Loss of life a huge price to pay for broken system: Watts

Surrey's mayor is furious that a high-risk offender has been charged with the killing of 17-year-old Serena Vermeersch.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts

Surrey’s mayor is outraged after learning a man previously convicted of violent sexual offences and considered a high risk to re-offend has been charged in the killing of 17-year-old Serena Vermeersch (below).

The body of Vermeersch was found last week in thick brambles by a Newton train track in the 14600-block of 66 Avenue.

Raymond Lee Caissie, 43, was arrested early Saturday afternoon in Vancouver and has been charged with second-degree murder in her death.

After hearing it was Caissie who was charged, Watts was livid.

Serena Vermeersch“It’s senseless that another young life is taken,” Watts said Tuesday.

She said it’s unthinkable that a high-risk offender may have been responsible.

Caissie is a sexual offender who was placed in Surrey last year after serving an entire 22-year jail term.

The B.C. Corrections Branch issued a warning at the time of his release because he was considered a high-risk offender due to his varied pattern of crime and the fact he’s offended violently and sexually in an opportunistic and impulsive manner.

His violent history dates back to 1991.

It was then that he entered Abbotsford’s Trethewey House and encountered a 21-year-old summer student.

He threatened her with a knife, forced her to remove her clothes and sexually assaulted her twice.

He then took her to south Abbotsford and across the U.S. border to a secluded wooded area, where he sexually assaulted her, tied her to a tree and left.

He was later arrested and pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault with a weapon and one each of forcible confinement and robbery. He was sentenced to 22 years in jail.

His conditions upon his release to Surrey in June 2013 included not having contact with his victim, not to possess a knife except for eating and not to have any other weapon or restraint tool, including wire or duct tape. He was also to keep the peace and remain in B.C.

When Caissie was placed in Surrey, Watts expressed outrage he was released when he was still considered dangerous – even after serving 22 years.

“At the end of the day, the safety of the public has to come first and foremost,” Watts said at the time.

She noted that if Caissie served his full prison sentence and was still deemed a high risk, he shouldn’t be released.

“Why has he been released?” Watts asked. “It makes no sense.”

Caissie’s criminal record also includes theft, break and enter and possession of stolen property.

Raymond CaissieIn January of this year, Caissie (at left) was sentenced to three months in jail and three years’ probation for breaching a peace bond. He pleaded guilty to failing to report to a parole officer on Nov. 14, 2013.

In February of this year, Caissie also pleaded guilty to theft under $5,000 in Surrey Provincial Court. The offense involved merchandise at a Surrey Winners store on Oct. 27, 2013. Caissie was sentenced to 21 days in jail and $100 victim surcharge.

He was released from jail in March 2014.

Suzanne Anton, B.C. Minister of Justice and the Attorney General, has publicly said all the systems that are in place were followed in Caissie’s case.

Watts says that just shows the system is broken and the community is left to deal with the carnage.

“The loss of life is a huge price to pay,” Watts said.

For the mother of a teen who was killed two decades ago in South Surrey, Vermeersch’s death makes her wonder if appeals for changes in the years that followed had any impact at all.

“That was always my greatest fear – are they listening?” Marilyn Cameron said Tuesday from her home in Ontario.

“It’s hard to believe that 20 years (later) for us, and here we go again.

“Once again, someone has slipped through the cracks.”

Cameron’s daughter, Pamela, was killed on Oct. 4, 1994 by repeat offender Mitchell James Owen – who had been released from jail the November prior, after serving two concurrent 10-year sentences for rape and robbery.

He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in connection with Pamela’s death and is serving a life sentence.

In 2020, Owen will be able to apply for parole. It’s a moment Cameron hopes will never materialize.

“We’ve got to protect our kids. They can’t let these guys out,” she said.

Peninsula resident and family friend Bonnie Moy – who was instrumental in the development of Realty Watch, a system that fans out alerts to realtors in the community – agreed.

“The cops can’t be everywhere,” said Moy, who is planning to place flowers in Pamela’s memory at South Surrey’s Forever Garden on Oct. 4. “These people, they should be somewhere where they’re not on the street.

“(Vermeersch’s death) just shows you how far we haven’t come.”

(The Forever Garden, with a broken arch symbolizing life cut short, was created in the wake of Pamela’s death, as a tribute to all young people who die before their time.)

Tributes to Vermeersch continue to grow. There are bouquets of flowers next to a telephone pole near where her body was found and dozens of comments posted to her Facebook page follow her own last post, dated Sept. 13 – a photo of herself with the status “I’m lonely.”

The comments describe the teen as “an angel” who will be missed.

“You were a beautiful girl inside and out and going to be greatly missed by your family members and many, many friends. You will live on in our hearts and will never be forgotten,” writes Dennis Thalmann.

“May you RIP and may your family have all the love and strength they need to get through this. So happy they caught him. Another beautiful young lady taken too soon,” writes Naomi McGeachy.

Others were critical.

“The justice system let Serena down,” writes Silvia Wittenberg Sandhu.


At least one other high risk offender calls Surrey home

Surrey has at least one other high-risk sexual offender in its midst.

B.C. Corrections announced in January that Narinder Wasan, 49, (pictured at left) is a considered a high risk to reoffend and is living in Surrey.

He’s described as having a “versatile” pattern of sexual offending, having assaulted females of all ages.

Wasan has a lengthy criminal record dating back to 1986, with offences often involving approaching strangers in public places. His crimes include sex assault, sex assault with a weapon, sexual interference, assault, failure to comply, uttering threats, and breach of trust, as well as driving, property and drug offences.

His most recent sexual offence, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison, took place in a Vancouver park. It was there that he attacked 52-year-old woman and tried to tear her clothing off and pinned her on the ground.

Prior to that, Wasan did jail time in 2005 for assaulting a 10-year-old girl on the grounds of an elementary school in Burnaby. He was high on cocaine at the time and offered two girls $100 to help him find his dog. He then kissed one of them on her neck and cheek. In 2007, he similarly approached young girls at a public swimming pool.

He was also convicted for a 2003 assault in which Wasan massaged the breasts of a 17-year-old in an elevator at a SkyTrain station.

He is described as South Asian, 5’7″, weighing 180 pounds with a bald head and brown eyes.

He is subject to close monitoring and must abide by several court-ordered conditions, including:

• No contact with any female under age 18;

• Must not attend a public park or swimming area where females under age 18 are present or can be expected to be present;

• No possession of knives except to consume food;

• No possession of guns

• No drugs or alcohol and no entry in a liquor store;

• No contact with sex trade workers.

Anyone who witnesses Wasan violating any of the conditions is asked to call Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502.

RCMP would not discuss how many high-risk sex offenders there are in Surrey, or how many for the registered sex offenders are subject to police monitoring.

“High risk sex offenders are subject to regular monitoring, reporting, ongoing threat risk assessments and compliance checks.  This responsibility falls to numerous agencies in our communities, in addition to the police,” RCMP said in an email.

“Whenever information is received, or there is reason to suspect that an individual has breached their conditions, or is at risk to violate their conditions, resources are prioritized and deployed accordingly.”