British Columbia

Serena Vermeersch homicide prompts 'Take Back Surrey' rally

A citizens rally organized on Facebook to give residents a voice in the wake of Serena Versmeersch's homicide is demanding change and greater attention to community safety.

Citizens rally at Seniors Centre in Newton organized on Facebook

Residents hold signs condemning perceived government inaction on community safety measures. Many say they no longer feel safe in their neighhourhoods. (Chris Corday/CBC)

A citizens rally organized on Facebook to give residents a voice in the wake of Serena Versmeersch's homicide is demanding change and greater attention to community safety.

Residents say sub-standard housing, flophouses and drug dealing are responsible for crime in their neighbourhood.

Surrey residents pack the Seniors Centre in Newton to voice their concerns about community safety in the wake of Serena Versmeersch's homicide. (CBC)

" I no longer feel safe to walk my dog through Hyland Park or most recently to even walk across the small bridge at the end of the street, said Janet Ozanich. "I have to walk past druggies or through bags of garbage that these sorts of characters have left there." 

Ozanich said she wants to see more lighting and removal of shrubbery at risky locations like the bridge walkway at the end of her street.

"Recently I saw movement in the bushes there and slowed my vehicle down to observe," she said. 

Many Surrey residents are upset that high-risk sex sexual offender was released into the community even though authorities knew he would likely re-offend. (Chris Corday/CBC)

"The man came out and told me he wasn't doing anybody any harm, but he was completely stoned and came out holding a small piece of flattened tin which I presume is what they do their crack on."

While Versmeersch's family did not attend, Emcee Bob Campbell read a statement from her mother.

"We are aware that this tragedy has spurred into motion a movement to take back our city and to make the streets safe once more for its residents. It will not bring her back. But it would be heartening to know that another family will not be mourning the loss of a daughter and sister taken too soon. Thank you," said the statement read by Campbell.

The parents of another murdered woman were also at the rally to show their support for change. Maple Batalia was gunned down in the SFU Surrey parking lot three years ago Sunday. Batalia's ex-boyfriend has been charged in her death.

Her mother Sarbjit Batalia  told the rally people do need to demand changes.

"If we sit at home, people forget. Today, they killed my daughter three years ago. Maybe tomorrow, your daughter. RIght? That's why we like to get together and change the law, help each other, so many things we have to change...for all women, even Serena too."

Serena Vermeersch, 17, was reported missing by her mother on the morning of Sept. 16 when she didn't come home after going out the previous night.  

Her body was found the same night in the 14600 block of 66 Avenue near a set of railroad tracks in Surrey's East Newton neighbourhood.

Raymond Lee Caissie, 43, a high-risk sex offender, who was recently released after serving more than 20 years in prison for a violent sexual assault, has been charged with her murder.

Parole documents show authorities knew Caissie was likely to re-offend.

Many residents at the rally said the law needs to change so that high-risk offenders aren't released back into the community or aren't able to expose it to that kind of danger.


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