Parolee population here ‘no surprise,’ says mayor

Chilliwack officials are not surprised by the number of parolees reported living in this community after their release from federal prisons.

Chilliwack officials are not surprised by the number of parolees reported living in this community after their release from federal prisons.

But Mayor Sharon Gaetz said she doesn’t believe they add a significant risk to safety because they are under police scrutiny as soon as they are released.

“Our RCMP are aware of who they are and when they are released,” she said.

Many remain in the area because their families have moved here while they are serving sentences at federal prisons in nearby Agassiz and Mission, she said.

The families often don’t want to re-locate because of the disruption it would cause to childrens’ lives, and to other ties made over the years with the community, she said.

Chilliwack had the seventh-largest parolee population per capita in Canada, and the third-largest in B.C., according to a media report based on documents obtained through a freedom of information request.

Chilliwack had 65 parolees in a population of just over 69,000 while Victoria had the largest with 146 parolees in a population of just over 78,000.

Abbotsford had 53 parolees, but placed much lower – 26th – on the list because of its larger population of nearly 124,000. Mission placed 17th with 19 parolees in a population of just over 34,500.

A federal halfway house, where parolees are sent for supervised release before their full sentence is served, is located in Chilliwack. Federal corrections operates maximum- and medium-security prisons in nearby Agassiz and Mission.

The parolee population in Chilliwack has had no significant impact on police services, RCMP Cpl. Lea-Anne Dunlop said.

“We haven’t seen it cause any major issues,” she said. “We know who’s living in our community, and we’re routinely monitoring them.”

The RCMP also identifies prolific offenders living in the community, whether they come from federal or provincial corrections. They are monitored by Chilliwack RCMP as part of a crime reduction strategy that is apparently succeeding, according to recent decreases seen in the numbers of reported break-ins and auto thefts.

Gaetz also pointed out the aim of the halfway house is to make communities more safe, not less so, by preparing parolees for their eventual return to society.

The Chilliwack halfway house came under scrutiny recently after members of a “watchdog” committee resigned en masse, in part, over its ability to screen dangerous parolees. Police also issued public notices when two parolees broke curfews and did not return to the Rowat Avenue facility.

The watchdog committee eventually reached an agreement with federal corrections, and one of the missing parolees was found dead last November in a remote, wooded area of Chilliwack.

Gaetz said that since the committee’s return, federal corrections officials have assured her the city will be informed immediately, if there are security risks with any parolees sent here.

“We have not had any incidents we have to worry about,” she said.

rfreeman@theprogress.com