May 31, 2019 --
A young woman doesn't have to live in Vancouver to fall into a gang lifestyle. She can live in Prince George and be subject to the same risk.
Anisha Parhar and Sandy Avelar, two Female Gang Detectives from the Lower Mainland, are acutely aware of this fact and it's part of the message they'll deliver to School District No. 57 students during a two-day visit to Prince George next week.
Parhar and Avelar are co-founders of an anti-gang initiative called Her Time. The program aims to keep young women from becoming connected to gangs through the men in their lives. And, if the young women are already linked to gang activity, Her Time offers them assistance with exit strategies.
"Drug trafficking and gangs and organized crime in B.C. is very lucrative," Parhar said via cell phone from Vancouver. "Prince George has always come up in police briefings. There are major issues going on there with gang stuff. And with gangsters come girlfriends – it's inevitable.
"This (presentation) is very relevant (in Prince George)," Parhar added. "We're working, and we're seeing it on the front line constantly. Girls will approach us, and have been for years. Girls are going to be by these guys' sides at all times. These girls are being used as drug mules and they're being used to put their names on rental vehicles (for transportation of drugs and guns), on houses where drugs and guns are stashed, where drugs and guns are dealt. They are being sex-trafficked. That's a big one that gangs and organized crime are getting involved in now because it's continuous profit for them – they can run a girl all day long and have multiple transactions happening with her."
The Her Time presentations will happen June 6-7 at two Prince George high schools and two elementary schools – College Heights Secondary, D.P. Todd Secondary, Southridge Elementary and Heritage Elementary.
These sessions are for staff and students only (Grade 6-7 at the elementary schools). However, a Her Time presentation at College Heights Secondary on June 6 at 6 p.m. will be open to the public.
Parhar and Avelar launched the Her Time program in December 2017. The veteran officers started Her Time after it became clear to them there was a lack of education and resources for females involved in, or vulnerable to, the world of organized crime. To date, the detectives have taken Her Time to more than 40 schools. Later this year, they will be keynote speakers at anti-gang conferences in San Diego, Chicago and New Jersey.
The upcoming appearances in Prince George will be the first for Parhar and Avelar, who do all their Her Time activities outside of their regular jobs. They have the full backing, however, of the Vancouver Police Executive. Parhar said their Chief has been their biggest supporter and understands the value of the program.
Part of what makes Her Time so powerful is the guest speakers Parhar and Avelar have working with them. These speakers – some of whom appear via video clips for their own safety and that of students – have left gang lifestyles behind and share actual experiences with their audiences.
"Two of the girls that are coming to Prince George to speak have both done time (in prison)," Parhar said. "One set up a murder. We have girls that have been heavily involved. Some have kids with these guys and some don't. Some have been to jail for years. Some have had guns in their mouth and have pointed guns."
When presenting to younger audiences, Parhar and Avelar tailor their message accordingly.
"Her Time is both a proactive and reactive program, so we have presentations designed for elementary school," Avelar said. "We've gone as young as Grade 6. We're in talks with different cities in the Lower Mainland to go to Grade 5 next year, which is so sad, but those kids have smartphones, and when you have smartphones you have access to social media, and social media is a big recruiting ground for the dial-a-dope level of gangs. That's where we're seeing a lot of the younger violence kind of start."
Parhar and Avelar received their invitation to Prince George after School District No. 57 administrators Susan Johnston and Nevio Rossi saw them do a Her Time presentation in February at the Annual Gangs and Guns Training Symposium in Burnaby, an event organized by Safer Schools Together.
Johnston, Principal at Southridge, and Rossi, Assistant Superintendent, knew immediately they wanted to have Parhar and Avelar share their expertise with District No. 57 students.
"It was listening to the detectives and the work that they do and how they're trying to help people not get involved with the gangs and what to do if they are involved – an exit strategy," Johnston said. "And also having someone who was directly involved with the gangs and what happened in her life."