Where were the parents?
It’s a refrain you sometimes hear after a child does something horrible enough to make headlines.
Didn’t the parents know what was going on? And if they did, why did they fail to intervene not only for the well-being of their child, but society as a whole?
Was it a result of cluelessness at best, wilful blindness at worst?
It’s a case of being on the outside, looking in.
So far this year Surrey has recorded 14 homicides, with at least nine of the victims dying from gunshot wounds. There have been 38 shootings in Surrey in 2018. In 2017 there were 59 shootings, in 2016 there were 61, and in 2015 there were 88.
After a spate of drive-by shootings in 2015, Surrey’s mayor at the time Linda Hepner and RCMP brass held a press conference to roll out what they were trying to do about it.
They complained, with palpable frustration, that suspects, victims, and families of those who were alleged to be in the drug turf war were snubbing investigators.
Inspector Joanne Boyle, the team leader of investigations for the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, described how police had executed a search warrant on the family home of a young man and found his bedroom walls, which faced the street, had been fortified with plywood and ceramic tiles.
“It appears that this family had taken measures to safeguard their son,” Boyle said at that 2015 press conference.
The inspector recounted how she was personally rebuffed by the mother of another young man who was allegedly entrenched in the drug trade and corresponding conflict.
“I attended the family home,” she recalled. “The mother refused to open the door to me and through a translator she told me that she was embarrassed to have the police at her home and asked me not to return.”
Aside of cases involving the blatant obstruction of police investigations, there are others that just make people scratch their head.
There’s the Surrey drug dealer, for instance, who used his family’s home as the hub of his drug operation. During sentencing the judge noted the accused had been running a “mid-level” drug operation out of a house he lived in with his brother and parents.
“Given the violence that is an inherent part of drug trafficking and in which the accused was willing to engage, the accused put his family and other people in the neighbourhood at risk,” the judge noted.
According to a court document, this case stemmed from police receiving a 911 call concerning an alleged assault, possible shooting and unlawful confinement at the split-level house.
Police searched the place and found baggies, nitrile, latex gloves, a scale, dial-a-dope business cards, heroin, cocaine, MDMA and methamphetamine, bundles of cash, body armour, a dozen cellphones, score sheets, a box of passports, ID, credit and debit cards in various names, and four stolen restricted rifles on a kitchen table in a basement suite.
Over the years, the stories pile up.
During a dawn raid in May 1992, a group of young robbers known as the Surrey 626 gang saw their months-long reign of terror end when 40 heavily armed police officers surrounded their parents’ houses in Bridgeview.
The gang got its name from its getaway car of choice – stolen Mazda 626s – and its idea to commit violent robberies from the 1991 Hollywood movie Point Break.
Reign of terror is a term not used lightly. This group, comprised of a handful of local boys – the youngest among them only 15 years old – began its foray into violent criminal terrorism by smashing a stolen pickup truck into the Gold N’ Guns store in Whalley and stealing roughly $16,000 in assault rifles, machine guns, handguns, shotguns and ammo – all told, 32 weapons.
In the months that followed, the gang committed 14 adrenalin-fuelled robberies in Surrey, Langley and Coquitlam.
Among those places hit were seven banks, a couple of stores, and a Roman Catholic Church in Whalley was robbed during a funeral service.
Bullets were sprayed into bank ceilings, and during one bank robbery a gun was pointed at a child.
“Who wants to die today?” one of the robbers barked during a holdup.
During the dawn raid police seized an arsenal of weapons, a couple getaway cars, masks and battle fatigues.
Meantime, perhaps Surrey’s best known case of a failure to keep one’s child in check involved the stabbing murder of 16-year-old Jesse Cadman, also in 1992.
The teenage boy who stabbed young Cadman had already been facing charges for property crimes.
Pending those hearings, the court released him into the custody of his dad, on the condition that he ensured his child kept a court-ordered curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The teen had been out carousing with his cohorts when he fatally stabbed young Cadman, at about midnight.
Chuck and Dona Cadman, who would both later serve as Surrey MPs, launched a lawsuit aimed at the Crown as well as the father of the young fellow who murdered their son, for failure to uphold the curfew.
This started a trend across Canada. Families of other murder victims embarked on similar lawsuits, which of course freaked some parents out.
The Cadmans eventually withdrew their lawsuit as Chuck, while a member of the justice committee, managed to get what he wanted worked into the new Youth Criminal Justice Act when it replaced the Young Offenders Act in 2003.
The legislation states that “Every person who is at large on an undertaking or recognizance given to or entered into before a justice or judge and is bound to comply with a condition of that undertaking or recognizance directed by a justice or judge, and every person who is bound to comply with a direction ordered under subsection 515(12) or 522(2.1) and who fails, without lawful excuse, the proof of which lies on that person, to comply with that condition or direction, is guilty of (a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or (b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.”
Rob Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, provides some historical context. Before the YOA there was the Juvenile Delinquents Act, which contained provisions concerning contribution to juvenile delinquency “and the target of those provisions, most certainly, was parents and guardians of children who had been declared juvenile delinquents. That was a particular legal status.”
Under the YOA, the language changed but the general principle remained the same.
Dr. Rob Gordon, SFU criminology professor. (Submitted photo)
“There was parental responsibility set out in the Young Offenders Act for parents who had failed to deal with, or otherwise contributed to the delinquency of a minor. That was carried forward, and I’m pretty sure was carried forward in the Youth Criminal Justice Act.”
During the course of his career, Gordon has heard of parents being held responsible for the conduct of their child, “but not often and that was usually because they pulled attitude on Crown.”
“It’s one of encouraging parents to take charge of careful supervising of their offspring, and you’re never going to do that by throwing the legislative book at them,” he said. “So the whole approach was one of ‘Look, if you don’t comply, we’ve got these provisions in the Young Offenders Act, before that JDA, we can use to punish you for not taking responsibility for your children.’ It was leverage – ‘If you don’t comply, we have no option but to prosecute you under these provisions.’”
Gordon explained this was symbolic and “generally quite effective in clearing up” where the lines of responsibility lay for young people’s conduct.
Meantime, during one of the several press conferences that have been staged over recent years by the Surrey RCMP and civic politicians following a bout of drive-by shootings, the Surrey RCMP Parent Helpline was set up to provide assistance to parents concerned about their children becoming involved in illegal activities.
The line, at 604-599-7800, operates Monday to Friday in English, French and Punjabi and through it parents can get in touch with youth officers and counsellors who help with information and intervention. Since it started taking calls in May 2016, the line had 74 calls that year, 101 calls in 2017 and 98 so far this year.
“It may be that they’re not aware of how their kids are getting linked in with people who are committing criminal activity,” Surrey RCMP Corporal Elenore Sturko said of some parents.
Surrey RCMP Corporal Elenore Sturko. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
But in some cases, she noted, parents do know what their children are up to, “and in some cases they also profit from it. It’s the whole spectrum of people who turn a blind eye to it, that profit from it, and then on the other hand you have the other people who aren’t even aware of what’s happening. Certainly at the early stages, if you notice that your kid’s suddenly having a whole bunch of money and they don’t have a job, or they’re driving a car that they normally wouldn’t have, have a whole bunch of cell phones…”
She suggests parental awareness of what their children are up to, be they teens or young adults, runs a wide spectrum.
“It could be anything from that they are complicit, like they’re profiting from it, to that they actually don’t know because all the technology and stuff that is being used is so rapidly changing, so parents may not be aware. If you see that your kid is like posting on Snapchat a video of them and they’re like dancing around with guns and stuff like that, yeah, you might want to have a chat with them and find out what’s going on.”
Sukhi Sandhu is a leader of Wake Up Surrey, a grassroots group working toward eradicating gang violence in this city.
“Parents need to step up, parents need to understand in these times parenting, you need to be involved in your kids’ life from the earliest ages,” he said. “You need to create a relationship, most importantly, which is built on trust in that anything and everything, a child can feel comfortable discussing with you.”
Sukhi Sandhu, of Wake Up Surrey. (Submitted photo)
To what extent should parents be held accountable for their adult children who are living with them?
“Every targeted killing is preventable and every time one of our youth is killed, we as a society have failed,” Sandhu replied.
“Now let’s look at it a different way. If we continue to just hammer parents, they’re just going to go back in their shell. You need to engage them, you need to create awareness but also call upon our elected leaders. In the last five months, name me one MLA or MP in our community who’s had a town hall meeting on this issue. Name me one MLA or MP who has consistently tried to create awareness and engage parents.
“They’re turning their backs on the issue, that’s the sad part,” Sandhu charged. “Politicians can be very effective but they themselves have a code of silence.”
“Instead of going to gala dinners or wedding receptions, go and have town hall meetings near schools to create awareness with the South Asian parents,” he said. “None of them do that. They’ll say all the right things, we get a lot of lip service.”
“This is a collective effort. I understand parents, there’s some in denial, but the vast majority I see in our community who want to engage either don’t have the resources or just aren’t doing enough in terms of prevention and intervention.”
While a disproportionate number of shooting victims in Surrey are young South Asian men, Sandhu notes that young women in that community are also being lured by the gangster scene.
“In our research we have found females in our community, our younger females are also getting involved in this,” Sandhu said. “It’s becoming an increasing concern. They’re involved, there’s a culture divide at home, they’re looking for a sense of value, a sense of worth, and they find that with many of these and they get trapped. So we’re finding a lot more females that are also getting trapped in this lifestyle. Just sort of the glamorous aspect of it.”
As for parents, he said “there’s a percentage where there’s a code of silence, but the code of silence starts from the leadership of our community.”
“Part of good citizenship is responsibility. If we have a code of silence in our community when illegal activity is happening, when we’ve got individuals in drug trafficking or people who are engaged in underground economy, we can’t just push these things under the rug.
“Sooner or later all these issues, we’re saying now, are going to explode in our face.”