By Frank Bucholtz
UPDATE: WJS Canada – the organization which provides housing and supervision to some Community Living BC clients, including convicted sex offender James Conway in Mission – has put two individuals on administrative leave, pending a conflict of interest investigation.
A statement provided by WJS Canada CEO Peter Farnden reads
“WJS is currently conducting an internal investigation into the matter to determine if there has been a breach of our policies and a potential conflict of interest,” a statement from WJS Canada CEO Peter Farnden. “The individuals involved have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.”
“We intend to fully cooperate with Community Living BC in their investigation. Should they request an audit we will be completely transparent in providing information requested. We are confident that this is an isolated incident and any investigation into our business practices will confirm this,” Farnden stated, in an email.
“WSJ is committed to finding safe, appropriate housing for our clients to help them reintegrate into society. In the case of Mr. Conway we carefully took into account all the judge’s conditions for release and have done our best to address community concerns while giving our client a chance at a life outside the criminal justice system.”
CLBC spokesperson Randy Schmidt released a statement in response to WJS’s release.
“CLBC is now undertaking a review with WJS Canada over questions about ownership of a home where a CLBC-funded individual resides in Mission,” he stated, in an email. “CLBC was unaware of employee ownership, or any related relationships within WJS. CLBC is concerned about these claims. We are investigating these issues with WJS Canada to confirm the facts, to review its conflict of interest guidelines, and to review procedures that were followed in approving the home. This review will take some time to complete.”
Questions were raised about just why convicted child sex offender came to Mission.
After a meeting Tuesday with a representative of BC Corrections, Mayor Randy Hawes and community representatives learned that the agency had a list of more than 40 potential locations in the Fraser Valley that Conway could move to. He had been living in Abbotsford, but the city had initiated court action to force the home he was in to close, as the property was not zoned for care purposes.
However, BC Corrections reduced the list of potential locations to 14 and the final decision was apparently left made by WJS, according to Schmidt. Conway ended up in a home in Dewdney Trunk Road that is owned by an employee of the contractor, WJS Canada, which provides housing and supervision to some Community Living BC clients.
Angel Elias, a member of the citizens group which is trying to get Conway out of the Mission home, said Corrections BC would not tell those at the meeting the criteria used to select the Mission home, and would not release any information about how the decision was made.
“We were beating a dead horse,” she said.
Conway wears an ankle bracelet and CLBC is responsible for ensuring there is a support worker on the premises at all times. Conway is not allowed to leave unless he is with a support worker.
CLBC and WJS Canada, who had been expected at the meeting Tuesday, did not attend. Elias said they were told the organizations would not meet with protesters.
MLAs Simon Gibson and Marc Dalton were present, as was Hawes on behalf of the District of Mission. Hawes has said the district hopes to use its zoning bylaws to try and get Conway out of the community, as the district says the property is not zoned for care homes or halfway houses. Protesters have been rallying outside the home daily.
Hawes said he believes the use of the home violates zoning bylaws. In Abbotsford, the city took a similar approach, going to court to have zoning bylaws enforced. He moved to Mission at the beginning of August, before B.C Supreme Court had ruled on Abbotsford’s court filing.
Elias said she can’t understand how CLBC would choose a home for Conway that was not zoned for such purposes and is adjacent to a school bus stop.
“They can find money to fund (this location) by subcontracting to a third party and paying for the house, fencing, security and a surveillance camera,” Elias said. “it is disappointing and frustrating.”
Elias said the community members will keep working with the district and local MLAs to get action. She said she wants to see Conway kept in a facility “that will properly house him and make sure it is safe for all.”
She said he should not be living in a residential area where there are children nearby.
Her group has set up a Facebook page “Protect the Children of Mission BC” and has an online petition at that site. The petition, which has grown to 1,201 names, was presented to Mission council Monday night.
The Facebook page also has an up-to-date photo of Conway, who now has long hair and a beard. The photo issued by BC Corrections when it announced Conway was coming to Mission showed a clean-shaven man with short hair.
A previous version of this story stated CLBC made the final decision on where Conway would be housed. According to CLBC spokesperson Randy Schmidt, that decision was in fact made by WJS. The story has been changed.