Langford mayor receiving calls to shut down William Head prison
VICTORIA -- People living in a quiet Metchosin neighbourhood are still uneasy after a man was allegedly murdered by two prisoners who escaped a nearby minimum-security federal correctional institute 11 months ago.
Chris Vanstrien lives just one block up from where his neighbour Martin Payne, 60, was allegedly murdered. He was at his home when the prisoners escaped and said more should have been done to prevent this from happening.
“It’s hard to talk about because it is really scary,” said Vanstrien. “I even had a feeling it could have been me if that guy wasn’t home.”
Just days after RCMP formally charged James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage with first-degree murder in connection to the death of Payne, new details of problems and concerns are being uncovered about the pair during their stay at William Head Institute and how complaints were ignored.
“I think that there was warning signs before at the prison and they needed to take a better look into those instead of ignoring them,” said Vanstrien.
An online article published on The Capital reports that one of Busch’s housemates described him to a correctional manager as a “ticking time bomb.” It also reports that the housemate allegedly told the manager that Busch had been threatening him, that he feared for his personal safety and that his attempts to live amicably with the fellow inmate had failed.
CTV News Vancouver Island reached out to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and the warden at William Head Institute for comment about these allegations, but have not received a response. Instead, CSC said a total of nine inmates have since been moved out of WHI to medium-security facilities.
District of Metchosin Mayor John Ranns said inmates are evaluated before coming to the institute and that system can be overridden by a warden at a different facility.
“At least one of these individuals was there on an override and should never have been put in that system,” said Ranns. “He wasn’t near the end of his sentence.”
Ranns said the local warden cannot refuse the override and wants the local authority to have more control over which inmates come to the facility.
“That has been my position for a long time before we can have assurances that this system is being done the way it should, the local warden has to be able to say no if it doesn’t fit their program,” said Ranns.
Changes have been made since the inmates escaped, including more headcounts and a new alert system that would be sent out if an inmate is missing from a headcount even if an escape has not yet been confirmed.
Ranns said the system failed them and that the community has had a false sense of security.
“It does show it can happen,” said Ranns. “We are more aware of it now.”
The Mayor of Langford said these changes are not enough and said the facility should now be shut down.
“People are telling me to shut the thing down and go find another place for it, if that is the type of criminal they are going to put in there,” said Stew Young.
“Somebody is making a decision to put maximum security prisoners into minimum security and there are no safeguards for the community to have a say.”
Young said people are still questioning how the escape and murder could happen.
Both Armitage and Busch were transferred from Mission Institute where the warden overrode a security level assessment, according to The Capital. The pair were both violent offenders before they were charged with killing Payne.
“You can escape quite easily from a place like that,” said Ranns.
A single, eight-foot fence stops along the water to keep people out of the William Head Institute facility.
“That is part of the program. You are sitting there, you know you can get out but you stay because you’re accepting the responsibility that you are coming back into the population,” said Ranns.
Many unanswered questions remain, such as if Busch and Armitage knew Payne or if they selected his home at random. RCMP said they cannot comment on details as the investigation is now before the courts.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.