Mia Golden is the program co-ordinator of the crime reduction and exploitation diversion at the Pacific Centre Family Sevices Association on Goldstream Avenue. Golden works with youth around Greater Victoria, including 35 specifically in the West Shore and Sooke areas, who are involved with local youth gangs and are looking for a way out. (Kendra Wong/News Gazette staff)

Youth gangs a ‘significant issue’ on southern Vancouver Island

Number of youth involved with gangs grow from 30 to 40 youth to 73, says expert

Drug trafficking, assault, robbery and prostitution are not highly visible issues in Greater Victoria, but peel back the layers of Langford and you’ll find an increasing problem that doesn’t have to do with the Colwood Crawl.

“A lot of people don’t realize what’s happening on the streets of Victoria … It’s a significant issue,” said Mia Golden, co-ordinator of the crime reduction and exploitation diversion (CRED) program with the Pacific Centre Family Services Association on Goldstream Avenue.

“Often youth gangs are thought of as nothing, just a bunch of kids doing silly things. But every youth gang has the potential to become a significant issue.”

RELATED: Province gives $500K to anti-gang program in Surrey

As part of the CRED program, Golden helps youth entrenched in gangs leave that lifestyle, and provides prevention and mentorship to youth who are vulnerable to becoming involved in criminal and gang activities. Originally started in 2012, the program is modelled after the Wraparound anti-gang program in Surrey.

Over the past six years, Golden has seen her case load balloon from between 30 to 40 youth to 73 who are at-risk of gang involvement throughout Greater Victoria, 35 of whom are specifically from the West Shore and Sooke areas. However, there are “considerably more” that she is aware of but are not accessing support.

Not only are there more youth involved, but they’re starting from a young age. Before, Golden was seeing youth between the ages of 14 to 19 involved with gangs, but now youth as young as 11 years old are becoming entrenched in that lifestyle.

Youth gangs often begin as a group of teenagers getting together and partying, but can quickly escalate to drug dealing, extortion, robberies, thefts and assaults.

Most recently, a youth gang called the West Coast Goat F***ers (WCGF) roamed the streets of the West Shore and were involved in drug dealing, theft, robberies, extortion and assault. At the height of its existence, the gang had more than 20 members and were responsible for more than 200 police files in 2013. However they have since been dissolved.

Currently, there are at least two youth gangs specifically operating on the West Shore that are dealing drugs and weapons, Golden said. However, that number can often change, as many youth gangs are unorganized and dissolve in a matter of weeks, months or years, usually as a result of disputes between members.

But it’s the allure of gang lifestyle that often pulls youth back in and one that could lead to being recruited by older, more organized gangs. For example, a number of youth from the WCGF were recruited by the Victoria gang, the Nortenos.

But gang life isn’t as glamorous as what is seen in movies, and dispelling the myths of gangs is the goal of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit’s End Gang Life.

“[They] think they have lots of money and material things. It may seem that way, but the reality is … a lot of these kids get in over their head and owe a debt to whoever their boss is and they never pay it back,” said Sgt. Brenda Winpenny, spokesperson for the unit. “They think they’re feared and respected wherever they go, but in all reality rival gang members are always trying to take out other gang members from the trade.”

Older gangs begin recruiting youth by developing a relationship with them through social media – called boyfriending – before encouraging youth to meet up with them at parties and luring them with the promise of alcohol, drugs and sex. Often they will get youth addicted to drugs, which makes them easier to manipulate.

Once in gangs, they get youth to do their “dirty work,” said Golden – work that often includes dealing drugs, weapons trafficking and recruiting girls and boys as young as 12 to 14 for prostitution. Some youth are tasked with collecting debts, which often means assaulting someone.

Working part-time with the program, Golden feels like she’s strapping a band-aid on a wound that’s already festering.

That’s why the association has applied to the provincial and federal governments to increase funding for the program to $130,000 for 2018/19 to bring Golden up to full-time hours, and add another full-time and part-time co-ordinator to work with youth.

Funding would allow Golden to increase prevention, by going into middle schools to do presentations about the dangers of being in a gang.

“A lot of it is who intervenes first, is it the supports or is it the recruiters? It’s critical,” she said. “I’m not able to do prevention pieces, which means in five years, we’re going to see an even bigger issue if there aren’t proper interventions put in place. We’re always playing catch up, we’re always behind the eight-ball rather than getting in front of it.”

For more information about the CRED program visit pacificcentrefamilyservices.org.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

kendra.wong@goldstreamgazette.com

Just Posted

Teamwork and rotating 12 hour shifts helped Island Health weather the storm in Cowichan

“At one time we had 11 hospital sites on generator power”

Cowichan’s private seniors care facilities used generators to get through outage

Like so many places, the power went out at 11:30 a.m. Thursday,… Continue reading

Fences destroyed, power out but Cowichan’s animals were safe after epic Dec. 20 storm

“It was a wake up call for being prepared for emergencies.”

B.C. storm totals $37M in insured damages

The December storm wreaked havoc on B.C.’s south coast

North Cowichan will host new permanent rowing centre starting October 2020

Saanich’s bid for national rowing centre at Elk Lake sunk

VIDEO: Cowichan Secondary starts two-week run of ‘The Addams Family’ Jan. 16

The Cow High cast is ready, the stage is set: all they need is you so make tracks to see this show

B.C. chief says they didn’t give up rights for gas pipeline to be built

Hereditary chief: no elected band council or Crown authority has jurisdiction over Wet’suwet’en land

Thieves steal thousands from 140 Coast Capital Savings members

Online fraud tactics included phising and ‘brute force’ in November and December

Condo rental bans may be on way out with B.C. empty home tax

Many exemptions to tax, but annual declarations required

UPDATE: B.C. boy, aunt missing for three days

The pair are missing from Kamloops

Daredevil changes game plan to jump broken White Rock pier

Brooke Colby tells council daredevil event would help boost waterfront business

Liberal bows out of byelection after singling out Jagmeet Singh’s race

Karen Wang says she made comments online that referenced Singh’s cultural background

Truck hauling compressed gas for ‘virtual pipeline’ crashes on B.C. highway

Driver charged and highway closed for nine hours - containers did not rupture

Most Read