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Vancouver Island mayor wants more local control over prison after escaped inmates charged with murder

FILE -- James Busch, left, and Zachary Armitage were reported missing after a head count on July 7, 2019. (Source: Correctional Service/Handout)

James Busch and Zachary Armitage are accused of killing 60-year-old Martin Payne during their one-day escape

John Ranns, Mayor of the District of Metchosin, has concerns about who is transferred into the minimum-security prison

METCHOSIN (NEWS 1130) — There are concerns about what kind of inmates are being transferred to a federal minimum-security prison on Vancouver Island, after first-degree murder charges were announced against two prisoners who escaped last year.

James Busch and Zachary Armitage are accused of killing 60-year-old Martin Payne during their one-day escape from William Head Institution in July 2019.

John Ranns, the Mayor of the District of Metchosin, says the prison has been part of the community for many years and previous escapes were benign.

But he questions why these two men were ever transferred to the Island institution.

“My problem is the type of people that have been allowed to be in there. It’s a minimum-security prison, it should be designed –it is designed– for people who are nearing the end of their terms and are about to transition out into the population. And it’s been a very good program, very successful,” he explains.

“But the types of people that sometimes get in there, such as in this case, they should never have been there.”

Busch is serving an indeterminate sentence for second-degree murder and assault. Armitage is serving time for robbery, aggravated assault, and other offences.

RELATED: Escapees out of B.C. prison for two days are charged with murder

Ranns says the administration at William Head should have the ultimate say in who gets transferred in.

“The local administration, the warden and the administrative staff there, they live in the community, they understand the community, they understand their program and they know best who fits into the program and who doesn’t. I think that they need to be able to say, ‘No — these inmates are not appropriate for a minimum-security prison in an environment like this.’ They’re the ones that understand it best.”

Banns says they have already asked Ottawa to make a change that would give the receiving prison the ability to veto transfers.

“I don’t trust federal bureaucracy at the best of times and I’m not happy that the change that we did ask for hasn’t been undertaken,” he says.

“Until that happens we’re all going to have to be a little more vigilant.”

Anne Kelly, the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, extended her sympathies to Payne’s family in a statement and says they take this situation seriously, including the fact that the two accused had escaped from their custody before the crime.

Kelly says they launched an investigation looking at how to prevent and respond to escape and measures have been taken to enhance security.

“This is a terrible tragedy and it is important that we garner lessons from the escapes and work to prevent them in the future. We will continue to work diligently to ensure that our policies and practices are evidence-based and are responsive to an evolving environment,” Kelly says in the statement.

I know this is an incredibly difficult time for the citizens of the West Shore and in particular, Metchosin, Kelly says of the hometown where Payne’s body was discovered.

“I know Mr. Payne was a deeply loved member of the community and my heartfelt condolences go out to all of you for your loss.”

The statement says escapes from federal prisons are uncommon and the last break out at William Head was in 2014 and before that in 2004.

With files from The Canadian Press