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RCMP officer gather in a high crime area in the Whalley neighbourhood in Surrey, B.C. in this Aug. 4 file photo.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Surrey RCMP say five people have been charged in a drug-trafficking investigation that also turned up two loaded handguns, though the force acknowledges the case is not linked to the shootings that have plagued the city in recent months.

Mounties announced the bust the same day the province unveiled $500,000 for a Surrey program that aims to keep at-risk youth away from gangs.

The money will come through grants from British Columbia's Civil Forfeiture Office, a government agency that does not need a conviction or charges to seize homes, vehicles or cash.

The NDP had called for a review of the office when it was in opposition, but its Public Safety Minister earlier this month said he has no plans to order one now that it has formed government.

The RCMP said its investigation into the drug-trafficking network began in February and the ring "was profiting from the opioid health crisis affecting the entire region."

Corporal Scotty Schumann, a Surrey RCMP spokesman, told reporters the five individuals face a total of 48 charges.

Four have been arrested, though the fifth has not been located.

Cpl. Schumann said the investigation into the group began in February and turned up thousands of doses of cocaine, heroin and fentanyl.

He characterized the seizure as "mid-level" and said police also recovered body armour, a stolen vehicle and stolen identity cards.

"This investigation is not directly tied to our ongoing shots-fired investigations. These arrests and seizures are part of a wider, long-term effort to reduce the prevalence of drug trafficking in our communities and the resulting violence," he said.

Mounties in Surrey have responded to 31 shots-fired calls so far this year, with about half of those coming since June. Three of the shootings occurred on Aug. 8 alone.

Mayor Linda Hepner expressed outrage in July when an innocent bystander was grazed by a bullet.

Despite the attention Surrey has received, the number of shootings is actually down from last year. In 2016, Surrey had recorded 31 shootings as of April.

The mayor met with Mike Farnworth, B.C.'s Public Safety Minister, earlier this month to discuss the issue of crime.

Mr. Farnworth announced the funding for the Surrey Wrap program in a statement on Tuesday.

"People want to feel safe where they live and know their child won't be lost to the dead-end path of gang life," he said. "It's time to target gang violence in our neighbourhoods head-on. Today's announcement is a step in the right direction."

The statement described the Wrap program as a collaborative partnership between the Surrey RCMP, the Surrey school district and the city that connects youth who are at risk of joining gangs with outreach workers, teachers and police.

It said program participants have shown a significant decline in negative interactions with police.

The program, which launched in 2009 and has had more than 500 participants, is aimed at those between the ages of 11 and 17.

Most of its funding comes from the federal government, with Ottawa committing $3.5-million between 2015 and 2020.

The province had previously provided $535,000 since the program launched. It said 97 students are currently enrolled in Wrap, with 35 more on a waiting list. The additional $500,000 will eliminate the waiting list, it said.

The NDP had promised in its election platform to increase support for the program by $500,000 a year.

"Wrap is a successful program that identifies at-risk youth to help keep them out of gangs in the first place. It should have stable and secure funding, not wait lists," Mr. Farnworth said.

The RCMP identified the five people who have been charged in its investigation as Bradley Thomas Antrobus, Wyatt Kyle Costain, Trevor Desjarlais, Reanna Grace Kolakovic and Dominic Graham Robert Lastoria. Mr. Lastoria has not been taken into custody.

A friend of Const. Sarah Beckett says a four-year prison term given to the drunk driver who killed the B.C. RCMP officer marks a “chapter that’s ending.” Const. Alex Berube spoke after Kenneth Fenton was sentenced Friday in Victoria.

The Canadian Press

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