Unprecedented gang recruitment happening in Greater Victoria schools, says counsellor

Unprecedented gang recruitment happening in Greater Victoria schools, says counsellor

Ten people gathered outside Greater Victoria School District (SD61) offices Monday to draw attention to a drastic rise in gang recruitment in schools across the Capital Region.

“It makes me feel scared and terrified for the students because once they get embedded in a gang, that’s it,” said Lori Poppe, a parent who formed the group Parents and Police Together for SD 61 & 62.

Police say mainland gangs like Brother’s Keepers, Red Scorpion, United Nations, 250 and even the Mexican Cartel are trying to recruit kids as young as 12 years old.

Mia Golden, a counsellor within a crime reduction and exploitation diversion program says in her 10-year career, she’s never seen gang recruitment tactics this bold.

“They’re strong. They’re here,” said Golden. “We’ve seen quite an aggressive shift in gang recruitment…In the past we were seeing youth that were quite vulnerable being approached by gang members. Now we’re seeing students and youth in schools, in middle schools who are being groomed and recruited.”

After the school board voted to remove school police liaisons from SD61 at the end of the 2023 school year, Victoria Police Chief Del Manak held a press conference to highlight the alarming trend.

“We’re seeing known gang members, gang members that are known to be connected to lower mainland gangs, who are actively recruiting many of our youth and they’re going right into our schools,” said Manak in 2023.

The removal came almost five years after VicPD decided to remove school liaison officers after Victoria and Esquimalt councils denied a funding increase for additional front-line officers.

READ MORE FROM 2018: Victoria police cut school liaison officer program

In March of 2023, Victoria Police seized $100,000 worth of vape and THC products they say were being smuggled into schools using food delivery bags, which they believed to have gang ties.

“I would say 95 per cent vapes being sold by students are gang sourced,” said Golden.

Golden says the kids are being approached in a variety of ways, at malls, at parties, on social media — oftentimes without the children knowing they’re gang members. They’re enticed by the promise of a new friendship or a good sale.

It usually starts something seemingly benign like clothing or vapes.

“If the children are not doing what the gang is expecting, then threats are made,” said Golden.

Golden says recently cars and family homes in Greater Victoria have been torched by gangs as repercussions. And says there are kids across the region who are terrified.

She says the situation has been made worse in SD 61, because the kids no longer have someone in uniform to speak with in schools.

“It brings that level of trauma down,” said Golden. “Now we don’t have that, it’s frustrating. It’s really frustrating.”

Rec centres across the region are putting on free gang presentations for free, hoping to put a spotlight on this dangerous problem and educate parents on what to watch for.

“I fear ignoring this issue is only going to make it worse and my worst fear is that something really bad is going to happen to a student,” said Poppe.

SD61 did not respond to CHEK News’ request for comment. Victoria Police did not want to speak in advance of Chief Del Manak’s presentation to the school board Monday. Saanich Police said they would provide comment later on.

RELATED: Human Rights Commissioner calls for an end to police officer program in B.C. schools

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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