British Columbia

Abbotsford sex offender protests prompt action from city hall

The city of Abbotsford intends to use zoning regulations to move a convicted sex offender from a halfway house as people in the neighbourhood continue to protest in front of the home.

Administrators argue area not zoned for a halfway house

Residents protest outside of a halfway house in Abbotsford in hopes to have convicted sex offender James Conway moved. (CBC)

The city of Abbotsford intends to use zoning regulations to move a convicted sex offender from a halfway house as people in the neighbourhood continue to protest in front of the home.

"Life has changed, we live in a prison over here," said Kim Iverson who lives a few doors down from where convicted sex offender James Conway, 40, has been living for a month.

"We have to lock our windows at night because you can't leave your kid's window at night open in the heat."

The protests have caught the attention of Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun who says the halfway house is in a semi-rural area of the city, which contravenes by-laws.

"There's only so much we can do, and it's usually land use and zoning," he said.

Abbotsford city spokesperson Katherine Treloar said the property isn't zoned for a halfway house.

Residents in an Abbotsford, B.C. neighbourhood are upset James Conway, a 40-year-old sex offender, has moved into their community. (Abbotsford Police)

Treloar said the house is on land that is zoned agricultural, which also permits residential properties but that zoning doesn't permit a business or halfway house, she said.

Last week, the city sent a letter warning that the halfway house is using the property outside its permitted use.

Strict conditions

Conway is under strict conditions that include electronic monitoring and 24-hour house arrest. Alarms would sound if he was to step outside of the residence.

Abbotsford Police continue to patrol the area with both uniformed police and undercover officers.

"So far the only incidents we've had to attend actually relate to other people causing damage to the property or posting signs or occasionally getting into conflict with the caretaker at the property," said Constable Ian MacDonald of the Abbotsford Police Department.

Still Conway's conditions don't appear to be enough for residents who held signs and chanted "Go away Conway, Go away Conway," outside the home.

Abbotsford resident Chad Rusk is worried about children who have to walk past the halfway house where James Conway is staying. (CBC)

" in this neighbourhood and the bus stop is up that way so they have to all walk past this house," said Chad Rusk.

Another resident, Kelly Ernewin, says many people just can't relax knowing Conway is close by.

"We want to feel safe in our neighbourhood, we should be able to go out in our yard and have our children have space and distance and feel free to feel safe."

The crown agency responsible for the residence, Community Living BC, says it will review the letter from the city over the next few weeks to figure out if there are options to comply with zoning.

But mayor Braun does not sound conciliatory.

"If they want to push back, I guess we have to push back a little harder... it could take months," he said.

Many have been vocal in Abbotsford, hoping the city will be able to have Conway moved from a halfway house in a semi-rural area. (CBC)

Conway was released in February but was taken back into custody after allegedly violating the terms of his release by sitting next to a teenage girl on a TransLink bus.

According to B.C. Corrections, Conway has "maintained a versatile pattern of sexual offending against female children in a predatory and opportunistic manner."

Conway has the right to choose where to live as long as it meets the conditions of his release and B.C. Corrections says it is being vigilant.

"BC Corrections continues to do everything in its power to make sure Mr. Conway's neighbours and others living nearby feel safe. Mr. Conway has been and remains under intensive supervision for his numerous conditions," it said in a release.

with files from CBC's Jeff Harrington