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Local non-profits urge Premier Eby to prioritize preventative mental health measures for youth

Premier David Eby spoke at a Surrey Board of Trade event
Premier David Eby spoke to a sold-out crow at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford hotel in Surrey on Friday, March 1, 2024. (Photo: Anna Burns)

Premier David Eby spoke to a sold-out crowd at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel on Friday (March. 1).

The Surrey Board of Trade hosted the event with the Premier as the keynote speaker. The Premier spoke about the recent B.C. budget and the impact it will have on the City of Surrey.

In a previous interview with the Now-Leader, Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke said the provincial government’s 2024 budget unveiled Feb. 22 “really lacks any good news for Surrey” and is “surprisingly disappointing.”

“It sure isn’t going to alleviate any of the problems we have right now, with health care,” she told the Now-Leader. “There was a hope there would be some significant investment in schools in Surrey and there certainly isn’t.”

Eby agreed that more has to be done for Surrey Schools.

“We have to build more and more schools to support Surrey, and we’re going to continue to do that important work to make sure that students here have a good chance to learn.”

Education Minister Rachna Singh announced Friday morning (March 1), additional space for Grandview Heights Secondary – a school that just opened in 2021 – as well as a new elementary school in the Darts Hill area.

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Eby said he loved the “can-do” attitude many Surrey residents have.

He praised Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke for her part in that.

“Mayor Locke here, she’s facilitated an environment where people are able to bring forward proposals and get them done,” Eby said. “While notoriously we will not agree on everything, but that is one area we do agree on, we need to get things built here,” Eby said.

He also said Surrey’s MLAs are always advocating for Surrey.

“I have to tell you, your Surrey MLAs, they are constantly on me about investments South of the Fraser,” Eby said. “They are always advocates for you, I mean, to a point that it gets to be a little bit much, but they are always on me about it.”

The event ended with a time for questions and answers from the crowd.

The theme of several of the questions centred on prevention and protecting youth.

Nicky Dhaliwal from Blueprint at UBC, a local non-profit that focuses on men’s mental health, shared her concerns.

“We’re often working to treat disease, illness, homelessness and addictions and I really like to see us move upstream and invest in innovation and new systems so that we, as British Columbians can live healthier and more fulfilled lives.”

Dhaliwal mentioned Robin Janjua, the Surrey teen who tragically died suddenly in Feb. 2023.

“I knew him and I love his family and I think they might agree when I say that our saber tooth tigers have changed and I think we need to really get ahead of that,” Dhaliwal said.

She asked Eby what steps the province is taking to protect children and youth.

Eby said the main focus is on schools. “It’s a place where there’s a chance to support kids, and helping people avoid really negative outcomes around mental health, addiction and gang life.”

“The Minister of Education and her team, along with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction, have been working on support programs in schools, education programs in schools, supporting kids around tools they can use to improve their mental health and crisis response tools.”

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Phalak Betab, communications officer from Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS), told Eby about PICS idea of a “no phone zone.”

These designated areas would provide a space for people to talk and read, Betab said.

Betab asked Eby if there was any funding available for this project.

“It’s not an area we’re currently looking at funding nonprofits, but it is an area we’re really concerned about, especially for kids,” Eby said.

In January 2024, Eby announced that the province would ask school districts across the province to develop policies restricting cellphone use during instructional time.

“I’ll admit some frustration about school boards focusing on To Kill a Mockingbird instead of what is in the hands of kids: cell phones and the extreme content they have access to,” Eby said.

“We’ve got some heavy lifting to do here and that phone free zone you’re talking about is on kids, to make sure that that bell-to-bell period is free of cell phones,” he added.

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A small crowd gathered outside the hotel to protest against SOGI in B.C. schools. Police kept the group at a distance from the hotel.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, or SOGI is a set of learning resources implemented by the Ministry of Education and Child Care to promote inclusive classrooms, where human rights are discussed, along with the topics of diversity, anti-bullying, respect and discrimination.

-With files from Tom Zytaruk, Sobia Moman and Wolf Depner

Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I started with Black Press Media in the fall of 2022 as a multimedia journalist after finishing my practicum at the Surrey Now-Leader.
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