VICTORIA — High schools on southern Vancouver Island are warning parents to be on alert over an increase in violent crime and gang activity involving young people after police in the region raised concerns with school board officials.
In a letter distributed by the Greater Victoria School District, school administrators say police in the region are alarmed about potential gang involvement of a small group of teenagers in the community.
A copy of the letter sent to families in Saanich, B.C., by Mount Douglas Secondary principal Donna Thompson, says police shared the information with school districts on southern Vancouver Island recently, warning of gang recruitment of young people to sell things like vaping products and high-end clothing.
“There has been an increase in violence, drug dealing, and weapons related offences including the use of imitation firearms and knives among youth,” the letter says. “Social media has become a tool where gang-associated behaviour is being displayed and promoted on a variety of platforms.”
Const. Markus Anastasiades with the Saanich Police Department said Wednesday that the force supports the letter sent out by the school board this week after an uptick in gang activity at local schools.
"We see gangs are attending schools and targeting youth, trying to recruit them into the gang life and that is very concerning," Anastasiades said.
He said police couldn't elaborate on which specific gangs they're referring to because of ongoing investigations, but added that they have made several gang-related arrests over the last few months.
Anastasiades said gangs, both local and from the Lower Mainland, are actively recruiting young people, pointing to a bust back in March where police seized $100,000 in vaping products being sold in Victoria schools.
"We can confirm at this time that it appears that this file is gang related and an example of how they are targeting youth in schools," he said.
Greater Victoria School District Superintendent Deb Whitten said in a written statement the letter was sent to all families in the district to address the issue of "youth engaging in activities that may lead to potential gang involvement."
"This letter was sent out of an abundance of caution and to encourage families to take proactive steps to ensure their children’s safety and well-being if they suspect their child may be involved in gang-related activities," Whitten said.
The letter urges parents to monitor their kids' routines for any change in their friend groups, or shifts in their attitudes or behaviour as well as any "unexplained possessions."
“Our hope is that with this information, our community partners, schools, and families can provide youth with guidance and support as they navigate the complexities of becoming young adults," the letter says, adding that all schools in the district will tackle community safety issues in the near future before the upcoming summer break.
Anastasiades said police are trying to educate young people about the dangers of gang life. "We try to proactively educate youth in schools through our education programs about the negative impacts and life consequences of getting into gangs and this is an example of the work that we're trying to do," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.
The Canadian Press