Case summary: Escape of two inmates from William Head Institution (Minimum) on July 7, 2019


On Sunday July 7, 2019, at approximately 2320, Correctional Officers discovered that two federally sentenced inmates, Zachary Armitage and James Lee Busch, were missing from their assigned rooms at William Head Institution (WHI), a minimum-security institution located in British Columbia. An emergency search of the institution was initiated at 2321 and the West Shore Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was notified on Monday July 8, 2019 at 0115. Moreover, community contact for notification, the Metchosin Fire Chief, was notified at 0206.

On Tuesday July 9, 2019, at 2030, both inmates were arrested and taken into custody by the RCMP in Esquimalt, British Columbia and charged with escape lawful custody. They were then transferred back into federal custody, reclassified and penitentiary placed in separate medium-security institutions. Subsequently, both inmates were charged in relation to the escape. One has since been convicted and the sentencing for the other remains outstanding.

In response to potential concerns regarding the case history and placement of these two inmates, CSC immediately initiated case reviews of all inmates housed in minimum-security. In addition, a broad policy review was undertaken to examine the responsibilities and procedures related to the security classification and management of minimum-security inmates.

Based on its policy review, CSC identified key policy changes to strengthen the security classification and decision-making process involving minimum-security inmates, including: reassessment requirements following readmission to federal custody, an additional requirement for psychological risk assessments, and elevated approval for security reclassification decision.

On July 29, 2019, CSC also convened a Board of Investigation (BOI) into the escape incident. The BOI was comprised of subject matter experts from CSC as well as a member of the community. The BOI examined a number of areas including, but not limited to, of any pre-incident indicators; precipitating events or contributing risk factors to the incident under investigation; the security classification of the inmates involved; the staff presence at the time of the incident and how staff responded to the escapes.

The incident investigation process plays a key role in ensuring that CSC adheres to the principles of responsibility, accountability and transparency. The BOI has provided CSC the opportunity to respond to findings and recommendations with appropriate corrective measures. The BOI made recommendations, which can be grouped into three main areas:

Security Classification Review Process

The revised policy changes include: strengthening the process for reassessing risk following readmission to federal custody; mandatory psychological risk assessment for specific inmates before they are assigned a minimum security reclassification; and, higher decision making authority at the regional level for the reclassification minimum security of specific inmates. These policy changes are reflected in our Commissioner's Directives, which are available on the Correctional Service of Canada website.

Moreover, WHI has established a standardized process for reviewing offender risk-related information and documenting and sharing subsequent assessments and decisions in a timely manner. The process outlines an accountability framework for conducting, documenting and communicating reviews and decisions whenever risk-related information is received that might impact the assessment of an inmate's manageability in a minimum-security setting.


CSC conducted a full review of its national policy on media relations to ensure our communications activities are timely, transparent and responsive. While this policy is being finalized, CSC has put in place a process to ensure timely public notification following escapes. This includes an emergency communications protocol with individuals on call 24/7 to respond to incidents. As soon as an escape is confirmed, CSC follows a two-tiered approach to get information out quickly, using both social media and by issuing a news release to media.

WHI has also updated its notification procedures for escapes within their Contingency Plan following consultation with community stakeholders. The enhanced notification procedures include more timely and comprehensive notification to police, community partners and media.

Security Operations

WHI has added an additional formal count to its scheduled daily inmate counts and has revised the time at which inmates must return to their housing units at the end of the day. The changes occurred following consultation within the organization and with outside stakeholders.

In conclusion, CSC has completed a full review of the facts surrounding the escape of two inmates from WHI on July 7, 2019.  As a result, CSC has made changes that will improve case management decision-making and better align transfer and security classification policies. These changes highlight a commitment to ensuring that CSC policies and practices are evidence-based and are responsive to an evolving environment. The cornerstone of CSC's mandate is to ensure that offenders are safely managed both in federal institutions and during their eventual release to the community as law-abiding citizens.

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