violence to gang activity, but if they do, it would be latest in a seemingly never-ending string of drug-related shootings in Surrey.
“It’s too early to make those connections at this point but we’re working hard to determine motive,” Jang said Tuesday.
This is Surrey’s 22nd shots-fired incident so far in 2018 – almost one a week.
This, after years of double-digit shootings in Surrey: There were 88 in 2015, 61 in 2016 and 59 in 2017.
In March, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale tabled Bill C-71, an act that would amend certain firearms regulations, if approved. The bill would mean expanded background checks, would require businesses to keep records of sales, as well as new rules for transporting restricted firearms.
The federal Conservatives are critical of the bill.
Leader of the Official Opposition Andrew Scheer asserted the changes would actually make Surrey streets “less safe.”
“The word gangs or organized crime is not even mentioned in the bill,” Scheer told the Now-Leader. “There’s not a single provision in this bill that would make it more difficult for criminals or members of a gang to obtain illegal weapons. This is a Liberal attempt to bring back the gun registry, which we know wasted $2 billion of taxpayers’ money that could’ve been spent on much more effective means to attack crime. The word registration and registrar appears many, many times, over 60 times, but gang and gang activity is not in the bill at all.”
Scheer said it’s easy to make “hunters and farmers follow more laws, jump through hoops,” but the real challenge is to go after the criminals.
Scheer also charged the Liberal government’s tabled Bill C-75 would “lower penalties for dangerous criminals.”
If approved, the bill would make amendments to the Criminal Code and Youth Criminal Justice Act.
“So on the one hand, they’re making law-abiding people pay the price for activity that criminals do, and they’re actually lowering the penalties for those criminals,” he said.
According to Scheer, the Conservatives believe the real place to focus is first of all making sure police forces are well-funded and well-equipped. Secondly, he says, the government needs to go after the illegal guns being trafficked over the border.
Scheer said the Conservatives will push for more sharing of information between local police forces and RCMP.
“Making sure that if someone who does have a permit but maybe a local police department thinks that there might be some links to organized activity, if that person suddenly purchases large numbers of weapons, that somehow that information could be shared,” he said.
“Thirdly, for repeat dangerous offenders who consistently and frequently use firearms or commit dangerous crimes, they need to be kept out of our society for longer periods of time. I think that’s also part of the equation. The members of these gangs that have long rap sheets that have terrorized communities before need to face stiffer penalties so that law-abiding citizens don’t have to deal with them in their community.”
Scheer said the Liberal bills have, “in fact, let us down.”
“It’s going to put more resources from the Surrey RCMP and other law agencies tracking paperwork from honest Canadians while at the same time, lowering penalties for dangerous gang members,” he added.
But Surrey-Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal defended his party’s bills.
“When it comes to making sure we have the laws to deal with guns and gangs, this bill has only one purpose – to get guns out of the hands of people that are at-risk,” Dhaliwal said of Bill C-71.
“We are going to make sure the background checks are stronger, they’re streamlining keeping records of who is purchasing guns and ensuring weapons are classified (based) on what experts say, not politicians,” Dhaliwal said.
Meantime, Dhaliwal said Bill C-75 is an effort to speed up the justice system that was “slowed down with unnecessary delays” by the Conservative government.
“We need a streamlined justice system and that’s what we’re doing,” said Dhaliwal, adding the bill would see minor offences dealt with in a quicker fashion.“Last election we made a commitment, we made a promise, that we would look at the justice system so courts move fast, and protects victims and holds offenders to account.”
Dhaliwal pointed to his party’s commitment last November to spend $300 million over five years to combat gun and gang crime, and $100 million each year after that.
“That will help CBSA, RCMP, better enforce laws, and tackle illegal trafficking of drugs and guns,” he said.
Dhaliwal noted a March forum organized by the Liberals looked at how “to discuss how this money can be utilized and to find new solutions, combatting this gangs and drug situation we have.”
He added the Liberals will also spend $80 million this year to support training and recruitment of RCMP cadets.
Will gang and gun violence be a federal election issue next year? Scheer thinks so.
“I think crime is always an issue that Canadians get concerned about and obviously that will ebb and flow depending on some of the trends but certainly, in Surrey and in other cities where there have been tragic incidents where innocent bystanders have been killed or injured because of gang activity, certainly there’s more of a pressing need to do something about it.”
A decade of trying to make Surrey safer
Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of taxpayer dollars have been thrown at Surrey’s gang problem.
There was the $250,000 the federal government committed to the iR3 youth crime prevention program after the infamous 2007 Surrey Six murders, and the federal government decided in 2015 to send 100 extra Mounties to Surrey and earmarked $3.5 million for the Surrey Gang Reduction Program.
Politicians have lamented the violence year after year.
“What we’ve seen here in Surrey is unacceptable,” said then-mayor Dianne Watts after four people were shot dead in just two weeks in 2009.
“Lately our streets have become a battle ground for rival gangs and drug dealers, with the violence reaching near crisis proportions,” said then-Conservative Fleetwood Port Kells MP Nina Grewal in 2015, amid yet another spate of shootings.
“This gang violence is unacceptable and demands action,” Grewal added.
In 2016, during a relentless shooting spree, Mayor Linda Hepner noted since the previous year’s gunplay, the city ordered 100 new Mounties, hired a director of public safety and made 825 arrests in 2015. But that created a void, according to the mayor.
“All those individuals were taken off the street and we created a vacuum,” said Hepner at the time. “And that’s what we’re seeing now.”
Then in 2017, Premier John Horgan’s newly elected NDP government committed $1 million to Surrey’s Wraparound program, which aims to keep at-risk youth ages 11 to 17 out of gangs. The Liberals also supported this program.
Former Surrey-Tynehead Liberal MLA Amrik Virk said along the 2017 campaign trail that his government spent $64 million annually on a “full suite” of anti-gang enforcement in B.C., featuring the Gang Exit and End Gang Life programs, which he said had to date reached 20,000 students.
Fast forward to today, and the situation is much the same, with all levels of government continuing to look for a solution to the issue.
Hepner struck her Mayor’s Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention last year, which aims to change the myth of “glamorous” gang life. Like Surrey RCMP’s new Shattering the Image presentation in elementary schools, the mayor’s task force, too, has a strong focus on educating children as a gang prevention strategy.
Hepner announced her task force just months after saying she was “ashamed” and “furious” that an innocent bystander was hit in a drive-by shooting one afternoon in Surrey last July. Police said the 64-year-old woman was “grazed” by a bullet, near 77th Avenue and 147A Street.
“I just felt so embarrassed,” she told the Now-Leader at the time.
“These thugs put such a stain on Surrey. I think they’re vile. I don’t know what other word to use for them.”
Although the task force’s final recommendations are not yet public, they will be in just a matter of weeks.
“The task force has enabled us to build a picture of how the gang issue in the Lower Mainland has unique characteristics,” said Waterhouse, Surrey’s public safety director, “and how to build responses collaboratively that will have a tangible impact on preventing gang violence.”
Waterhouse revealed the forthcoming report will include “new action steps that will make a difference on this critical issue.”
Surrey RCMP say shootings have been declining in Surrey, year over year, for the past three years. But they say that’s no reason to become complacent.
“There are many factors which impact crime statistics and the police will always be here to provide enforcement against crimes that are committed,” said Surrey RCMP Corporal Elenore Sturko.
“However, the Surrey RCMP’s prevention and intervention strategies work much further upstream to try to prevent crime from happening in the first place.”
Sturko said Surrey RCMP’s Shattering the Image presentation to youth in elementary schools is a “long-term strategy that may not immediately impact our crime stats today or tomorrow, but it lays the groundwork for a safe, positive future in Surrey.”
She added: “By connecting with youth and letting them know the reality of gangs, we are supporting youth in choosing a healthy path in life.”
With files from Tom Zytaruk