One month after the escape of two inmates from a Metchosin prison, residents remain concerned about communication and safety in the community.
James Busch and Zachary Armitage escaped the low-security William Head Institution around 6:45 p.m. on July 7. The Correctional Service of Canada said staff discovered their absence later that night.
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 after that, West Shore RCMP put out a news release.
The two escapees were recaptured on July 9 in Esquimalt after commenting on an off-duty RCMP officer’s dog while they were out for a walk.
Busch, 42, is serving a sentence for second-degree murder and assault, and has served time for aggravated sexual assault and escaping custody. Armitage, 30, is serving a 13-year, 10-month sentence for robbery, aggravated assault and other offences.
Jodi Donaldson owns and operates A Growing Place Early Childhood Centre on William Head Road, not far from the prison. She said the nearly 12-hour period between the inmates’ escape and the public alert was too long.
“It’s a bit unnerving,” Donaldson said.
She remembered receiving a tsunami warning in the middle of the night in the past, and said she would have happily received a warning about the escape at any hour.
“I’d be more than happy to get that (warning) and make sure my doors and windows are locked, and in the morning let families know,” she said. “If they’re not comfortable with their kids coming — and I would totally understand if they wouldn’t be — then they could make that choice.”
She said she’s also unsettled by the lack of public response from William Head and the corrections department.
“It feels … kind of like it’s left hanging,” she said.
On July 12, three days after the inmates were captured, a Metchosin resident was found dead in his home after reports of him being missing. RCMP confirmed foul play in the death of 60-year-old Martin Payne and said they believe the crime was an isolated incident.
Three days earlier, on July 9, Oak Bay police had found Payne’s red Ford pickup truck parked on Woodburn Avenue.
Kym Hill and her husband, Charles Knighton, are Payne’s neighbours, and held a vigil for him. Other neighbours attended and discussed looking out for each other and installing security cameras on their property.
RCMP have been tight-lipped on the investigation into Payne’s death and have not released any more information since their initial news release on July 15.
Hill said knowing why the escapees were in prison was “chilling.”
She said she would have appreciated a warning at any time of the day or night, and that she and her husband don’t use Facebook. They learned of the escape through local media.
“At the time, it didn’t occur to us [delayed notification] was an issue,” she said. “Of course, in retrospect you can see that there is this problem with that. It doesn’t allow the community to react in an appropriate way.”
Metchosin Mayor John Ranns and Fire Chief Stephanie Dunlop both said the District of Metchosin is working with William Head to ensure communication is improved if a similar event occurs in the future.
Dunlop, who said she was notified of the escape around 2 a.m., was unable to alert the public unless told to do so by the RCMP and corrections staff.
“For all I know, RCMP and Correctional Services of Canada are doing some kind of private search for the guy,” Dunlop said.
Residents can call the Metchosin Fire Department and ask to be placed on a list to receive emergency alerts.
The mayor said he met with the warden at William Head to work out a better way to notify residents of incidents in the future.
“We have a good working relationship with both the RCMP and William Head,” Ranns said. “How you alert residents and when is kind of a complex issue, but it’s something we all agree we’re going to work our way through to find a better way.”
According to federal guidelines, the perimeter of a minimum-security institution will be clearly defined, but isn’t directly controlled. Firearms are not used or even housed in the facility, although leaders may permit the use of firearms during an emergency situation.
In a statement to Black Press Media, the corrections department said anyone entering their jurisdiction to be admitted into any institution must undergo an assessment that includes case-specific information, such as documents from police, courts and family.
“The offender’s security level is based on three factors: how the offender will adjust to the institution, the risk of escape, and public safety,” said regional spokesperson Lucinda Fraser in an email.
As an offender moves through the system to lower security levels and more freedom of movement, the programs and activities are tailored to more closely reflect the conditions they are likely to encounter once released into the community.
Fraser said every escape is taken very seriously and public safety remains paramount, adding staff investigate the circumstances of an escape and make any improvements if possible.
Upon recapture, an offender will undergo a new risk assessment to determine placement in the appropriate security level.
Fraser could not comment on the current location of Busch and Armitage because of privacy laws.
-With files from Kendra Crighton