Neighbours concerned about sex offender’s presence

James Conway is living in the Bradner area of Abbotsford

Posters have been placed along Bradner-area roads

Kim Iverson loves her neighbourhood in the Abbotsford community of Bradner.

It’s a peaceful, rural area where everyone knows each other – there are just five houses on the street – and she often has several kids playing in her yard in addition to her two children, ages four and two.

Iverson feels that peace has been disrupted since convicted sexual offender James Conway recently moved onto the street.

“My house always has tons of kids … It’s quite disturbing (that Conway lives there),” she said.

The Abbotsford Police Department released a public notice on Aug. 1 that Conway, 40, would be moving to the community, although privacy laws prohibited them from saying exactly where.

Conway has a long criminal history, including three sexual offences against children, as well as sexual interference of a person under 16, sexual assault and arson.

He has also breached the conditions of his release at least twice.

In April 2014, he was caught staring at young girls on SkyTrain, looking down their shirts and engaging them in conversation by producing a teddy bear. He was later sentenced to 10 months in jail and three years’ probation.

Police issued a public notice about his release from prison in February of this year, when he settled in the Surrey area.

At that time, BC Corrections said in a press release that he has a pattern of “sexual offending against female children in a predatory and opportunistic manner.”

Conway was back in jail 10 days later, after allegedly breaching his conditions when he sat down on a bus beside a 14-year-old girl, even though other seats were available.

A public notice was issued again in April, when Conway was released from prison and planned to reside in Delta.

Iverson said she and her neighbours found out by word of mouth that Conway is now living on their street in a home with one other person, and they have confirmed it.

She said residents in the area are livid that he has been allowed to reside there.

“Nobody wants somebody like that around their children … It’s not a comfortable feeling knowing he’s there,” she said.

Bradner resident Cherry Groves sent an email to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, Mayor Henry Braun and Police Chief Bob Rich questioning Conway’s residency.

“The area is surrounded by thick bush and trees, all the houses are on acreage and relatively isolated from each other so an intrusion into any of them would probably not be seen or heard by neighbours,” she wrote.

Warning signs about Conway have been posted in the area, and residents are planning to hold a rally on Sunday, Aug. 23, with a goal of having Conway leave their neighbourhood.

BC Corrections spokesperson Amy Lapsley said Conway chose to live in Abbotsford.

“There is no legal authority for the province or any law enforcement agency or public body to tell offenders in which community they can or cannot live … In many cases, offenders choose to return to the area where they were living prior to their time in custody, or to where they have family or supports and resources, such as housing, in place,” she said.

Lapsley said BC Corrections’ probation officers work closely with local police and other agencies to identify support for offenders, including appropriate housing placements.

She said Conway is the subject of “intensive monitoring” by Corrections and Abbotsford Police. He is under 24-hour house arrest, is on electronic monitoring, must not leave his residence at any time without the supervision of an approved adult, and must not be near anyone under the age of 18.

Any breach of those conditions could result in him returning to custody.

Lapsley said the higher the risk that an offender is in a community, “the higher the focus is on their supervision.”

Offenders under federal jurisdiction – those with a jail sentence of two years or longer – often reside in halfway houses upon their release. These facilities often include structured programs and are manned by trained staff, but are not available to those serving a provincial sentence, as Conway is.

Micheal Vonn, policy director with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the organization has concerns about public protests against offenders such as Conway, as much as they support freedom of speech.

She questions what this type of “vigilante harassment” accomplishes. Having the person move on to another neighbourhood doesn’t solve the greater issue of an offender’s re-integration into society, Vonn said.

“Everyone has to live somewhere,” she said, acknowledging that this is a “very unpopular view.”

She said it appears that issues of public safety are being addressed by the “extremely stringent” conditions that Conway is under.

– with files from the Surrey North Delta Leader