Peace Arch Elementary delivers 30+ backpacks for Options Community Services via Operation Backpack

It was a cold and wet West Coast winter day yesterday, but it wasn’t enough to dampen the smiling faces and warmth displayed by Peace Arch Elementary students as Joe Woodworth and I picked up the latest batch of backpacks for Operation Backpack yesterday!

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It was amazing to see how much the students from each class in the school, had managed to get inside these backpacks. They were incredibly heavy!!

Initiated by Nicole Hurtubise, a teacher at the school, each class had collected items for these backpacks with care and attention to what refugee children from Syria or elsewhere, would need and like.
Taking part in this initiative was an extension of the other ways the school community gives back and helps those less fortunate, in learning to be socially responsible for themselves and those around them.

As we brought the backpacks out to the van,I spoke with a couple of the students and told them how much this would mean to the children and youth receiving them. “It was so much fun and we did it so fast!” one girl said. “We liked doing it, it was for a good cause. We want these kids to know we welcome them.”

And that’s what it’s really all about. Coming to Canada as a refugee is anything but easy and the Syrian refugee crisis has really shone a light on how under-funded our social network is in Canada. Many agencies are regularly stretched for funds and in our community of Surrey, it often shows.

These backpacks, like the others already collected and delivered, will be distributed through Options – a front line agency that is and will continue to assist Syrian and other refugees coming into Surrey.

I can’t speak enough to the amazing work this agency does across the board. I toured their Newton offices before Christmas,meeting staff and a client – this is not just a place of help,hope and healing, it is a labour of love for all who work there.

They deal with refugee settlement, yes, but they also deal with every single social issue you will encounter in Surrey – mental health challenges, counselling, homelessness, domestic violence, youth care… the list seems to be endless and the demand only grows greater with every passing day. Here is a link to who they are and what they do:

I’m a huge believer in the theory of Give where you Live -whether it is through volunteering or  donations of money/time or goods and services,it has the most impact right in our own city. And Options is always in need of more funding and volunteers to keep programs operating and expand as the need increases.

The need for household goods for incoming refugees has not abated, but there is still a huge issue for many agencies of finding space, and the amount of time it takes to find housing for the incoming families -many of which are very large. Please, before dropping off donations anywhere, call ahead to ensure they can be taken.

The most desperate need is still housing – basement suites, rooms, apartments etc. You can call the Immigrant Services Society to register if you have housing you can help with.

We are now coordinating the delivery of 100 filled backpacks to Options, generously collected and put together by the students,parents and staff from the independent school at Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy in Richmond, led by Kaniz Bhimani. They have been working on them since last November when Operation Backpack first started – Kaniz saw that first post and contacted us immediately to find out more details. Within days she reported the school was committed to 100 backpacks,filled and ready to go!

The generosity and compassion shown for this small project, is easily carried throughout the year- it’s been my experience that if people are given an opportunity to give and share what they can, they will. And there are many places that would love to have your help, right in your own communities. :)

Thank you to everyone who helped out and donated supplies, backpacks or even clothing and other items which we dropped off as well!

A huge thank you to Cloverdale Rodeo and Westcoast Amusements for the stuffies that kids can cuddle up to – you guys are amazing!

To Lori Dennis and Joe Woodworth at Options for partnering with us and picking up donations – what you do, is astounding!

The staff at Special Olympics BC, who on their own time collected a massive truck load of items.

The wonderful children and staff at Peace Arch Elementary, Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy, and all the other amazing people not only in Surrey, but from all over Metro Vancouver and BC who donated backpacks- yes one was even mailed in to me  – please know that because of what you’ve done, a child will know that they were thought of with love and compassion and welcome.





Operation Backpack Update #2-“Maybe a kind gesture can reach a wound that sometimes only compassion can help heal.” ~Steve Maraboli

DSC_0210_5Tis the season….not only for giving and caring,but for all sorts of lovely germs and things! Because a nasty little virus has been making the rounds of the house, this post is overdue! Now that everyone is nearly fully recovered, I’ve got so much to share!

When I first tweeted this out there,I had no idea how it would be embraced or what would happen. But it’s turned out to be one of the most fulfilling  and emotional things I’ve been involved with and continues to be – part of what makes it so wonderful has been the incredible people that I’ve met because of this.

People like Sheila who responded almost immediately and ordered,stuffed and delivered 20 backpacks- 10 for girls, 10 for boys- with her twenty something son… who,she revealed, had offered to pay for half the order when he found out what she was doing. <3 Each with a Star Wars zipper pull, or some other nifty little critter.  Sheila has an energy you can feel through her emails and her packs were prepared with a compassion and caring I’m sure the new owners will be able to feel.

Or Derek, who with his wife and 4 children, bought and filled their backpacks as a family, considered housing a family in their average home (not workable) and so signed up to mentor for employment instead. <3 Their children made lovely notes attached to the backpacks of welcome. And  while the care that went into it was again, palpable, meeting Derek and hearing his story was unforgettable.

And meeting all the lovely staff at the office of Special Olympics BC was so special. I arrived expecting  to pick up “A few things”… and ended up with nearly an entire truck full of boxes and bags. All collected, bought, paid for personally by staff who cared. School supplies, water bottles, lunch bags, crafts, backpacks… the list goes on. Books, toys. Compassion. Empathy. Humanity.

There are many more. Every single donation is so valued because it is so personally made. Cash is so impersonal -taking time to buy something is so engaging. And I will never forget the words of Eliot who said: ” I think most people, given the opportunity to do so,are willing to give.”

The key is,providing that opportunity. The lesson is, that we need to continue to give opportunities for people to become engaged and personally invested in giving in our communities.

Right now we have a solid commitment of 180+/- backpacks, and approximately 50 of those are in. ( now 56- see below)  22 + are coming next week from an elementary school in South Surrey, another 100 from an organization in Richmond before mid January.

In fact, as I was writing this, Suzanne dropped off another 6, plus a couple of lovely baby blankets. We have some brand new Quicksilver winter coats, hundreds of stuffed toys and a couple of boxes of school supplies along with a list of volunteers to make it all happen.

I just caught up with emails and Options has a lead on storage for all this now – they will be distributing them to their new clients coming in for settlement services in the coming weeks and months. But we are still accepting donations of backpacks, school supplies and gloves/toques. If there is an excess of what is required to welcome Syrian children to Surrey, they will be shared with other communities. : )

It feels good to give where you live. Last week I had a personal tour of Options in Newton, and my heart was full to see all that they do beyond immigrant and refugee services. They truly are the heart of our community and others, supported by the people and businesses within them.

As we see the news of incoming families from Syria, ecstatic to be here in Canada, I am thrilled to see that love has indeed, won over hate. That we  as Canadians have come together to welcome those embarking on an incredible new path that most of us can’t fathom, unless  you’ve come from immigrant or refugee roots.

There is more that binds us, than separates us. And it is that vein we say to all Syrian refugees entering Canada: ” My country, is now your country.” 

Welcome friends. Ahlan wa sahlan.

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“Are right and wrong convertible terms, dependent upon popular opinion?” ~ William Lloyd Garrison

This is the ship my grandparents and mother came to Canada on,according to the immigration documents I’ve found on my mother and grandparents.

My maternal grandparents, were a huge part of my life growing up. My poppa, was my everything.Both immigrants who had overcome big challenges in their lives in Germany and Denmark, they came to Canada for a better life for their children… one of whom was my mother.

I’ll never forget when as a teen, already insatiably curious and never one to follow the rules of never asking too many questions, I asked my grandparents what it was like when they came to Canada.
“Ach!” my Nani said: ” We could not buy anyting dat did not haf  a picture of the food on it!”
There were no ESL lessons, no immigrant support services when my grandparents came to Canada, and it was hard for them. Very hard. They made their way to British Columbia and Prince George was where they settled.

My grandfather used his carpentry skills  to build northern BC, as did my father who worked on one of the Peace River dams where I spent a summer with my mom and brother living in a tent trailer in a campground in Hudson’s Hope.

Somewhere along the line, one or both met  Koazi Fujikawa, who I only knew growing up in the north as ‘Uncle Koazi’ 

Even when Koazi moved from PG back to Mission, friends used to ask me how I had a Japanese uncle when my family was all white!  The funny thing is, I never questioned his presence until someone else did.

Koazi came up several times a year to bring us smoked salmon,blackberries, and it was from him I learned the need and value of the ooligans. When the runs were good, he would harvest them with his friends in local First Nations, smoke them and bring them to us up north.

Looking back now, it may not seem like the most conventional childhood, but really, it was. Unless you are Inuit or First Nations, we all came from somewhere else. Some of our families were immigrants, some were refugees, some have fled wars of their own. And I am thankful every day for where and how I grew up, and the people who shaped my life then, and now.

Would I be here, if my mother and her parents had not come over from  Europe? Would I be the person I am if I had not been born and raised in the north,experiencing sustenance hunting, fishing? Learning at times from a Canadian born Japanese man who was always thought a foreigner because of the colour of his skin?  A man  I only ever knew as my uncle?

My point is this. Today I had a bit of a rant on twitter, and again on Facebook because I feel such a negative  and hypocritical push-back  on  social media when it comes to Syrian Refugees.

I now make my home in Surrey. I have been a long,vocal and at times,the only critic of civic policy because I could see where it was leading.For years, Surrey has banked on having the lowest taxes in Metro Vancouver as a selling point to negate the negative press.

That has come,sadly, with a huge cost.

Instead of having reasonable,marginal property tax and DCC increases, we now see the large increases, because apparently the cost of policing in such a huge area, is a surprise. ( It is not, unless you are a dolt)

And of course, we see again now because our budget crisis is happening at the same time as our incoming refugees are in the news, a flurry of racist crap. And yes, it is crap.

But should any of the failures of  our city government, of our provincial government, or our federal government…be the concerns of many fleeing a war we in Canada are helping to perpetuate?

No. No, this is not their fault, or their doing.

What I find so appalling… and you know who you are… is that many of the same people who are freaking out about accepting refugees because  we are overloaded in our schools,clinics, hospitals etc….  are the same people who voted our current city council in. They have been silent since the last election except for talking about how great everything is… and suddenly now they are bringing up these issues as a reason why we should not let refugees into Surrey.

Yousuddenly have an issue with overcrowding? Talk to your city council who approved it all. In the face of people calling for restraint…. for years. Where were you when we were talking about this?

You have an issue in Surrey with refugee’s who do not have support services? Talk to your local Liberal/NDP MLA and find out why there is no funding.  Did you ask about this before voting? No???

You think we should take care of our own? Great! I do too…but where were you when people were calling for support for a winter shelter?

Where were you when good women were feeding the homeless our city was trying to get rid of? When our Pop Up Soup Kitchen led by a woman who does not even live in Surrey… was being kicked out by our bylaws officers?

Have you been advocating and pushing for shelters, or trying to stop them? Have you been pushing for more funding to support our youth so they don’t head down the wrong path?

Where are you now, when good people leaving lives of pain and anguish, are wanting more for their children like our families wanted more for us? You get the idea.

I have been the one of the longest and loudest critics speaking out against the manner of development in our city.But I have always been on the side of what is right. And if you said nothing in the face of all the rampant development in Surrey when it was clear the province could not keep pace… you are part of the problem.

We all own this.

We are a village and yes it takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a village…. to raise a village. Not just a child, but a city.

Why the hate on for Syrian refugees in Surrey right now? Because I can assure you as local RCMP can, that they are not behind the 60+ shootings-many with restricted weapons- that have happened in our community this year. Nor has all this crime been committed by refugees, period.

I welcome  Syrian families and their children, despite the issues in our city,because they are fleeing war, bombs…..oh yes….war??!! The majority want to be at home. But their country is fast disappearing into a pile of rubble.

They are not responsible for overcrowding, parking ,crime in Surrey or anything else you might want to use them as an excuse for.

Blaming refugee’s is convenient, and it is easy. But they are not the cause of our problems.

Look to your elected officials for that. And if you must, look in the mirror.


“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important.

You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit.

But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

Mahatma Gandhi



Newton Spooktacular a testament to the power of community.

I spent the afternoon at a fabulous community event in the heart of Newton today, that brought the first hint of how incredible the future of Newton is going to be.

Planned and presented by the Newton BIA, the underground parking of the Newton Save On Foods was turned into a spooktacular Halloween party venue – completely free. Goblins bopped to the beat of a live DJ while a zombie dance troupe thrilled the crowd with a performance to Thriller. The air was filled with the aroma of freshly popped corn,grilled chicken skewers and fresh corn on the cob, while the biggest pumpkin patch Newton has ever seen also helped support for the Surrey Food Bank by accepting donations.

A petting zoo thrilled everyone in one corner while others made their way through all the free venues of crafts, face painting, artist portraits, a movie theatre and train ride around the block. And all our favourite merchants on 137 st opened their doors and hearts with offerings of candy for kids trick or treating and coffee for the parents.

Standing in line for the train, I was speaking with a lovely young couple with their little ones.

“This is so amazing!” the young woman said: “You have no idea, Newton has been through so much. But there are some people here who are changing things though, these people who do these events. We need more of them here. It makes it feel more like a community.”

I smiled,but didn’t tell her I know all about what Newton has been through.And she is right. I talked to a lot of  really happy people today and the common line was: ” We need more of this in Newton.”  We need more happiness, more community events, and we will. There are people here who are changing things. They do their work quietly and without much fanfare, but it shows in the hundreds of people who attended today’s event, that there is a hunger for change and for community building. Newton is a cultural rainbow and today, it shone through the foggy skies, a beacon of hope for the future to come.

Huge props to Philip Aguirre, director of the Newton BIA( and owner of The Old Surrey Restaurant and Bistro 72), David Dalley, and his group of community members who were up early today setting up hay bales, decorating, and making sure this was a first class event. And a big thank you to Save On Foods in Newton, for the venue, DeSerre’s for the crafts and all the other merchants and  volunteers  who made this possible. You’ve all made Newton so proud!

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Letter from a reader: “Is there anyone looking out for the interests of the general public here???”

Catching up on the emails from my contact page here on the site today, and received this letter from a reader in Delta, who has cancer and is forced to travel to Surrey for treatments – via transit. I rarely post letters from people here, but this one really struck me.

He has noticed something that needs some attention in the city of Surrey, and he is not happy about it. And although I have noticed the sidewalk had been out for a very long time as well, I did not think of the impact it would have on those going to and from the many health care resources located just a couple of blocks down by the hospital, in particular as he writes, you are not aware of this in advance.

He makes some excellent points.

Your Worship Ms. Linda M. Hepner
And Members of Surrey Council
13450 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC V3T 1V8

Coast Capitol Credit Union
Board of Directors
4th Floor, 15117 101 Avenue
Surrey, BC V3R 8P7

Hon. Tod Stone
Minister of Transport
PO BOX 9055
V8W 9E2

Dear Madams and Sirs

For the Last Month I’ve had the Curse of Cancer and the Treatments to Battle the disease .

Which take me unfortunately to Your Community .

I’m forced to travel by transit to the Surrey Cancer Centre .

The curse has robbed me of a portion of my sight my ability to drive!

What I’ve found that is absolutely amazing is that the whole time period that I’ve been attending the Cancer Clinic and BEYOND THAT I’ve Been reliably informed .

There has been a EXTENSIVE closure of the Side walk along King George Highway STARTING on the Eastern Side of the Roadway for what appears to be Several Blocks Heading to the South . Thus Blocking off Pedestrian access to the King George Skytrain Station from the South for a Prolonged Period .

Forcing Hundreds of Pedestrians SOME Of Whom are Elderly and Infirmed , On Wheel chairs, with other Health Issues that are using this Route to get to the Main Hospital in the area .

One would THINK that the Developer Especially a ” Community Oriented Organization LIKE Coast Capital Credit Union Would Put the Interests of the Members of the Public FIRST and foremost ??? And expedite repairs and construction that Interfere with the Use of a IMPORTANT PUBLIC ACCESS ????
This incident further confirms a pattern here in the Lower Mainland Where DEVELOPERS and Speculators seem to have FREE Rain with are PUBLIC STREETS and Access they seem to have e NO PROBLEM blocking off roadway and public amenities and denying access to Public Properties at Will THIS is a Prime Case in Point .


We have all sorts of Contractors and Business organizations Lobbying for the Industry’s WHOM is Looking after the Interests of the PUBLIC HERE ???

During My frequent passes of this sight I have YET to see anyone actually WORKING to resolve this Blockage of a Important safety and access route for Pedestrians .

There is a Problem here as This Creates a Long and Laborious detour to Infirmed People Especially IF they are Not aware of the Detour in advance .

It forces people to make long waits on NUMEROUS Traffic control Lights and pass over a Major Highway several times Depending on How they Make there approach .

For Healthily Individuals with TIME on there hands No Problem !

For the elderly and sick it is a Impediment to access.
Just WHOM is looking after the interests of the PUBLIC when it comes to these Projects ? WHY has this been permitted to continue ??


Yours Richard Swanston

Delta BC V4M 2H2

I’m sincerely hoping Coast Capital as an involved community member, can address this situation. Richard is but one person who took the time to write- how many others have been in this situation but have not been able to do the same?

While ambulatory patients can use the Fraser Health employee shuttle, it is only if space allows and you have a doctors note- employees etc are given preference. And, I’m not entirely sure how many people are even informed this exists.

That shuttle however,doesn’t help people who are not patients,but simply needing to get to the doctors office,have tests, visit patients etc. who still may be elderly or infirm.

**Update. Coast Capital has advised they are looking into this and speaking with the developer and the city to see what can be done. I will keep this post updated as I learn any new information.

Last weeks City Hall column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Surrey LRT plans scary expensive!

In the iconic movie Field of Dreams, farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice whispering every time he walks through his corn field: “If you build it, he will come.”

But only in the movies could a farmer plow a cash crop, build a baseball field for ghosts and have everything turn out OK. In reality, while a vision mocked by others can result in great achievements, just as often that vision results in hardship — often financial.

With voters in the region smacking down an increase in the sales tax to fund the Mayors’ Council transportation vision, it’s clear now that there really was no plan B.

Why the Mayors’ Council had no credible back-up plans for funding in a vote that was doomed to fail remains unanswered. In the corporate world, any CEO without a plan B, C and, last resort, D, would be shown the door.

Enter Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, who finds herself in the awkward position of having promised to have LRT running in the city by 2018, but has yet to find an economically viable way to do that.

With the city carrying a debt load of approximately $245 million, borrowing to finance a $2-billion-plus project isn’t an option. That has the city grasping at straws to locate funds, and Hepner making headlines again for suggesting she might “take back” the city’s share of gas tax that currently goes directly to TransLink.

Hepner’s lastest suggestion has critics once again raising questions as to whether LRT is really even the best economic or logistical option for rapid transit in Surrey.

In a post yesterday, Daryl Dela Cruz of Better Surrey Rapid Transit, claims that even a public-private partnership deal for LRT would not recover operating costs and require the city to subsidize the line to the tune of $100 million a year.

While Dela Cruz is pushing for SkyTrain, another group called Rail for the Valley has been advocating for years to upgrade the existing interurban rail line that runs from Chilliwack into Surrey — at a fraction of the cost of Hepner’s plan.

Their release of the highly regarded Leewood report in 2010 presented a compelling argument to support the idea, yet remains largely ignored by politicians in favour of plans with more cachet.

The no vote should give Surrey council pause to reflect and re-assess what the city’s actual transit needs are, versus what sounds nice to build — otherwise it’s just another field of dreams with the taxpayers on the hook.

When growing pains become intolerable, the community needs to act.

This… is my Surrey.

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Beautiful, yes? We have beaches and sunsets to take your breathe away, parks and trails, farms that grow incredible local produce and fruits and fields of daisies to lay down and dream in.

“Communities in fear” 

And with summer upon us and school out the end of next week, thousands of families will be out enjoying all of it. Summer is the time to stay up late, play in front of your house, walk to the local Dairy Queen to get a chocolate-dipped cone. Lay on your front lawn in a pup tent and pretend to ‘camp out’.

Except talking to some local parents this morning still reeling from the two shootings that took place in Sullivan and Cloverdale last weekend, letting their kids play outside in the evening is the last thing they are going to be doing.

“Jaspal said she heard three to four shots at around 10:15 p.m. At first, she dismissed the loud pops as fireworks, then she heard sirens and saw police cruisers swarm the roadway, and yellow tape go up.

“I had just come home from work. If I came home a bit later, I could’ve been outside,” she said.

Another neighbour heard the gunshots but also thought they were fireworks until she saw police officers using a flashlight to examine the houses on the street, and cars parked in driveways, for stray bullets.

Two residences were struck by bullets, said police. No one was hurt. One bullet struck a garage door, while Jaspal’s home had what appeared to be bullet holes on the side of the house.

Maha Elias was rattled by the incident and said she plans to talk to her husband about moving elsewhere. They had moved from Victoria to Surrey in what Elias said “supposedly was a good neighbourhood.”

Now, she is worried and is telling her daughter to stay away from the windows as a precaution.”


“The Highway 10 shooting occurred just a day after another targeted drive-by shooting in the 5700-block 152nd Street on Friday night that left two men injured.

The men were sitting outside their home when more than 30 rounds were fired at the house, one bullet grazing one man in the head and another hitting the other man in the foot, said a relative. A dark-coloured sedan was seen fleeing the scene.”

No one should ever have to tell a child not to go by the windows because they are worried about getting shot. Yet in both cases,families with children lived in close proximity to the events that unfolded and it’s a miracle no one was hurt. It’s been the same in many of the over 30 shootings that have happened this spring, such as the case where a young girl bravely grabbed a younger playmate and took her to safety as shots rang outside on the street.

This is not how it should be, this is not right, and yet it continues as fear mounts now that bullets are hitting homes of innocent people. Yes, violence can happen anywhere. We know this. But to negate the ridiculous number of shootings that are occurring here sometimes on a nightly basis by saying that is to stick your head in the sand!

We all want a better city, a safe city where kids can feel safe to camp on the lawn on hot summer nights, but that just isn’t going to happen right now until the people behind this violence are stopped. And that omerta code of silence among friends,families and victims is why it doesn’t.
A parent’s desire to protect a child they know is involved in this lifestyle, does not trump a communities right to live in safety and without fear.

” Crime knows no cultural or racial barrier “

There’s something else that needs to be said here. There is a growing sentiment in our city that is alarming for its naivete. Many are now blaming every bit of violence and crime in the city on what law enforcement referred to as a low-level turf war between South Asian and Somali dial a dope operations.

Let me remind you that to date, it has been reported that just over half of the 30 thirty shootings have been connected to that ongoing dispute. So who is behind all the rest? Blaming all the issues in Surrey on South Asian/Somali youths doesn’t cut it. You want a reality check? Go sit in the Surrey Court house for even one day and look at the court lists of people attending criminal court.

Drug running, drug production, drug purchasing and all the trickle down crime that results, knows no racial or cultural barriers in our city. There may be cultural issues that must be acknowledged and addressed in dealing with aspects of it differently, but there is no barrier to where it begins and ends.

 “Growing pains” 

As Surrey’s population continues to grow, the cracks and holes in the required social infrastructure are starting to show, and requires city leaders that aggressively advocate for more funding from provincial and federal governments. This has now become more something more than growing pains.

As secondary suites continue to provide lower cost housing, we will continue to attract low and middle income families,some of whom will require social supports – it has been acknowledged we do not have enough to meet the need. As population grows, so do our policing needs- people forget police don’t just deal with gang issues, but a variety of calls that come non-stop. We do not have enough and as new officers arrive they are gobbled up by those lost to retirement, transfers, sick leave etc.

And most importantly, prevention.The money invested in prevention,in keeping kids from heading in this direction, will save money on policing,court costs,social services etc down the road. There should be no wait-list for kids at risk on the WRAP program-those kids need to be reached today, not next year!The mayors council just spent millions on trying to get a yes vote in the transit referendum and you are trying to tell me our city can’t find the money to get those kids on the waitlist help?  Parents need resources to access when they need help,or suspect their child may be heading down the wrong path.

 “But what can I do?” 

As someone who’s written of our issues often,I’ve heard from many in Surrey over the last three days,good people concerned about what is going on, and who are looking for guidance and reassurance. And this is what I have to say:

This is not a time for the community to become divided in fear or by ignorance. If ever there was a time for our city to unite, it is now. Those 80 new RCMP are not coming soon enough. We need to build bridges with each other and with our city leaders and law enforcement.We need to continue to actively and assertively lobby the province and the federal government for more resources.

If you are a parent concerned or scared about what your child may be involved with, here are some resources for you. Please,reach out and make that call:

If you are a landlord,ensure you are doing the proper checks before renting – simply accepting cash with no background could lead you down a world of pain and put your family at risk.

If you know something, anything – no matter how insignificant it seems- about any of these shootings, please call RCMP, CrimeStoppers or the gang tip line:

Surrey is full of amazing people. There are incredible change-makers in our community who have stepped up to and families who want to make a future here. There is too much on the line, and we need to do this together.

Because it is no longer enough to sit on the sidelines, shake your head and grimace at the news. Our city depends on it. 

Politics must not trump public safety – It’s time for government to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to Surrey.

*story updated below

After another Detroit style rolling shoot-out yesterday in Newton,the last thing Surrey residents wanted to wake up to was news of more gun violence this morning- this time in North Surrey.

It is little solace to anyone that todays shooting appears not to have been linked to the ‘low-level turf war’ some of the 26 shootings in the last 9 weeks. The victims are known to police and while the RCMP again say there is no risk to the public – ( Phew, don’t worry folks,it’s not connected to the ongoing turf war, it’s just one of those regular old, run of the mill shootings…) – this doesn’t give the neighbours any reasonable expectation of feeling safe knowing the people next door were all shooting at each other.

When I saw the footage this morning of what appeared to be nearly a dozen police vehicles dedicated to this investigation, instantly I thought: ” Please,don’t let anything happen anywhere else right now…”  Why? Because the sad fact is that we still do not have enough  RCMP officers on the street in this city and an event like this diverts many for a substantial amount of time. Fact.

This latest round of gun violence has had everyone’s attention again turned to gangs and drugs and how we all need to stop pointing fingers and work together. Our mayor and council has been feeling the heat from the community and rightfully so-there was a lot swept under the rug for years they’ve been trying to play catch up with.

Last year a 20 year veteran of the Surrey RCMP wrote a heartfelt letter to the Surrey Now, detailing how public safety was being compromised because of dangerous  and chronic levels of under-staffing.

The Editor,

Re: “A safer Surrey: Is it just a dream?” the Now, May 8.

Your article highlights some of the impacts of having a chronically understaffed police department.

As the MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers noted, Surrey has fewer police per capita than any other community in the Metro Vancouver area. The impact of that means not only more crime, but it also takes a toll on those who provide the policing service.

Recent government data shows Surrey RCMP police officers carry criminal caseloads that are 78 per cent higher than comparable metro police forces.

What does that mean for the public? In a community more than twice the size of Vancouver it means increased response times, less visible police presence, and crimes that simply do not have anyone to investigate them.

Sixty of the 95 police officers promised over the next five years will be consumed simply by population growth.

There is no magic answer. If you want to catch criminals, you need enough police investigators to get the job done.

We need the help of the community as well – doing your part can make it difficult for car thieves, burglars, and gangsters to work here. However, investigating crimes and responding to violent incidents needs to be done by skilled police officers.

I have worked at the Surrey detachment for 20 of the past 22 years, and the reality is, the detachment is constantly dangerously short-staffed. Using security guards and other resources may provide some relief, though if history repeats itself, once the media attention fades, those resources will likely fade away as well.

Last year, the police officers serving this community provided more than 134,000 hours of unpaid overtime – nearly 65 fulltime police officers worth of time.

While that helps to mask the shortages of officers, it contributes to mental and physical burnout due to the demands of the job.

Why do these officers work so many hours without pay? They do it because, like you, they want to see criminals who terrorize their community in jail and simply do not have the time during their shifts to get all the work done.

We want our city to be safe. We live here, our kids go to school and play here. We want all families to be safe when they are out playing, going for a walk at night or simply going to the store to get groceries.

We also know that having enough police officers on the beat can have dramatic results. Remember when auto theft was out of control and more police officers were temporarily moved to address the problem? We saw dramatic reductions in auto theft. Take the pressure off and the problem comes back with a vengeance.

Trying to reduce crime in a community that is growing as quickly as Surrey while having a police force that has half the police officers compared to surrounding areas is a recipe for disaster and results in more crime, not less.

S/Sgt. Mike Ingles, Surrey

No kidding. I don’t have to tell you this kind of letter doesn’t happen often. And it pains me because there really is no excuse for this to have occurred. There just isn’t.

The city did not keep pace with the number of officers needed for population growth and has now tried to rectify that with recent requests, but as Ingles points out, it will only be keeping pace with population growth as over a 1000 people move to Surrey every month. Even the cities own experts agreed understaffing is a problem.

Much of what needs to be done to deal with the social and criminal issues in our community is dependent on provincial and federal funding. So fingers must indeed be pointed because those levels of government are still not coming to the table in any where near the capacity they need to be.

In a time where our federal government is loudly banging the drum of how they are keeping Canadians safe by re-directing resources to anti-terrorism efforts in our own country, there has been a failure of epic proportions in doing so.

According to this Toronto Star column:

“…the RCMP’s estimated budget for 2014 was $2.63 billion, a 5-per-cent decrease from 2013 and a 15-per-cent drop from four years earlier, Senator Colin Kenny points out.

If that weren’t cause enough for alarm, Public Accounts figures show the departments didn’t even get to spend what they were allotted. Reports say the drive for restraint has had a “chilling” effect, leading agencies to underspend.

Since 2007 the RCMP has handed back $1.7 billion and CSIS was unable to spend $180 million. In 2014 alone, the RCMP handed back $158.7 million…”

Keep in mind, this is right across Canada…but it gets even better….

” The Mounties diverted $22.9 million from other operations to the Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (INSETs) in 2013-14. ……

“As of Jan. 5, 2015, it is estimated that almost 600 RCMP full-time equivalents have been reallocated from other priority areas (e.g., serious and organized crime, economic crime and other national security files) to INSETs.”

Increased enforcement and investigation for anti-terrorism efforts cannot come at the expense of public safety elsewhere. There must be a balance so communities and other investigations aren’t left hanging.

I watched the minister of public safety Steven Blaney last night on Global talking about getting more boots on the ground in Surrey, as I had watched him just over a week ago, when he was standing strong with Surrey residents in their fight against gang violence. No commitments,but more talk of how much his government has done for crime.

I can’t help but wonder how fast resouces would be re-allocated to Surrey if Minister Blaney lived somewhere around 88th and 126th street. If this was all happening in his own neighbourhood.

When it comes to our provincial government, they too must come to the table.

How can we forget the $4.2 cuts made by the province last year in RCMP funding.…with dire results:

Callens said he’s being forced to cut $2.8 million from the budget for the anti-gang Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU), eliminating 12 positions. The Major Crimes program, which handles murders and missing persons cases, will see $1.4 million in cuts including the reduction of 13 full-time investigators.

In hindsight, I’m betting this is a decision someone regrets.

I’d like to stop pointing fingers, I really would.

But the people of Surrey are here, dammit, working hard to make a livable community where despite the violence ,they are forging ahead trying to make a city they are proud to call home, and they deserve far better than the same platitudes handed out at every single town hall meeting for years.

They deserve action. They deserve it now. And so do our officers on the street.

While a multi-faceted,proactive approach in prevention is one part of the solution,without adequate numbers of officers on the street I am concerned this violence will continue, officers will become overworked, and with the arrival of warm weather and longer daylight hours in the evening, someone innocent will get hurt.

The provincial and federal government must immediately step up to the table and recognize that Surrey is facing some extraordinary challenges that require extraordinary measures.

We need more boots on the ground and we can’t wait a year Minister Blaney. We need some resources re-allocated and diverted to our city now.

Because as many will tell you, what makes us so vocal about this violence, is that we know that Surrey is far more than shootings…. and we are weary of the bad constantly  over-shadowing the tremendous light of the good that is here.

Update June18th,2015

Earlier this month Blaney announced new officers were coming. It was then said the 20 new officers were on the ground in Surrey. Turns out, that just is not true.

These leaders are failing residents who live in areas where this has occurred, it has impacted those who have witnessed the violence and those who have the misfortune to live beside or behind those targeted.

And this young girl, and everyone else who is tired of this violence and the tension it brings, is why this matters so much.

If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone in the city hear? * UPDATED April 3/2015

* Update April 3rd,2015

I received a reply from Jess Dhillon, head of Acquisitions & Development at Redekop Development  Corp and I followed up with a phone call where we talked more in depth.
This is his response:

“Hi Laila,

Regarding your comments, in response to neighborhood complaints, we received a notice from the City of Surrey on March 9th, stating that the Premises at 5750 Panorama Drive, did not meet City property maintenance standards; “Surrey Property Maintenance and Unsightly Premises By-Law, 2007, No. 16393”.

More specifically, household garbage, glass, syringes and other debris throughout the property.  We were asked to remedy the Property within 14 days.

The City was notified that the site was being assessed for clean-up, after reviewing an arborist report that had already been written up and submitted to the City.

Work commenced on March 24th to clean out excessive blackberry bushes and all small growth trees, defined by the caliper size and height, maintaining that no trees noted in the report were damaged.

The goal being to clean the site up to make it undesirable for trespassers to dump garbage, inhabit, etc.

We would preferred to leave the site as is, until we had met with the City to begin the rezoning process for Development, as we would then have had a chance for our first Public Meeting with the local Community.

Typically, we would wait till we are ready for construction before we do any site clearing, which we estimate to be in the Winter of 2015.

On a side note, our communication has been limited to the Panorama Neighborhood Association, until we can reach out to everyone in Public Hearing. Feel free to contact me directly with any questions or concerns. “

In speaking with Mr.Dhillon, he contends the development company thought they were operating within the parameters of the city of Surrey’s requirements,but should have had an arborist on site during this clearing. He reviewed the site with the arborist yesterday and is waiting for the arborists report and recommendations.

He also stated that this was not how the company intended to introduce themselves to the community but had to respond to the cities cleanup order within 14 days,leaving very little time to notify local residents.  When asked if he felt that the order to clean up the property required the removal of so many trees, he maintained much of the undergrowth could not be removed without taking trees as well, and that none of the trees taken were identified by the initial arborists report as ones to save.

Mr. Dhillon also expressed a great challenge in connecting with residents of the area not involved with the Panorama Community Association and I again, direct residents of the area to sign up at the link in the story below, to receive updates and get engaged in the process moving forward.

~ LY


Back in 2012, the province announced it was going to sell several public assets in order to ‘balance’ the budget. Among the properties in Surrey to be sold, was one the province had set aside for future health care expansion in the region: 

“In February 2012, the provincial government announced that it would sell off 15 acres of prime land in Sullivan, at Highway 10 and 152nd Street, which had been earmarked for health-care development under the Surrey Official Community Plan’s South Newton Neighbourhood Concept Plan.

At the time, Ralston likened it to selling the family’s jewels to buy groceries.”

A more accurate description for this particular lot of land couldn’t be found. Thick with blackberries,a forest of trees covered most of this land and residents were happy to have the green space in the interim,with the knowledge it would go to health care for the region at some point- a good use and vital infrastructure.

There was significant disappointment when the property was finally sold to Fairborne Homes, a developer with townhome projects in the Sullivan area. Concern the sale was extremely shortsighted in light of the tremendous growth in the South Surrey region, neighbourhood residents began to think forward to what kind of development might occur in the area.

With a glut of townhomes currently on the market in Sullivan/Panorama, and some developments not able to sell the current new stock off  completely, the news Fairborne had sold the property was not surprising, although residents were not informed of the sale.

What tipped the neighbourhood off, was the week long clearing that has been going on, unabated,unchecked and with not a rezoning or development application in site along any portion of the property.

The property in question is at 5750 Panorama Drive, and runs nearly the entire length of the drive to the north, bordered by 152nd to the east and a strip mall to the south and west.

I spoke with the planning department and the new developer intends for approximately 200 townhomes to the north of the property, a 4 story low-rise apartment building to the south and commercial along 152nd.
The planning details are in it’s very initial review,nothing has been submitted or gone to council at this time:
The developer however, is already promoting construction starting in the winter of 2015:


Concerned at what appears to be very extensive clearing of the property, I made some calls to both the tree permit/landscaping department and the building permit department of the City of Surrey – at the time of this posting,neither department had called back.

The planning department however,has received several calls on this clearing. While some trees remain, the use of an excavator to tear trees down has also damaged remaining trees, as shown in the photos below.

The city of Surrey’s commercial development information for tree cutting and permits gives the following info for developers putting forth applications for development :

It would appear that before anything substantial could even be done with regards to clearing the property, a permit would be needed,trees designated to be saved would have to be surrounded with plastic barriers etc. In a full walk around this property, none of this has been done, nor is there any signs or permits posted.

While there is great concern among the neighbourhood residents that some trees that have been cut are of a bylaw protected size, it is extremely alarming that such an extensive clearing could occur before anything has been put before council,without any community consultation and prior to any rezoning or development application approval.

It is not just undergrowth and vegetation that has been removed- a reasonable course of action and one no one could complain of- but trees of many sizes and heights.

In December of last year, a report commissioned by the city itself detailed how much of the tree canopy the city had lost, and how hard they would have to work to turn that around:

“In 2001, 33 per cent of Surrey was covered by trees, the report shows. By 2009, that dropped to 30 per cent, and four years later the figure had sunk to 27.17 per cent.

The numbers represent a decline in tree canopy of 17.66 per cent over those 13 years.

Surrey is aiming to be at 40 per cent by 2058, but it will require some significant changes to turn things around.

New developments are a large contributor to canopy loss, according to figures in the report.

The average existing single-family residential development (city-wide) in 2009 had 23.5-per-cent tree canopy. Now, the  average new home construction has a 2.6-per-cent tree canopy.

The figure is even more stark in South Surrey, where it dropped from 47.8 per cent in 2009 to 7.7 per cent for new developments.

Similar drops occurred across the board when comparing existing developments to new ones.

“With current practices, the tree canopy will continue to decline and it could fall to somewhere between 21 per cent and 27 per cent over the next 50 years, depending on the development practices,” the report states.

The report indicates Surrey needs to set tree-canopy targets in each type of land use and fix decade-long targets with an aim to reach 40 per cent by 2058.

It also recommends updating existing bylaws to place more emphasis on tree canopy.”

Clearly, when 15 acres of land can be cleared extensively in a week, without anything being rezoned, or approved. something has gone wrong.

From the shortsighted sale of provincial land, to this devastating cut that no one seems to have answers to, it’s a bit of a mess. There is a process and bylaws in place,but in this case, perhaps one needs to question the process itself when something like this can occur on such a large block of land. Residents I’ve spoken with are not opposed to development in general, but in favour of viable, well-planned and well-paced development.

I was at the site this morning, and many of the trees left standing in these photos, are now gone. As the excavator was clearing one stand of trees, rabbits were running crazy down the sidewalk,nearly into my feet in confusion, trying to find a place of cover where all the cover was gone.

There wasn’t much I could do,but watch.

The time to get engaged is now, if you aren’t already- If you live in the Sullivan/Panorama area and wish to keep updated and get involved in the process of this development as it progresses, please check this link,and get engaged in the future of your community:

* City update: Following several calls by myself and area residents,bylaws and an arborist are attending the site today, and I will update this story as it develops. An email has been sent to the developer asking for comment, but this was taken late this afternoon as a city staff person was on site documenting the clearing and remaining trees.

2015-04-01 022

Click on each photo below for a larger view.