The mayor of Surrey says she will ask the federal government for $10 million in funding for anti-gang programs in British Columbia’s fastest-growing city, where people are dealing with “emotional upheaval” after recent acts of gun violence.
Linda Hepner said Tuesday the money would be spent over five years after a task force aimed at preventing gang violence issued a report with six recommendations, including an expanded gang exit and outreach program that has been led by a combined police and border services unit for about 18 months in the province.
“We first piloted it and it’s the only one in the country that I know of,” Hepner said.
“In less than two years, it’s actually worked with more than 100 people that are in gangs. They’ve actually now got a chance to be part of a gang free future but that is in jeopardy because we need funding for that.”
Hepner said “dozens” of people have left gangs because of the program, which the province has committed to funding until the end of the year.
Surrey residents have held anti-violence rallies calling for action, including more RCMP officers, after two teenage boys were recently found shot to death on a rural road and a father and hockey coach was gunned down outside a home.
The task force, which Hepner led after launching it last October, also recommended more police enforcement and the launch of an initiative that would allow nightclubs and other businesses to ban alleged gangsters.
The expansion of early intervention programs to deter children from entering the gang lifestyle was among the recommendations, and Hepner said some kids lured into gangs are as young as 10 and come from a range of backgrounds.
“The profile is so different in British Columbia than anywhere else in North America,” she said. “They could be affluent, they could be poor, they could be middle income. They run the gamut here.”
Hepner said youths are joining gangs for difference reasons.
“Generally, those that are more affluent are out for glory and glamour,” she said. “The ones that are in more vulnerable economic circumstances have often been subject to trauma. Lots of them are subject to seeing domestic abuse, some of them not feeling that they fit in culturally and don’t feel part of the community.”
Other recommendations include the development of strategies to help at-risk children and their families, as well as stronger neighbourhood-based and culturally appropriate programs.
The mayor is also calling for more funding from the provincial government.
The Public Safety Ministry announced $1.12 million in funding Tuesday to expand an anti-bullying program based in schools called Expect Respect and a Safe Education, or ERASE, in communities across the province where gang-affiliated behaviours have been identified. It said the strategy is designed to prevent, identify and stop harmful behaviours, whether they occur in school or online.
The task force in Surrey included citizens, people from the business community, police and a local member of Parliament. It said RCMP statistics suggest gang members involved in conflicts between 2014 and 2016 were age 23 on average and had committed their first criminal offence at the average age of 16.
The Canadian Press