B.C. New Democrats have proposed a new accord and accompanying five-point plan to tackle crime, homelessness and addiction issues in Surrey.
The Surrey Accord would require the co-operation of municipal, provincial and federal governments, NDP Leader Adrian Dix said at a news conference on Wednesday. That five-point plan would focus on increased policing, the creation of a community court, the regulation of recovery homes, a mental-health action plan and investing in non-profit and supportive housing.
Mr. Dix made the announcement with Surrey MLAs Harry Bains, Sue Hammell and Bruce Ralston at the Newton Cultural Centre. The centre is located in the heart of Newton, a stone’s throw from where Julie Paskall, a mother of three, was killed last month in a random robbery while waiting to pick up her son from a hockey game. The 53-year-old’s death put the community on edge and crystallized a belief among some residents that their community was growing unsafe.
“We think this is a moment – especially with the concerns that people in Surrey themselves feel about what’s happening in their community – for governments to come together to take action,” Mr. Dix said.
Mr. Bains, MLA for Surrey-Newton, said overstretched police resources in Surrey have negatively impacted the fast-growing city.
“Surrey has one of the highest crime rates in B.C. yet ranks 31st in the province in number of police officers on a per capita basis,” he said. “In 2013, Surrey had 25 homicides compared to six in Vancouver. According to 2012 Statistics Canada numbers, Surrey had 137 police officers [per] 100,000 population, which ranks 31st in B.C.”
“Cities such as Vancouver, New Westminster, West Vancouver, Delta, Port Moody and Langley all rank better. Vancouver, for comparison, has 202 officers for every 100,000 population.”
Police resources, including community police and transit police, must grow with the population, Mr. Bains said. He also called for the creation of a community court, which he described as a “problem-solving approach to criminal behaviour.”
“We were promised six years ago, along with Vancouver, when Wally Oppal was the attorney-general, that Surrey would have its own community court. We still haven’t seen that yet.”
Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Ms. Hammell spoke to concerns regarding mental-health and addiction issues, including the need to regulate recovery homes in Surrey.
“The current conditions and oversight of recovery houses are absolutely unacceptable,” she said. “Recovery houses were deregulated under the Liberals during the first core review of 2002 and the results have been unsavory operators opening homes, preying on the vulnerable and creating havoc in our neighbourhoods.
“Everyone with any knowledge of the unregulated system has criticized the consequences – the opposition, the mayor and council and the citizens of Surrey – and have been doing it for 10 years. Ten years of chaos has resulted in just recently a soft certification process that is voluntary.”
Fifty-five recovery houses have been regulated in B.C. and 45 others will soon be regulated, Ms. Hammell said. She cited a bylaw officer who estimated there are 67 unregulated recovery homes in Surrey but said “the mayor and I think there are more.”
Mr. Ralston, Surrey-Whalley MLA, said “Surrey’s demographics, and its growth, are not reflected in the commitment that has been made, particularly by the provincial government.”
Both Mr. Dix and Ms. Hammell deflected questions on whether Surrey residents should be prepared to pay more taxes for increased services, repeating the endeavour will require co-operation from all levels of government.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said she agreed with the statements made during the news conference but noted the suggestions have all been raised as part of the city’s crime reduction strategy, rolled out in 2006. Ms. Watts had a meeting with Justice Minister Suzanne Anton and deputy Solicitor-General Lori Wanamaker about six months ago regarding the creation of a community court and has been “very encouraged by the discussions,” Ms. Watts said.
She has also been in contact with the ministries of health and social development and social innovation regarding recovery homes – “an issue that we’ve been grappling with for over a decade.” Asked if the city of Surrey would join the Surrey Accord in an official capacity, the mayor said she would have to look into the matter further. “It was a media announcement and now I’d have to have a look at it further to see exactly what direction they’re going to go in, but suffice to say, we’ve been alive to the issues that make up our crime reduction strategy of 2006.”
The MLAs said they will press for the adoption of the Surrey Accord when the legislature’s spring session begins on Feb. 11. Before then, they will seek input from the community at a public forum.
Premier Christy Clark was unavailable for comment on Wednesday but is expected to speak on the matter Thursday, said press secretary Sam Oliphant.
Attorney-General Suzanne Anton noted the province has made “significant investments” in services in Surrey for homelessness, mental health and addiction, as well as for victims of crime.
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