AVOIDING THE SORDID LIFE OF A GANGSTER The recent slaying of two teens highlights an important issue. By Veeno Dewan

“Listen and talk to the kids. If you feel your child may be involved in gang culture—seek help, guidance, and advice. There are resources available. Parents don’t want to see their kids on a slab in the morgue.”

Last year, 13 people were slain in Surrey, B.C., with only six months into 2018. Surrey has had its sixth homicide of the year, with 22 cases of shots fired—despite considerable investments in anti-gang programs. Gun violence was in the news again in early June 2018 after the bodies of two South Asian teenage boys—shot dead—were found lying on the road in Surrey in what police believe was a targeted hit.  Police have yet to confirm this latest violence stemmed from criminal gang activity. But if they do, it would be the most recent in a seemingly never-ending string of gang-related shootings in Surrey. The statistics are horrifying—88 incidents in 2015, 61 in 2016 and 59 in 2017.

The question remains: How does a municipality like Surrey put an end to the vicious cycle of criminal gang violence?  And it is not for lack of trying. All three levels of government have thrown funding at the problem, along with other resources.  On the federal level, the Liberal government has a commitment to spend $300 million over five years to combat guns and gang crimes, and $100 million each year after that. While on the provincial side,  Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced the New Democrat government is putting $1,000,000  into the Surrey  “Wraparound” or “Wrap” program that identifies at-risk youth aged from 11-17 and helps to keep them out of gangs. The Wrap program has seen more than 600 youth take up the program since 2010. The previous anti-criminal gang program under the former B.C Liberals such as the Gang Exit and End Gang Life programs have also targeted teens. In 2016 Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner ordered 100 new RCMP officers for Surrey to create more of a street presence. Meanwhile, Surrey’ Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention initiative aims to change the myth of “glamorous” gang life. Meanwhile, Surrey RCMP’s new “Shattering the Image” presentation aimed at elementary schools, has a strong focus on educating children as a long-term gang prevention strategy.

However, many still say that the parents are the ones who should take higher steps to prevent their children from being tempted into the gang lifestyle.

The South Asian Family Association’s Suki Grewal said, “Simple policing is not the answer. I think the community, the parents, children, and different levels of government, all need to work collaboratively to get somewhere and save our future.”

Former gang member “Roop” (not his real name) says, “Some South Asian kids grow up idolizing old-time gangster like Bindy Johal. Why is it that they know more about him than they know about their own religion? That’s wrong. Gang attraction starts out with a growing disrespect for family, staying out late, cutting school, lying about things, hanging out with the wrong crowd, getting into trouble, and then escalates from there. I would say that kids are very good at hiding stuff. Parents have to monitor their children, and look for the signs that they are going down the wrong path.”

Community activist Amish Taneja says. “Parents need to be aware also of what’s going on in their kids’ lives. Often, immigrant parents are so caught up in trying to provide a better material lifestyle for their kids;  they work all hours of the day and don’t know what their kids are up to. We have parents who let the TV, the internet, social media, and would-be gangsters—to ‘parent’ their kids. As we all know, there is too much violence, misogyny, and imagery that glorifies the gang lifestyle in the media, music, and popular culture. The number of times you hear parents say their kids could not possibly be involved with gangs is legendary. Of course, there are totally innocent victims, others are caught in the periphery, or unfortunately, in the crossfire of the gang culture, and get recruited and sucked in. Parents have to be super vigilant.” He then concluded by saying: “One thing that the various levels of government are doing that’s a step in the right direction is to educate kids between grade 5 to 12 and practice prevention rather than cure. At the same time, parents need to be getting involved. Listen and talk to the kids. If you feel your child may be involved in gang culture—seek help, guidance, and advice. There are resources available. Parents don’t want to see their kids on a slab in the morgue.”

Corporal Frank Jang, the spokesperson for the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, said in a recent interview. “Families are devastated by the deaths of their children. Take the case of the two young men, 16 and 17 years old, shot in June. “I hope the community takes note of that and how serious this issue is in all communities.”

Parenting tips on Gang Awareness

Gangs are not restricted to any one socio-economic group and are spread across all races and ethnic origins. One commonality is that they are profit-driven, and constantly vying for a share in the illicit market economy. Their tactics for gaining more control include intimidation, violence, and even the point of no return, murder.

There are several myths around gang life which include visions of fortune, extravagance, friendship, and respect. The reality is quite the opposite, with many gang members ending up injured, drug-addicted, dead or in jail. See more “Myths and Realities of Gang Life” from the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit website…

The Surrey RCMP has a dedicated Gang Enforcement Team (SGET) to monitor gang members and associates, disrupt criminal activity and reduce the risk to public safety resulting from the actions of organized gangs. Besides, the RCMP partners with the Surrey School District and the City of Surrey for the WRAP Program, which identifies youth most at risk of being recruited into the gang lifestyle. Police work together with school staff and parents or caregivers to mentor youth and encourage a positive lifestyle and self-worth.

Signs of potential gang involvement

Some warning signs that parents and caregivers should look for that could indicate a youth may be involved in a gang include:

  • Sudden changes in behavior such as staying out late, withdrawal from family, secretive about new friends
  • Unexplained injuries
  • New possessions or questionable source of money
  • Preference for a specific color of clothing (gang colors)
  • Graffiti on personal items such as notebooks or bedroom walls
  • Tattoos or makings of gang symbols on hands or body
  • Frequent run-ins with the law

Understanding Youth and Gangs (available in English and Punjabi) is a booklet designed to give parents and caregivers a greater understanding about signs of potential gang involvement. It is the product of academics, police agencies and community partners across the province.

Countering the lure of gangs

Investing in and being involved in your child’s life can be a critical factor in keeping them away from gang life. Some tips include:

  • Know your child’s friends
  • Give your child responsibilities or chores at home
  • Ensure their free time is filled with positive activities whether it be sports, fine arts, or school
  • Participate in your child’s education
  • Spend time with your child and be a positive role model

Other Resources

  • Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit – An integrated joint forces operation dedicated to combating organized crime and gang violence. CFSEU’s “End Gang Life” campaign is a comprehensive education and awareness initiative that includes resources for parents and youth.
  • Gang Prevention – A Parent’s Quick Reference Guide – This reference guide was created by the City of Surrey, Surrey RCMP, and the AT-CURA Project at Surrey’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University. The guide can help parents recognize when their children may be exploring a negative path and inform them on how to intervene.
  • www.gangprevention.ca – This website from the Justice Education Society of BC provides information on ways to prevent youth gang involvement including videos about making smart choices and gang exit strategies featuring ex-gang members.
  • Preventing Youth Involvement in Gangs – This comprehensive booklet from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General is designed to assist service providers, parents, teachers and others in helping prevent youth from becoming involved in gangs or helping them leave criminal gangs.

Get Help

  • Youth Against Violence Line – 1-800-680-4264
  • VictimLinkBC – 1-800-563-0808
  • Kids Help Phone – 1-800-668-6868

Reporting Gang Activity