A group of Surrey teenagers sat down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday and talked about banning handguns, access to drugs and what the federal government could do to help youth escape a criminal lifestyle.
The 15 youth, aged 13-18, are either members of youth-at-risk programs or they participate in leadership roles in the city. Some have struggled with poor decision-making in the past, but all were united when asked questions about drugs, guns and violence in the city, Surrey Crime Prevention Society executive director Karen Reid Sidhu, who participated in the private meeting, told Peace Arch News.
Sidhu said she asked the teens – in front of the prime minister – at what age do kids start showing signs that they’re “going off on the wrong track.”
“The general consensus, with all 15 of these youth, was between the ages of eight to 13,” Sidhu said Thursday, noting Trudeau was “taken back a bit” when he heard that and that he has two children that are in that age range.
“He heard that loud and clear.”
Sidhu said the prime minister asked the teens – if he gave them an hour – what they would be able to get access to quicker: drugs or alcohol.
“They all said drugs,” Sidhu said, naming cannabis, cocaine and MDMA. “Pretty much anything they want, through social media.”
Trudeau also spoke to next month’s legalization of marijuana and, reportedly, how he believes it will eliminate the black market.
“Then he went on to talk about banning handguns,” Sidhu said. “He asked them, ‘do you think it’s going to work?’”
Sidhu said she asked the youth to raise their hand if they have seen a friend with a handgun, an acquaintance with a handgun, or somebody with a handgun – half of the teens raised their hand.
Sidhu said the prime minister was told that funding for programs to help youth stay away from criminal activity is being cut, and that the cost of programs is unaffordable to many at-risk youth.
She noted that her group, Surrey Crime Prevention, has had its “very successful” at-risk program suspended due to a lack of funding.
The meeting was attended by Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair, Minister of Defence Harjit Singh Sajjan and Surrey RCMP Asst. Cmsr. Dwayne McDonald. Wake Up Surrey – a grassroots movement aimed at stopping gang violence in city streets – was also present.
Wake Up Surrey’s Sukhi Sandh told a media scrum after the meeting that his group is expecting desired results.
“We stated very openly to our honourable prime minister that we will be doing a report card for his MPs but we also want to engage and work together with our MPs,” Sandhu said. “This is not a political issue; this is an issue where we have to come together to save our children.”
Sidhu said the conversation left an impact on everyone in the room, but that she left “very frustrated.”
“Unfortunately, there was no announcement of any money on the table,” she said.