The District of Metchosin is working with William Head Institution to improve communication to the public in the event of another escape, according to Metchosin Mayor John Ranns. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

Months after inmates escape B.C. prison, community still wants answers

‘We need to get on to the next phase to make sure this doesn’t happen again,’ says Metchosin resident

Kym Hill, a Metchosin resident, was shocked to hear that an inmate who escaped William Head Institution had previous records of escape.

It has been about 12 weeks since Zachary Armitage and James Busch escaped the minimum security prison and were at large for two days before being recaptured.

Around 6:45 p.m. on July 7, Busch and Armitage escaped the prison. Correctional Service Canada said staff discovered their absence later that night. The public wasn’t informed about the escape until the next morning. They were recaptured on July 9 in Esquimalt after commenting on an off-duty RCMP officer’s dog.

Busch, 42, is serving a sentence for second-degree murder and assault and has served time for aggravated assault and escaping custody. Armitage, 30, is serving a 13-year, 10-month sentence for robbery, aggravated assault and other offences.

READ ALSO: Judge ‘bewildered’ that escaped Metchosin inmate was in a minimum security prison

Around the same time, Hill’s neighbour Martin Payne, was found murdered.

Police do not link the escape and the murder, but Hill said, “people’s imaginations are running wild,” as they try to grapple with the back-to-back events in their usually peaceful, rural community.

“It’s been total silence from the RCMP and it’s absolutely no surprise that it is complicating the situation around here with rumours and theories,” Hill said. Hill, who said she has been delegated by several community members to speak on their behalf, said people question what inmates with those kinds of criminal records were doing in a low-security prison in the first place.

On Monday, at what was supposed to be Armitage’s sentencing at the Western Communities Courthouse, the court heard that Armitage had been in prison for majority of his life with six escapes on record. A Correctional Service Canada analysis deemed Armitage fit for a medium security institution but an override was recommended and Armitage was moved to William Head in April 2018.

READ ALSO: Metchosin working with William Head to improve communication after prison break

Instead of sentencing on Monday, the judge requested additional information about the override recommendation that put Armitage in the low-security prison.

Hill said the community is calling for transparency from William Head Institution and the police so that they can have peace of mind and know something is being done to mitigate future incidents.

“Whatever mistakes were made are recognized…the fact that they’re not saying anything is making everyone uneasy,” Hill said. “We need to get on to the next phase to make sure this doesn’t happen again. (William Head) is part of the community, they need to be up front about this.”

As for the murder, Hill said she spoke with West Shore RCMP media relations Const. Nancy Saggar over the phone about residents’ concerns. She said she indicated to Saggar that “many people feel they’ve been left out in the lurch” and that the community needs to be assured that they are safe.

In August, police said they identified persons of interest in the murder investigation and that the public is not at risk.

READ ALSO: RCMP identifies persons of interest in murder of Metchosin man

Saggar confirmed that conversation with Hill and says police “understand the concerns of the citizens” and that they are being heard. Saggar reiterated that the public is not at risk and no charges have been laid as the investigation is ongoing. Saggar was unable to comment further on the investigation.

While Hill said community members do not want to interfere with the integrity of the investigation, not getting answers from police and not seeing charges laid has left people hanging.

“It’s not helpful to have radio silence,” Hill said. “We want to be on the same side as the serve and protect people but…an explanation of the delay would go a long way.”

Black Press Media has reached out to Correctional Service Canada for comment but did not receive a reply by press time.

– With files from Nina Grossman

shalu.mehta@goldstreamgazette.com


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