‘They’re only talk’: Surrey group wants gang crime front and centre in federal election

Click to play video: 'Another targeted shooting in Surrey prompts new calls for action'
Another targeted shooting in Surrey prompts new calls for action
WATCH: Another deadly targeted shooting in a public place in Surrey has raised new calls for action, before an innocent bystander is injured or killed. Catherine Urquhart reports – Sep 30, 2019

As police investigate yet another fatal shooting in Surrey, an anti-gang crime group is hoping to make escalating violence into a federal election issue.

Community group Wake Up Surrey says it’s disappointed with how little attention leaders of the country’s largest federal parties gave to gang violence while appearing in the city since the campaign launched.

In response, the group is launching its own seven-point “public safety platform” and is calling on all federal parties to adopt it.

“After elections, they don’t consider this an issue. And that’s why it’s happening again and again,” said organizer Gurpreet Singh Sahota.

“It’s a regional problem.”

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Surrey RCMP statistics show that there were eight homicides in the city in the first two quarters of 2019, along with 163 weapons offences and more than 4,100 violent crimes.

The region’s gang conflict, which has simmered for years, has recently become impossible for the public to ignore, including a trio of brazen daylight assassinations, one at a Starbucks drive-thru, one in the front entrance of a McDonald’s and one at the pump of a Fraser Highway gas station.

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At the heart of Wake Up Surrey’s platform is the idea of a National Crime Strategy, which would include consistent and long-term funding.

Sahota said during this campaign and those past, political leaders have all pledged large sums of money to gang violence, but in practice have often fallen short of funding targets or allowed funding for programs to lapse.

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The NDP is promising a $100 million fund to keep kids out of gangs, Liberals are promising another $250 million to fight gun violence and the Conservatives are promising grants for police departments and to cost-share anti-gang initiatives with provinces.

“They’re only talk, no action,” said Sahota. “We have to prevent, we have to work on the ground, we have to work in the schools.”

The group also wants to see a gang crackdown in the form of tougher penalties, including mandatory minimum sentencing for illegal gun possession, and a review and upgrade of port security and borders to address smuggled weapons and drugs.

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“The politicians are talking about gun control and they’re talking about legal guns, not illegal guns,” said Sahota. “The shootings happening around us, they’re using illegal guns, not legal guns.”

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The Liberals have promised to let cities ban handguns and military-style rifles, the NDP also says cities should be allowed ban handguns, and the Greens say they want a national ban on handguns except for police and sport use.

The Conservatives say a handgun ban would penalize legal owners, and instead want mandatory federal prison time for possession of a smuggled gun.

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Wake Up Surrey is also calling on all parties to offer full-throated support of the transition to a Surrey Police Department, including a cost-sharing promise to offset the expenses of making the switch from the RCMP.

It’s also calling for the opioid crisis to be treated as a national emergency, with the formation of a task force that includes top medical and harm reduction experts.

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Other policies in the platform include the creation of a national youth empowerment program and a commitment to addressing issues of diversity and racial profiling in policing at a national scale.

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Speaking Monday, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said that he wanted to get a new Surrey Police Department up and running as soon as possible.

“I’m really concerned that in one of these things some innocent person — there already has been some innocent people killed because of these gang things, and I don’t want to see these things happen anymore.”

“Our community, they just want us to get our police on the streets and get this gang violence under control.”

-With files from Catherine Urquhart

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