News Local

Premier announces annual funding for Surrey gang prevention program

Jennifer Saltman

Red Scorpion founding member Konaam Shirzad was gunned down in Kamloops on Sept. 21. Ibrahim Amjad Ibrahim was with him at the time. (Postmedia Network/Files)

Red Scorpion founding member Konaam Shirzad was gunned down in Kamloops on Sept. 21. Ibrahim Amjad Ibrahim was with him at the time. (Postmedia Network/Files)

The B.C. government has committed ongoing funding of $500,000 per year for a Surrey program aimed at preventing youths from joining gangs.

Premier John Horgan, along with Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, announced the money for the Surrey Wraparound (Wrap) Program on Thursday during an event at Princess Margaret Secondary School.

Horgan was following through on a promise made during the provincial election campaign earlier this year.

Horgan called the Wrap Program, which a partnership between the Surrey School District, City of Surrey and Surrey RCMP and has been around since 2009, “critically important.”

“It’s preventing gun violence, it’s preventing gang lifestyles by ensuring there are mentors, there are people in place to help those kids at risk,” Horgan said.

The goal of the program, which is aimed at students aged 11 to 17 who exhibit signs of “gang-associated behaviour,” is to form positive relationships between students and their schools, communities and homes.

There are approximately 100 students taking part in the program, which to date has received 600 referrals and helped 300 students and their families.

The program received $500,000 in civil forfeiture grants in August in order to reduce its wait list, which is now down to about a dozen. Farnworth said that was one-time funding for 2017, and the annual funding announced on Thursday will begin next year.

“It is vital that we have resources in place to deter the at risk from entering the gang lifestyle,” said Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner. “Prevention is the central pillar of our public safety strategy in Surrey and we have lots of initiatives … but Wrap is particularly important and has shown success. It’s a key initiative, it’s a much valued program and it does turn youth around who are heading down the wrong path.”

Surrey School District board chair Shawn Wilson said predictable funding is important for a program such as Wrap.

“The certainty and continuity of this support will, I’m sure, provide more and better opportunitiess for planning and longer term strategies that will maximize the effectiveness of the Wrap Program,” Wilson said. “That means giving more at-risk students a chance to connect or reconnect to a positive and productive lifestyle and future.”

Surrey RCMP Supt. Shawn Gill, who is the department’s community services officer, called the funding “a considerable investment in the future of our communities and young people.”

He said a typical youth referred to the Wrap Program has multiple police contacts, serious school discipline and attendance issues, negative peer groups and sometimes a sibling or parent already involved in crime. Police and school staff develop comprehensive plans to keep those young people away from gangs and crime.

“With such a large youth population in Surrey it is imperative that we collectively focus on intervention, prevention and education to help youth make positive life choices,” Gill said.

Farnworth has said he would like to see the Wrap Program implemented in other cities around B.C., including Abbotsford and Kelowna.

When asked how long the annual funding will be in place, Horgan said, “As long as I’m around there will be steady funding for Wrap.”

The announcement comes two days after a Coquitlam man was found dead from gunshot wounds in Richmond’s Garden City Park on Tuesday morning. Ibrahim Amjad Ibrahim, 30, was known to police and was associated with criminal groups in the Lower Mainland.

In August, Surrey RCMP said Ibrahim was involved in the Lower Mainland gang conflict and refusing to cooperate with police. He was one of five men police warned the public not to associate with because they were targets.