COLUMN: Our outrage must live on

Surrey residents must remain vigilant against violence, writes PAN columnist Frank Bucholtz

It is no small coincidence that the verdict in the Surrey Six murder trial is coming down Thursday, at a time when Surrey residents are fed up to the teeth with the murder and mayhem in this city.

On Oct. 19, 2007, six men were murdered in a Whalley highrise as part of a turf war between rival drug gangs. Two of them were completely innocent victims. Christopher Mohan lived in a neighbouring suite, and Ed Schellenberg was doing maintenance work on fireplaces in the building.

As citizens reel from the latest murder, on Sept. 16, of Serena Vermeersch, another completely innocent victim, let’s not forget the long string of previous murders and the many innocent victims – Mohan and Schellenberg among them. Let’s not forget Julie Paskall, a hockey mom who was at Newton Arena to pick up her son on Dec. 31, 2013, when she was murdered.

It is unfortunate that the anger which erupts when a particularly brutal incident, which certainly applies to all three of the crimes mentioned, cannot be sustained. It always dissipates, as it must so that victims can attempt to heal.

However, when it dissipates, the politicians, judges, lawyers and law enforcement officials who often play an unwitting role in these crimes by their action or inaction, get off the hook.

We have let them off the hook far too often in the past.

A discussion I took part in a few days ago reminded me of just how long it’s been going on – and the crime I was discussing with people is only memorable because of its utter brutality. It left an impression on Surrey that has never gone away, and perhaps it never will.

Too many people have forgotten about the long and horrific string of incidents we have had in this city for far too many years.

The online discussion was with several people who were children in Surrey at the time of Clifford Olson’s reign of terror, way back in 1981.

Olson lived in a highrise on King George Highway, within sight of where the highrise that was the scene of the Surrey Six murder was later constructed.

In the spring and summer of 1981, he was busy snatching children and teens off the street and murdering them. He was convicted of 11 murders, but most police involved in his case agree there were many more murders.

Unfortunately, there was little or no evidence linking him to the killings.

This was not Olson’s first brush with the law. Although he grew up in Richmond, he had spent a lot of time in Surrey and was involved in a series of crimes here in the early 1960s.

A family friend who worked with Surrey RCMP at that time told me he had long been on the police radar.

Not all the child killings he was convicted of took place in Surrey, but far too many did.

There has been a long series of tragic incidents in this city. At some point in time, we as a community need to ask ourselves why.

Surrey is filled with mostly-peaceable people who have come here from all over the world. Many who live here grew up here or nearby.

Most Surrey residents want better lives for their families, and work hard to try and make that happen.

Unfortunately, there is a strong underbelly of drug dealers, low-lifes and predators with tentacles in far too many places.

Surrey RCMP is now the largest detachment in Canada, and has many excellent officers on staff.

However, many of them are new to policing and to the RCMP, and coming to this city as a first assignment is undoubtedly overwhelming. Many RCMP officers get their start in Surrey and it often leaves an indelible impression on them.

Most citizens feel that the police have too few resources to keep up with all the criminal activity, to say nothing of trying to monitor ex-cons like Raymond Caissie, who has been charged in the Vermeersch murder.

Another infamous Surrey moment was when the Whalley Burnouts made national news in the 1980s, and made the city a laughing stock from coast to coast.

Surrey doesn’t need to be this way. However, it will take strong and sustained action by thousand of citizens to change it. Don’t count on any politicians to make it better. Ultimately, it is up to all of us who live here.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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