One month after the escape of two inmates from a Vancouver Island prison, residents remain concerned about communication and safety in the community.
James Busch and Zachary Armitage escaped the low-security William Head Institution in Metchosin, outside of Victoria, around 6:45 p.m. on July 7.
However, the public was not made aware of it until about 6:20 a.m. the next day, when the Correctional Service of Canada posted an alert on Facebook and the local RCMP put out a news release.
Busch, 42, was behind bars for second-degree murder and assault, and has served time in the past for aggravated sexual assault and escaping custody. Armitage, 30, is serving nearly 14 years for robbery, aggravated assault and other offences.
The inmates were recaptured on July 9 in Esquimalt after commenting on a man’s dog while they were out for a walk. That man turned out to be an off-duty police officer.
Jodi Donaldson owns and operates A Growing Place Early Childhood Centre, 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 said she’s received a tsunami warning in the middle of the night and would have liked to have gotten one 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.”
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.
The same day the inmates were found, police found a red Ford pickup truck belonging to a 60-year-old man who’d been reported missing parked in Oak Bay.
Three days later, on July 12, the man, Martin Payne, was found dead in his home. RCMP confirmed foul play and said they believe the crime was an isolated incident.
Neighbours Kym Hill and her husband, Charles Knighton held a vigil for him. They talked to other neighbours about 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 further information.
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 had 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 said he has met with the warden at William Head.
“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 must be clearly defined, but isn’t directly controlled. Firearms are not used or housed in the facility, although officials may permit the firearms during an emergency.
In a statement to Black Press Media, the corrections department said anyone entering their jurisdiction to be admitted into a 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 activities are tailored to more closely reflect conditions they will likely encounter when released into the community.
Fraser said every escape is taken seriously and public safety remains paramount, adding staff investigate the circumstances of an escape and make 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