By John Horgan
Leader, BC New Democrats
VICTORIA ─ Nobody in British Columbia should ever wake up to the sound of gunfire in their neighborhood.
But that’s exactly what the people of Surrey are enduring. During a single week this month, there were seven incidents of criminals opening fire on people, cars and houses in the Surrey area.
Premier Christy Clark is failing at the first and most important duty of any government. It’s outrageous to me that families feel unsafe in their own communities.
That’s why New Democrats championed the Surrey Accord, a plan that has drawn broad-based support from local residents. The Accord calls for the province to work with the municipal and federal governments to put more police on the streets, open a community court, regulate recovery homes, and develop action plans for housing and mental health.
New Democrats worked hard with community leaders to develop the Accord following the tragic death of Julie Paskall outside Newton Arena in December of 2013. Many of us hoped this shocking murder in broad daylight would galvanize the province into action.
More than a year later, the B.C. Liberal government has done nothing, and that’s not good enough.
It’s obvious to everyone except the premier that we need more police officers. Surrey is the fastest-growing community in B.C. and is living with the highest rate of crime in the province. Yet it ranks 31st in number of police officers per capita. Incredibly, Premier Clark decided to reduce the number of police officers in Surrey last year.
Community courts have a proven record of providing meaningful justice for victims of crime. They move quickly and provide a problem-solving approach. Community courts in Vancouver have increased community safety by addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior. The premier could have set aside funding for a community court in Surrey. Instead she wasted more than $5 million on her pet project, a new audit office that has barely produced a single report after two years.
People in Surrey frequently share with me their concerns over recovery houses in their neighborhood. There are literally hundreds of unregistered recovery houses in Surrey and we know that a single badly run house can cause chaos for nearby residents. The B.C. Liberals created this problem in 2002 when they removed all regulation and minimum standards, opening the door to unscrupulous and predatory operators. The province must step in, but for more than a decade the Liberals have ignored all calls for action.
Problems in mental health create a lot of challenges for every large community, and Surrey is no exception. Mental health supports in Surrey are vastly overstretched, and people who need medical help are slipping through the cracks. Sadly, many of these people run afoul of the law before they get to see a doctor. The province worked with the City of Vancouver to develop a mental health action plan, and I believe that Surrey deserves the same level of attention.
Finally, we know that organized crime recruits some of the most vulnerable people in society. Providing safe and affordable housing is a vital piece of a long-term crime reduction strategy. The path to employment, education and a better life starts with a safe home. Every person we can keep on that path is a person who won’t pick up a weapon or embrace a life in gangs.
New Democrats support the Surrey Accord because it moves aggressively to provide immediate, street-level action for community safety – more police officers, faster courts.
What’s Premier Clark’s solution? As targeted shootings piled up in Surrey last year, she eliminated an entire team within the Combined Special Forces Enforcement Unit, the men and women who specialize in taking the most dangerous gangsters off the streets. Only months after the brutal attack on Julie Paskall, Premier Clark cut the budget of the major crimes unit that investigated her death. The premier has praised both of these police units in public, but when the cameras aren’t rolling she’s nowhere to be seen. Overall, she took more than $4 million away from law enforcement last year.
Lives are at stake, and we must do better. The people of Surrey should not have to wait for another life to be lost before their government acts. I challenge Premier Christy Clark to implement the Surrey Accord immediately.