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Langford mayor seeks answers on prison break, killing

Langford Mayor Stew Young says the public is right to demand answers about any links between a recent escape from William Head minimum-security prison in Metchosin and a homicide in the community.
William Head Inst011168.jpg
William Head Institution

Langford Mayor Stew Young says the public is right to demand answers about any links between a recent escape from William Head minimum-security prison in Metchosin and a homicide in the community.

“I’ve got residents very concerned right now,” said Young. “My goal now is to have the [victim’s] family be told the truth of what happened so they can get some kind of closure on this, to ensure the community is safe, and that we never, ever bring these types of [high-risk] prisoners to that prison again.”

Inmates James Busch, 42, and Zachary Armitage, 30, escaped from William Head in Metchosin on July 7. The two were recaptured on July 9 in Esquimalt by an off-duty RCMP officer.

The same week the men 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.

Young is the latest politician looking for answers about whether high-risk, violent offenders are being prematurely transferred to William Head minimum-security prison, putting the public at risk.

Busch was serving a life sentence with no chance of parole until 2025 for second-degree murder, while Armitage was sentenced in 2011 to 18 years for robbery and aggravated assault that left his victim a quadriplegic. The victim died two years later of complications from his injuries.

A member of Payne’s family said last week they still don’t have answers about his death. Meanwhile, neighbours are questioning why the prisoners were not found to be missing until an 11 p.m. head count, even though they escaped at 6:45 p.m.

West Shore RCMP were not notified until 1:15 a.m. on July 8 and the public wasn’t notified until the Correctional Service of Canada posted information at 6:21 a.m. West Shore followed with posted information at 10:45 a.m.

On Aug. 21, Young wrote to federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to discuss his concerns about high-risk offenders at William Head, adding the community is worried that there is a link between Payne’s murder in Metchosin and Armitage and Busch’s escape.

Young said he realizes the homicide is still under investigation but he’s been approached by citizens who feel unsafe and want more information.

“I am deeply concerned that high-risk offenders are housed at William Head Institution, that the security measures in place are not sufficient to prevent escapes, and that no statement has been issued by the Correctional Services of Canada to mitigate the concerns of neighbouring residents,” wrote Young.

B.C. Premier John Horgan, MLA for neighbouring Langford-Juan de Fuca, was not available for comment on Monday.

The office of B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said it would be inappropriate for the minister to comment on a federal centre.

Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean said she is aware residents are concerned and she is monitoring the situation. “This is a priority concern for all of us,” said Dean.

Young said his residents need assurances from Correctional Service of Canada and the federal government that high-risk offenders will not be housed in minimum-security facilities like William Head Institution, that better security and monitoring will be put in place to prevent escapes or immediately detect them, and that timely alerts of a prison break go out to residents and stakeholders.

The Correctional Service of Canada was at William Head conducting an investigation last week.

Regional spokesman Jean-Paul Lorieau said the Correctional Service is examining its procedures and protocols for notifying police and the community when an escape occurs. “We recognize that improvements can be made and the investigation will guide those.”

Young noted that in 2018, a four-metre-high double fence that wraps around the William Head Institution was replaced with a 1.25-metre fence, on the understanding only minimum-security, pre-release inmates were at the prison.

Last week, Randall Garrison, MP for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, wrote to Canada’s federal corrections investigator, Ivan Zinger, who is probing the escape, asking if a reduction in use of solitary confinement in maximum and medium-security prisons is causing overcrowding, resulting in the premature transfer of higher-risk inmates to minimum-security prisons.