Police, schools fight back as gangs look to recruit Surrey children
As police forces work to curb gang violence on Surrey streets, the fight is being taken to elementary school classrooms.
Children as young as 10-years-old are increasingly being drawn in to the gang culture in Metro Vancouver, forcing school counsellors and police officers to think up new ways to deter kids.
"I'll walk into an elementary school and I'll have kids tell me flat out when they grow up they want to be a gangster. That they think it is a viable career option. That they think it's cool," says Jordan Buna, a former gang member who now works as a school outreach worker in Surrey.
Buna says he works to emphasize the criminal lifestyle is not about brotherhood or other messages gangs preach.
"It's about how you can make the most money fastest," he said.
Police say gangs are harnessing social media to find new, young recruits.
For example, a video of kids fighting that is put online would be examined by gangsters who would then approach the victim or the kids caught fighting on camera.
"They will become a target for them to approach and say 'Hey, we saw what was on social media," said Sgt. Mike Sanchez, who heads up the Gang Enforcement Team. "We'll offer you profit, protection, you know, power."
Sarah McKay, with the Safe Schools program in the Surrey School District, says the program dedicated to helping at-risk children had 130 referrals last year. This year, the referrals have risen 200 per cent in a month.
"The concern is increasing and the behaviours are becoming younger and younger for some of our students," McKay told CTV News.
Back in the classroom, counsellors say they're working hard to dispel gang myths amongst their students.
"It's horrifying, it's scary and it's unthinkable," said Casey Chaulk, a resource counsellor for the district. "We work really hard to try and help those kids and educate them early so they can see the warning signs and know what to look out for."
With a report from CTV's Michele Brunoro