About 100 people carrying signs that read “Protect our children” and “Protect our neighbourhood” walked along a rural Abbotsford street on Sunday morning in protest of a convicted sex offender living in their neighbourhood.
They stopped in front of the home on Joanita Place – in the community of Bradner – that is occupied by James Conway, and chanted “Conway, go away!” over and over.
“This is your welcome committee!” yelled one man.
About half a dozen Abbotsford Police officers were gathered at the end of the street, in case the situation got out of hand, but the protest remained peaceful.
Twenty minutes into the rally, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun stood before the crowd to answer questions from residents concerned about having a sex offender in their midst.
“I’m not happy about this. I get what you’re concerned about,” Braun said, telling the crowd that he has seven grandchildren of his own.
Braun said municipal governments have no control over where offenders can live, and he didn’t know about the decision until Aug. 1, after it had already been determined that Conway would be living on Joanita Place.
He said the goal of the rally – and others like it – shouldn’t be to have sex offenders moved from one community to another, but for the public to express their concerns that changes need to be made to the overall system.
Police released a public notice on Aug. 1 that Conway (in picture at left), 40, would be moving to Abbotsford, although, due to privacy laws they must follow, they did not specify where.
But neighbours on Joanita Place quickly discovered that the offender was living on their street in a home shared with another offender and a caretaker.
The residents began posting warning signs on the street and throughout the Bradner area.
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. 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.
Rally organizer Kim Iverson, who has two young children, said neighbours are concerned that, although Conway wears an electronic bracelet that sets off an alarm if he leaves the home, it will take police at least 20 minutes to get to the area.
By that time, he could have already committed another crime, she said.
Iverson said she organized the rally in hopes of putting pressure on the judicial system.
She suggested that a supervised home in an industrial area would be more appropriate than in a residential neighbourhood.
“I think if people don’t speak out, they (the decision-makers) won’t do anything.”
Braun said he is having city staff look into whether the home is operating as a “recovery home,” in which case it does not meet the zoning requirements for the area.