The daughter of an innocent man gunned down in a Cloverdale club when she was just nine years old says she hopes Surrey’s new BarWatch-style program will help deter similar attacks, even as she hopes to one day get justice for her father.
Lexus Whitmee, 19, says the pain of her childhood loss returns at significant milestones, such as graduation, where she misses her dad Christopher. It also returns when news breaks of another targeted hit.
"It was awful. It was unbearable," Whitmee told CTV News. "I shouldn’t have had to lose my dad because of someone else’s decision to play God."
Christopher Whitmee, 34, was struck by bullets after a hooded gunman burst into the bathroom of the Cloverdale Show Lounge in May 2009. The intended target of the hit survived, but Whitmee died a few hours later.
"I don’t know how someone can walk in with a hood to a bar and not have any questions asked. If we had the same things we have now then, it would have been a different story," Lexus Whitmee said.
One of those things that’s changing is Surrey’s Inadmissible Patrons Progam, which launched Thursday. It aims to prevent criminal activity by removing gangsters and their associates from bars that join the program.
It’s modelled after Vancouver’s BarWatch program, which has been operating for 12 years, since 2007.
Surrey RCMP’s commanding officer, Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, said it was legal concerns that kept the force from implementing the program in Surrey.
"We didn’t want to incorporate a program that would fall below the legal standard. We went down this path, we got a legal opinion," he said.
Creating the IPP was one of the recommendations of the Surrey Mayor’s Task Force on Gang Violence, which released a report earlier this year, he said. It now sends a strong message to gangsters, he said.
"Our message is quite simple. We don’t want you here. Not to live, not to play, not to socialize here. Get out," he said.
McDonald also confirmed that Surrey's planned expansion of 12 officers won't happen because of the new budget cuts from Surrey's new council. New Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum ran on a platform of "Safe Surrey" but also campaigned on moving the RCMP to a municipal force.
Eight restaurants have signed up to the IPP already, including the Taphouse. Director of operations Raashil Singh said in the month they have had the program in place, not much has changed for the average customer, but it has been a relief to have the police presence.
"It kind of shows that the presence is here and we don’t cater to those kind of clientele," Singh said.
Curtis Robinson of BarWatch in Vancouver said he’s glad that Surrey is following Vancouver’s lead.
"We know from history that these gangsters want to live a rock star status lifestyle. If you take that away it will have a profound impact on their lives," he said.
"We’re encouraged. it does work and it’s a safety initiative that has saved lives in Vancouver," he said.
The Cloverdale Show Lounge is now closed. If Surrey had began such a program at the same time in 2007, and if the Show Lounge had joined a BarWatch style program back then, it’s possible that something could have been different, said Lexus Whitmee.
But that’s not what happened, she said. She is hoping that someone will come forward with tips in the case, and she’s hoping that the police are still working on it.
"We’re still trying. I don’t expect this to be the police’s number one priority. But it’s brutal," she said. "It gets worse every year."