By Frank Bucholtz
Public pressure is mounting over the relocation of a convicted child sex offender to Mission.
Residents and Mission council found out that James Conway was moving from Abbotsford to Mission on Sunday, July 31, after BC Corrections issued a press release about the move. Conway, who is developmentally disabled, has a long criminal history and was most recently released from jail in April 2015.
He has been convicted of three sexual offences against children, sexual interference with a person under 16, sexual assault and arson. He has breached the conditions of his release twice, most recently in 2014, when he was looking down the shirts of young girls and engaging them in conversation on public transit.
Last week, residents held rallies at the District of Mission offices on Wednesday, and at Abbotsford-Mission MLA Simon Gibson’s office and at Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Jati Sidhu’s office on Friday. They have found out where Conway is living and are holding regular protests outside the home on Dewdney Trunk Road.
On Monday, about 15 protesters were outside the home, which is located close to the municipal hall and near a convenience store. The area has many newer homes and there are lots of young children living in the neighbourhood.
They were carrying signs saying that Conway should leave Mission, saying “Keep our children safe” and asking drivers on the road to honk their support. Many did.
Angel Elias, who has helped organize efforts to have Conway leave Mission, said Monday that she has been in touch with federal, provincial and local officials, and had already hear back from both the prime minister’s office and the premier’s office. She said she is trying to get in contact with Attorney-General Suzanne Anton and press her to start proceedings to have Conway declared a dangerous offender by the courts.
“This would also protect him,” she said. “He will have a safe life when he is away from society.”
Elias said Conway is incapable of understanding the impact of his actions and should not be living in a neighbourhood where there are children.
“He cannot be rehabilitated,” she said.
As of Monday morning, more than 1,100 people had signed a petition asking that Conway leave Mission.
He said she understood that Mission council was meeting over the issue on Monday. The Record was unable to confirm that, and has left a message with Mayor Randy Hawes. Hawes has been vocal that Mission does not have the resources to properly monitor Conway.
Gibson told The Record Monday afternoon that he has been in touch with Public Safety Minister Mike Morris and Social Development and Social Innovation Minister Michelle Stilwell about the concerns that residents have raised.
“This location (where he is living) would appear to be highly problematic,” he said. “In addition, the property is not zoned for this use and it is contrary to the Official Community Plan. The road is a main artery and that accentuates the problem.”
Gibson was at the scene of the protest Monday and spoke to the Mission RCMP officers who were monitoring the protest. A sign on the road warns drivers of “Obstruction Ahead.”
Gibson said it is “unfortunate” that police resources are being utilized to watch protesters. However, he said police have security concerns for both Conway and his neighbours.
He understands the concerns of residents and spoke to a number of them at the protest outside his office on Friday. (See story online at http://www.missioncityrecord.com/news/389218651.html).
“I am very close to this situation, and the government is well aware of my concerns about this individual.”
Hawes and Elias both also have questions about whether the photo of Conway distributed by BC Corrections is up to date.
Hawes said he believes the photo, which shows a clean-shaven man with short hair, is badly out of date. He said he has been told that Conway, who is 6’4” and weighs 250 pounds, now has a full beard and long hair.
Told Wednesday of the concerns that Hawes and Elias raised, Gibson said that was the first he had heard of it. He promised to look into the situation.