Surrey has an opportunity to embrace harm reduction and reduce street disorder

Tonight, the Newton Community Association will hold a public meeting in the wake of the shocking murder of Julie Paskall.

The 53-year-old hockey mom was savagely beaten and robbed outside the Newton Arena on December 29 on her way to pick up her teenage son, who was refereeing a game.

One of the organizers is Doug Elford, a former candidate with the progressive Surrey Civic Coalition council.

He was a strong supporter of the ward system in 2011, in which candidates would be elected from their neighbourhoods rather than on a citywide basis.

"Every day my neighbors live among poverty, homelessness, crime and prostitution," Elford said in a candidate statement on the City of Surrey website. "The current City Council does not listen."

He recently tweeted that he wants people to come to tonight's meeting "with ideas and solutions and not just agendas".

It begins at 7 p.m. at the Newton Seniors Centre.

Crime creates fear in Newton

I went to Newton yesterday to check out the neighbourhood. I have spent time there in the past doing volunteer work, so it's not foreign turf for me.

During my visit, I spoke with a 27-year-old, university-educated woman who's lived in the community for more than three years.

Not long ago, she quit a retail job in one of the shopping malls near where the killing occurred.

She offered some blunt assessments of what it's like to live and work in the area around 72 Avenue and King George Highway. (I've chosen not to publish her name because I don't want to jeopardize her future employment prospects.) 

She said that her four-storey apartment has been broken into five times in the past six months. She added that she sometimes feels "terrified" living in the area, and doesn't go out at night. She also avoids going to the bank after 4 p.m. for fear of being robbed.

When I asked what it was like working in a store in Newton, she regaled me with stories of criminal activity.  She's witnessed assaults, as well as domestic disputes in the store. She was a victim of a robbery. She's even seen sex workers propositioning prospective clients on the premises.

The washrooms are used by people needing showers.

"We've had people doing coke of the back of our toilet tanks in the washrooms," she said.

I asked if she thought that a supervised-injection site might help.

"I don't see why they couldn't do something like that in Surrey," she replied. "If it gives people a place that's safe, they wouldn't be going into store washrooms to do it, and there's not going to be needles on the sidewalk where kids are walking to school."

Minimal police presence

She added that there's a police station across the street from where Paskall was murdered. But she claimed that it's no deterrent because it closes at 5 p.m. weekdays and isn't open on weekends.

"When I used to live in Fleetwood, I would see the RCMP driving by all the time," the young woman said. "And it's an area that doesn't really need it."

In Newton, on the other hand, she claimed that the only officers on her street seem to be doing spot checks on vehicles. At the store, staff would call the police at least once a week to deal with criminal activity, and sometimes two or three times. The Mounties often showed up, but after reviewing videotapes, would usually say not much could be done.

"What are they going to do to protect people who are walking down the street? Why aren't there RCMP officers?" she asked.

Mayor Dianne Watts has claimed that 50 officers have been redeployed to Newton and Whalley.

Unlike Elford, Watts and her Surrey First party have not supported a ward system so that there's a politician representing the area who can keep the pressure on the police.

Nor has Watts endorsed a supervised-injection site. In 2008, the mayor tried to curb the proliferation of methadone maintenance with a bylaw restricting new pharmacies from being created within 400 metres of existing ones.

RCMP backed away from supporting harm reduction

In 2010, Maclean's magazine reported that the RCMP nearly issued a statement in support of supervised-injection sites.

In a 2009 email to Dr. Julio Montaner of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Mountie Bob Harriman reportedly declared that the force was "good to go" with a joint announcement acknowledging the value of these facilities.

But the plan was kiboshed at higher levels.

Since then, the Conservative government has introduced legislation making it more difficult to gain community approval for new supervised-injection sites.

The Mounties have still not publicly recognized the value of these facilities in reducing street disorder or in saving lives, despite a growing body of research.

Communities like Newton are paying the price for the reluctance of the RCMP and suburban municipal politicians to acknowledge the reality that people will continue using drugs with or without supervised-injection sites, methadone-maintenance facilities, or better social services.

Nothing anyone can do will bring back Julie Paskall. In no way am I suggesting that the existence of a supervised-injection site would have stopped a crazed killer from perpetrating this horrific crime on her family.

But for other victims of crime in Newton—including the young woman I spoke to yesterday—there are opportunities to enhance their safety.

Doug Elford says he wants people of his community to bring forward solutions.

A good start would be for Surrey municipal politicians and the RCMP to endorse proven harm-reduction measures to make Newton more livable.

Comments (14) Add New Comment
Drugs don't cause crime, prohibition laws cause crime. The worst so called drug problems are prohibition problems, direct outcomes of ill-conceived prohibition laws, not due to drugs themselves. We had far fewer "drug problems" in my grandparents' youth when cocaine, heroin, morphine, opium & cannabis could all still be purchased legally at the local apothecary.

I support harm reduction programs such as safe injection sites. However, such sites do little or nothing to address property crime by addicts because addicts using the sites bring their own drugs they still have to buy on the black market.

We will continue to have prohibition-related crime by addicts so long as addicts are forced by our drug laws to pay artificially sky black market high prices for substances dirt cheap to produce, substances that were legal for almost all of human history until 100 years ago when the failed social experiment known as drugs prohibition was stupidly introduced for the first time.
Rating: +9
Alan Layton
I'd like to see Dianne Watts held accountable and for people to stop worshipping her and ask questions. So far all she's done is open up everything for developers and let their status as 'fastet growning neighbourhood in Canada' go to her head.

I also believe that the reason Newton is becoming so bad is that they are getting the druggies that are being forced out of Whalley as they gentrify the area. Which neighbourhood will get the junkies once they're forced out of Newton by a big show of police presence? It's time for other candidates to start speaking up and pointing out that the Emporer has not clothes.
Rating: -4
First, let's not elevate Doug Elford to hero status. He is well known as an NDP supporter. I am an NDP supporter too, but I don't conceal my political leanings.

Second, a safe injection site in Surrey would be helpful, but it would be a drop in the bucket in terms of curbing crime. We (the entire province) need to focus on the bigger picture - people with serious mental illness, children who take to the streets after years of abuse, and - yes - those with substance abuse issues.

These people are ticking time bombs. Unless we deal with their problems, proactively, they will eventually explode and people will be injured or killed - as Julie Paskall was killed.

Preventing crime is straightforward. We all know that it involves better urban design and infrastructure, and more "boots on the ground" (police and security). It's expensive, but easy.

Preventing criminals, however, is much harder and requires commitment from all levels of government, and taxpayers as well. Doug Elford and a pair of NDP members should be working towards that ... but I suspect they're not. They are probably pursuing political gain.
Rating: +6
Very sad news about Julie Paskall. There hasn't been much will or effort to make changes, at this point you think they would be getting some cctv cameras and improve the parking lighting at the arena for safety. Do they really have to close the community policing office at 5pm? really?

There really hasn't been much investigative news reporting from the press either.
The initial story of the Dec 30 arena attack was blended in by the major newspapers with an article plagiarized from the Surrey Now that was written a full two weeks earlier on Dec 16 called "Neighborhoods: Surrey's Newton Town Centre is scary,sketchy and depressed" and only the Calgary Herald acknowkledged they borrowed the editorial. How lazy.

And strange too there was no public warning when a woman was attacked Dec 16 in the area! Especially when they knew full well there had been two previous stabbings on October 26 at 72 ave. and 138st. Story link below.
Rating: +8
@ Alan Layton: So, what's your plan? Like many people, you complain about the migration of problem people from Whalley to Newton ... and you worry about pushing the same problem people elsewhere.

But what is your plan? Should we sweep them all up and throw them in prison? Shoot them and bury them?

Admit it. Like most, you have no clue.
Rating: -8
It would seem that some commenting are turning a very sad situation (a brutal murder) into an opportunity for a political attack on the mayor. A number of irrelevant things are brought in. The idea that a wide-open market for drugs would solve the situation in Newton is ludicrous.

Particularly outrageous is the statement by "Hermesecat" "We had far fewer 'drug problems' in my grandparents' youth when cocaine, heroin, morphine, opium & cannabis could all still be purchased legally at the local apothecary."
I don't know where and when Hermescat's grandparents lived, but I'm pretty sure it was not anywhere in Canada within memory of the grandparents of anyone now living.
Rating: -2
Hey Ted,
PM Mackenzie King first criminalized opiates in 1908, with openly racist intent. It was a direct exploitation of growing anti-asian racism.

Do you have any arguments against a "wide-open market for drugs" beyond adjectives like ludicrous and outrageous?
Rating: +2
Alan Layton
DavidH - yes I do have a clue and so do many other people. You have to provide help and do it locally. As much negativity as you hear about the DTES they do have some pretty effective programs and I feel much safer walking around down there than I do in Whalley or parts of Newton. It takes the will to do so and a strong leader who can overcone Nimbyism. I suspect that Surrey will do the opposite though and just keep pushing them out until they move to Vancouver - like other pseudo-cities in the lower mainland do.
Rating: +3
Is what it is
Im 36, and used to go to the newton wave pool when I was kid (like 8-10?). I remember very clearly that Newton has always been the Sh!t whole it is now. Full of crime, poverty and crappy architecture. Its always been the same, or actually got worse.

Its had this "opportunity" to get better for almost 30 years as far as I can remember. Here is a news flash for everyone...its not a problem city hall can fix ;)
Rating: -1
@ Alan Layton - Comparing the DTES to Newton and Whalley is unrealistic. The DTES was/is "over the top" in terms of poverty, mental illness and substance abuse. And the victims were/are confined in a very small area that most people avoid. The DTES also became an international embarrassment, which caused politicians to pay attention.

Newton and Whalley, on the other hand, are very big areas that are mostly occupied by average citizens. Rough people are visible, but mainly late at night and only in certain places. Except in the metro area, the problems are largely unknown - no headline features in the international media, and therefore little political interest.

All of that aside, I still haven't seen any solutions from you - just more complaints about weak leadership. What specifically is the DTES "help" that should be applied in Newton and Whalley? A safe injection site? Do you really think that will solve anything, other than a basic health issue? What has happened on the DTES in terms of active drug buying and selling in the streets and lanes? How about affordable housing?

Stop complaining and start suggesting.
Rating: +2

I sympathize with the goals of harm reduction too. I like the idea that giving people drugs takes the profit away from dangerous gangs. I also like the idea of the safe shooting site as a sort of neutral terrority in which an addicted person, very likely to have a criminal record, will meet and perhaps learn to trust the government authority types that their history has taught them to avoid.


We cannot forget why drugs laws were instituted in the first place. The idea was to dissuade people from becoming addicts - that is, people in the deep end of the chemical pool, who cannot be counted on to be reasonable, reliable, peaceful or useful.

Society used to think that these people had lost their souls to drugs. In these less overtly superstitious times, I would not talk about soul as much as concepts like individual agency, rationality, sanity.

The war on drugs has not been tactically successful. But the war for sanity is not one that should be abandoned. It is in the obvious interest of all Canadians to have personal, familial, and governmental practices that encourage people to grow up healthy, and to help those who are not healthy.

Merely giving people their shit, full stop, is not smart. If they could self-regulate and carry on a productive life safe to themselves and to others, they would have done it. I used to give my grandpa his whiskey and he'd thank me for it, but the minute the bottle was empty, there was no gratitude, and precious little humanity of any sort. I would imagine the same is true for heroin or cocaine or whatever else is feeding the monkey.

Rating: +5
@ Is What It Is -- I moved to Newton 30 years ago with a wife and toddler, welcomed a second child to the world, and have lived here since. I have no idea what you're talking about.

Is "crime" worse today than it was 30 years ago? Of course. That's the price of "growth and progress". Is the level of "poverty" worse? Of course. The cost of living in Newton is lower than many metro areas ... and poverty is not a crime ... nor is "crappy architecture".

Like too many who have crawled out of the woodwork since Mrs. Paskall was killed, you have no answers, just biased observations.
Rating: +2
Alan Layton
DavidH - so your suggestions appear to be: nothing suggested by anybody on here is going to work and since they can't give you specifics then they aren't making suggestions. But from the sounds of it, you just need to keep cutting down suggestions until the problem is moved out of YOUR neighbourhood and another one. You're part of the problem.
Rating: +4
@ Alan Layton -- I'm not "cutting down suggestions" ... because you haven't made a suggestion. Your only comment so far is a slam against Diane Watts, and a complaint about gentrification in Whalley.

Get back to us when you have something useful to say. At the moment, you're just another unproductive complainer. Metro is full of them.
Rating: +2
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