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Judge, family, communities near prison await answers after escapes, homicide

Almost three months after the escape of two violent offenders from William Head prison in Metchosin, multiple investigations have yet to conclude and the homicide death of an area resident killed the same week remains unsolved.

Almost three months after the escape of two violent offenders from William Head prison in Metchosin, multiple investigations have yet to conclude and the homicide death of an area resident killed the same week remains unsolved.

On Monday, Judge Roger Cutler, at Western Communities court, stopped proceedings to ask for answers from the Correctional Service of Canada as to why a violent offender with five escapes was placed at William Head, which is a minimum-security prison.

Communities around the prison have a right to feel safe, said Langford Mayor Stew Young on Tuesday, “and right now with so many unanswered questions, the public that I’m talking to doesn’t feel safe or trust the process.”

Metchosin Mayor John Ranns was unavailable for comment.

James Lee Busch, 42, and Zachary Armitage, 30, escaped from William Head on the night of July 7. They were recaptured on July 9 in Esquimalt by an off-duty RCMP officer.

The same week the violent offenders escaped, Martin Payne, 60, was found dead in his home on July 12, three days after his vehicle was found in Oak Bay. Payne’s home is about eight kilometres from William Head prison.

Payne’s family wants to know if there’s a connection.

In August, West Shore Staff Sgt. Raj Sandhu said investigators had identified “persons of interest” and “there is no reason to believe the public is at risk.” Investigators, he said, were working at gathering evidence to support charges against those responsible for the homicide. West Shore RCMP Cpl. Chris Dovell said this week he has no updates.

It was revealed in court proceedings that Armitage was assessed by the Correctonal Service of Canada as a fit for a medium-security, but was given an override and sent to minimum-security William Head in April 2018.

“I’m bewildered that he was in this position,” Cutler said. “It begs the question, has the system failed him or has he failed the system?”

He said: “I’m not sure anyone would be surprised that he walked away.”

Young said the judge is asking what the public wants to know: “I think that the judge is on the right path to ask why were they placed there.

“The government never should have put our residents at risk. There needs to be a full public inquiry [and] discussion on how it happened and how often.”

Lawyers will figure out this week how to get the information from the Correctional Service of Canada that the judge is seeking, said defence lawyer Roberto Alberto.

Busch is scheduled to appear in Western Communities court on Thursday.

In July, the Times Colonist asked the Correctional Service of Canada and the union representing prison workers if Busch and Armitage were on so-called overrides.

Both groups cited privacy laws as reasons they could not answer.

In August, prior to the start of the federal election race, Randall Garrison, NDP MP for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, said he had been told that the two escapees should not have been at William Head.

Garrison said he had been told that Busch and Armitage were at William Head because of overcrowding and a steady decline in the use of solitary confinement in higher-security prisons that has resulted in more inmates being transferred to lower-security prisons.

“I think that’s what happened here,” Garrison, a former criminal justice instructor, said in August. “The two people who escaped wouldn’t have normally been at William Head.”

Garrison wrote to federal corrections investigator Ivan Zinger, saying that his constituents have increased concerns about security at William Head.

“The concern being expressed to me is that higher-risk inmates are now routinely being assigned to minimum-security institutions like William Head and that the result is higher levels of disciplinary problems in and escapes from those institutions,” Garrison wrote.

Zinger has replied to Garrison. The MP, seeking re-election, said he can’t speak to the issue until after the Oct. 21 election.

The Correctional Service of Canada won’t say who made the final decision to place Armitage and Busch at William Head or how many inmates are at the Metchosin facility on overrides.

Busch is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole until 2025 for second-degree murder, while Armitage is serving a near-14-year sentence for robbery and an aggravated assault that left his victim a quadriplegic. The victim died years later of complications.