By Balwant Sanghera
VANCOUVER: For the past several years, South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence (SACCAYV) and its predecessor Sikh Societies of Lower Mainland have been working very hard in keeping our young people on the right track.
During this time, the Coalition (or SACCAYV) has been instrumental in creating more awareness about the issues facing our youth. Also, it has been very successful in advocating for more resources and services in helping youth and parents. In this regard, the South Asian media has played a crucial role.
The creation of the BC Integrated Gang Task Force (IGTF) in 2004 was a major development not only for the South Asian community but also for the community at- large. The Integrated Gang Task Force has now evolved into the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU-B.C.).
This new task force works in close co-operation with Integrated Homicides Investigations Team (IHIT) and 14 other law enforcement agencies.
A few years ago, South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence or SACCAYV, in co-operation with the provincial government and various police agencies and other organizations, produced a very helpful resource booklet titled: Understanding Youth and Gangs.
It is an excellent resource for both youth and parents.
In addition to that, South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence has been organizing youth seminars from time to time. It works in close co-operation with its academic partners-Langara College and Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU).
Amongst others, South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence is an active partner in KPU’s Acting Together-Community University Research Alliance (AT-CURA) under Dr. Gira Bhatt’s leadership.
Also, South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence is very proud to have MOSAIC as one of its partners.
Though a lot has been done to combat the curse of youth violence and gangs in our communities, a lot more needs to be done. In this context, it was very encouraging when South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence and its partners were approached by the RCMP to participate in a two-day retreat at its Pacific Regional Training Centre in Chilliwack on June 25 and 26.
With the blessings of Assistant Commissioner Norm Lipinsky, RCMP Commissioner of the Lower Mainland and financial support from AT-CURA, the Sikh Leadership-RCMP Summit proved to be a great success.
Representatives of 12 Gurdwaras in Metro Vancouver as well as AT-CURA, RCMP, MOSAIC, SACCAYV and various police chiefs met for two days in an ideal setting.
Police officials including Assistant Commissioner Lipinsky, S/Sgt. Baltej Dhillon, CFSEU-B.C.’s Sgt. Lindsey Houghton, Cst. Kanwar Bal (IHIT), Chief Superintendent Dan Malo(CFSEU) and others gave a very comprehensive account about the gang landscape in BC. They stated that currently there are about 183 gangs operating in BC. The snapshot of current gang scene and related statistics were quite an eye opener as to how the gang alliances have become so fluid and dangerous.
These presentations were followed by a very lively question and answer period and a healthy discussion.
Dr. Gira Bhatt, director of AT-CURA, shared her cutting edge evidence based research relating to the positive attributes of the youth and protective factors that may keep youth from being attracted by the gang life. This research was done in co-operation with the Surrey School District and was designed to bring an academic perspective to the community experience. These presentations and discussions lead to small and large group discussions conducted by Ninu Kang, Director of Family Programs at MOSAIC. The pilot project concluded with a vote of thanks to the organizers, helpers and the participants.
The RCMP officials made it clear that this was a pilot project. Eventually, they will be approaching other communities for similar opportunities. They picked the Sikh community as this community is proactive, resourceful and the first the to tackle the issues of youth violence and gangs head on.
Secondly, it was the leadership of the Gurdwaras that had taken the initiative to do something about these issues.
Thirdly, our community is one of the most affected as we have lost close to 175 of our young men to youth violence and gangs. Organizers of this retreat have assured us that this is an on-going process.
On behalf of South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence, I would like to thank the RCMP and other partners for making this dialogue possible. At the conclusion of the Summit, South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence and its partners, including the gurdwara leadership pledged continue to collaborate and work hard in making our communities safe and keeping our youth on the right track.
(Balwant Sanghera, who has been honoured with the Order of British Columbia, is a retired school psychiatrist and community leader who lives in Richmond in British Columbia)