Langford Mayor Stew Young said he is left with many questions and no answers nearly two months after inmates escaped William Head Institution in Metchosin and a man was found murdered in the community shortly after.
“The questions I’m getting are when’s the next one? Is the risk still there?” Young said. “And I can’t answer them.”
On July 7, James Busch and Zachary Armitage escaped from William Head, a minimum-security institution in Metchosin. They were re-captured two days later in Esquimalt when an off-duty RCMP officer recognized them as they commented on his dog.
Busch is serving an indeterminate sentence for second-degree murder and assault. He has also served sentences for aggravated sexual assault, escape lawful custody and other offences.
Armitage is serving a sentence of 13 years, 10 months for robbery, aggravated assault and other offences.
On July 12, Martin Payne, 60, was found dead in his Metchosin home, less than 10 kilometres away from the prison. Three days earlier, his truck was found in Oak Bay by police. Police have determined foul play in Payne’s death and said the public is no longer at risk. Police said persons of interest have also been indentified.
The inmates escaped William Head around 6:45 p.m. and staff discovered their absence later that night, according to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). However, the public was not made aware of the escape until about 6:20 a.m. the next day, when corrections officials posted an alert on Facebook. A few hours later, West Shore RCMP put out a news release.
Young said residents are concerned about the length of time it took for them to be notified about the escape. They have also told him they are concerned about the offenders that are being placed in a minimum-security prison. He said many have begun to link the inmate’s escape to the murder of Payne, although details about the homicide have not been released.
“I know there’s an active police investigation and they’re going to withhold certain facts but the general public has to have their concerns and anxieties addressed,” Young said.
Young has reached out to the RCMP, Correctional Service of Canada and federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale for answers, but has come up empty so far.
“Regardless of how this investigation turns out I want a statement from the federal government that there will be no more of those types of offenders at that prison,” Young said. “Or at least a guarantee that if there’s another escape, they’re not the types of people that would go out and murder…we don’t want our community to be the risk takers here.”
The community also needs to be assured that monitoring of inmates will be better, Young said, calling for some sort of alarm or the use of newer technology to account for inmates and where they are. If another escape occurs, Young said the public should be notified sooner.
Metchosin Mayor John Ranns said he met with the warden at William Head to work out a better way to notify residents of incidents in the future.
A spokesperson from the CSC said the investigation is still underway and that an investigation team is on site.
As for which offenders are brought to the institution, the spokesperson said the CSC’s approach is founded on the assessment and identification of offender-specific risk and needs. An individual correctional plan establishing things like the level of intervention to meet the offender’s needs and to manage risk is also compiled.
Additionally, a security-level review is conducted to assess the most appropriate level of security for an inmate.
Monitoring of inmates and their activities in a minimum security facility includes staff supervision, routine security patrols and formal counts throughout a 24-hour period.
“The environment of a minimum-security institution is intended to develop an offender’s capacity to operate with minimal monitoring,” the spokesperson said. “This plays a very important role in the process of reintegrating offenders back into the community and helping them become law-abiding citizens.”
Young said community members continue to ask him about the escape and the murder, worried about their safety, and he is frustrated that he cannot answer them. He said it’s on the government to let people know high-risk offenders won’t be placed in a minimum security prison in a “family community.”
“They don’t have to talk about the investigation…but what can they say to make sure the people of that community feel safe?” Young said. “Where is the assurance that this will never happen again and they’ll make sure there’s a good vetting program in place and proper security?”