Written for Vancity Buzz by Divinder Purewal, a proud Surrey resident.
If you were to believe all the sensational news headlines over the past few months, you could be forgiven for thinking that Newton, in the city of Surrey, was worse than South Central L.A., Detroit or even Beirut! You would picture the community walking around in bullet proof jackets and boarding up their derelict houses as cars burned on their driveways!
But that isn’t the truth. How do I know that? Well, I’ve have been a proud resident of Newton since I arrived in Canada in July 2005 with my wife and kids.
I am the first to admit that Surrey has issues: it’s one of the fastest growing cities in North America with estimates of a few hundred to a thousand people arriving every month.
“Surrey is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, and the fastest growing city in Metro Vancouver. We have a population of over 468,000 (2011 census), and welcome approximately 800 new residents each month”
Now, the issues as I see them are many and some are quite complex, and unfortunately any new city will have “teething problems” and high crime is therefore a fact of life.
At a press conference in January 2014 after the murder of Julie Paskall, Bill Fordy, police chief of Surrey, said that one of the largest demographics amongst these newcomers are single, young men. This group is usually highly represented amongst the culprits of crime, especially violent crime. Add into this equation, the fact that Vancouver has 202 police officers for every 100,000 of its residents compared to just 137 police officers for every 100,000 Surrey residents.
In addition to the fact that Surrey’s population has exploded, and is projected to stay on this track for many years to come, we have to accept that the city is seen as a place where young people can still get their foot on the first step of the property ladder. A recent apartment sale offered properties for less than $100,000, which is a hugely attractive proposition when compared with the rest of Metro Vancouver where a house will get you little or no change from $1,000,000.
Over the past few years, there seems to have been a “push me-pull me” approach to crime with the Surrey RCMP and the mayor’s office at odds with one another over where the bucks stops. In fact, crime and its increase was a huge platform for all the candidates in the recent mayoral campaign in Surrey. Linda Hepner came out on top but seems to have shot herself in the foot when asked what she would do after the recent upturn in gun crime in Surrey with 21 shootings since March was quoted as saying:
“…. the shootings (are) low-level crime” saying “it’s more of a problem for the RCMP — not her office. I am not the sheriff…”
Frank Bucholtz wrote a piece in the Peace Arch News on April 10, 2015 where he pointed out amongst many things:
“There are many other reasons there needs to be far more police officers visible on the streets and ready to respond to emergencies. This is a very big and very busy city, and the needs of the community grow more complex each year. The whole area of policing has been poorly handled by Surrey council for many years. Politicians have been more concerned about keeping taxes low than having enough police to deal with the needs of a growing community. Given that Surrey is a young community demographically, and that young people are often disproportionately involved in crimes, both as victims and perpetrators, this is unacceptable”
The media, in its broadest sense, is a business. As a business it needs to sell an agenda, and bashing Surrey is an easy target. I have already said that the city has issues and is working on addressing these, and having the media gleefully blast “another shooting in Surrey!” like it’s a disaffected district in the Hunger Games makes things worse.
Now, let me take an opportunity to say that I’m not for one moment advocating a news blackout. No, we need to weed the bad element out of the community – but why can’t we do that without the other cities in the Metro Vancouver rubbing their hands that Surrey has higher crime than they do? When crimes occur in Vancouver they don’t seem to be reported with the same enthusiasm as those reported in Surrey.
There are gangs in Surrey – there I said it! But there are also gangs in every other major city in Metro Vancouver, across Canada and around the world. There seems to be a misconception that the Surrey gangs are made up of young South Asian men with chin beards and scary eyes. That’s not the whole truth. There are numerous gangs, of all ethnic backgrounds, that call Surrey home, and to make the situation seem like it’s isolated to one group is both wrong and misleading.
My kids go to public school in Surrey, and one of the recent shootings took place a block away from where they were – during school hours. Was I scared? Yes. But I’m a parent of teens, being scared is part of what comes with the “job.”
I guess what I’m saying is that Surrey has issues. The people who live here alongside the police, mayor’s office and others will work through these issues. It would help us all if the hands other people extended were offered in help rather than pointing in condemnation.
Written for Vancity Buzz by Divinder Purewal. Connect with him on Twitter at @P1Divinder.