Kelowna parents were given advice at a public forum held last Wednesday on how to steer their kids away from potential criminal gang-related activities.
The guest speakers at the meeting, held at the Hollywood Education Centre, were Safer Schools Together trainers Kieron McConnell and Rob Rai, along with former full-patch Hells Angel Joe Calendino.
McConnell told parents that he has worked in policing for decades and exclusively in gang-related law enforcement for the last 15 years.
He shared statistics and other information about organized crime in B.C., including the illegal drug trade and money laundering.
“This is a multi-billion dollar business for our province,” McConnell said.
He warned Kelowna parents to watch out for tattoos that say Independent Soldiers this summer.
“They like to come up here, they like to party,” he said of that particular gang.
“The Bacon Brothers is another group, the Red Scorpions, they definitely have a presence here in Kelowna, they definitely are involved in drug trade in your community.”
He said the Red Scorpions used to identify themselves with neck tattoos, but now they use pendants.
McConnell suggested some warning signs for parents to watch for regarding their child becoming involved in gang activity—owning multiple cell phones; having money and not being able to explain how they got it; having access to a vehicle that they do not own; and possessing drugs on a small scale or in baggies.
Rai, who works as the director of school and community connections for the Surrey School District, laid out the dangers of dial-a-dope, citing the best strategy to keep their kids out of trouble is getting them involved in positive activities and being attentive parents.
“Without parental attachment, kids go sideways,” he said.
Calendino spoke in general terms about life as a Hells Angel, his drug addiction and the Yo Bro, Yo Girl initiative that he co-founded after getting clean, a series of strength-based programs run in the Lower Mainland for girls and boys geared to at-risk kids to empower them to avoid the perils of drugs, gangs, crime and violence.
In response to a parent’s question about the experience of girls and young women getting mixed up in gang-related crime, McConnell said more research needs to be done in that area.
“The only female shot-caller that I can say with certainty was from Kelowna and that was Madison Fine,” he said. “She took over Bacon’s drug business in town.”
Fine was Red Scorpion gang member Jamie Bacon’s girlfriend and died of an accidental drug overdose in December 2017.
Al Lalonde, Central Okanagan Public Schools district principal for learning support services, said stories like Fine’s hit close to home.
While he said the school district isn’t seeing a lot of gang activity in local schools, “it’s about prevention.”
“In our schools do we think we have a gang problem? No,” he said. “Do we think we have to make kids as resilient as possible because they could face that? Yes.”
He said Calendino had spoken with about 50 students earlier that day and that staff will participate in a training session this summer before the next school year starts.
The other priority communities identified by police and safety experts to have similar sessions are Abbotsford, Burnaby, Delta, Kamloops, Langley, Nanaimo, Prince George, Surrey, Vancouver, Victoria and Williams Lake.