Sunday, July 3, 2022

Country Harbour residents want convicted sex offender out of area

  • June 8 2022
  • By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH – Just more than a week ago, the community of Country Harbour learned that recently released child sex offender Gerald Paul Ward, who has no known ties to the area, has taken up residence there.

Ward, according to an RCMP news release issued on May 26, has recently been charged with breaching a prohibition order stemming from his convictions in 2021 for sexual offences.

“In June and August 2017, Pictou County District RCMP laid charges against Gerald Paul Ward, 50-years-old, in relation to sexual offences against children,” says the RCMP release. “Ward was remanded into custody and remained in custody until his convictions for Sexual Interference (2 counts) and Making and Distributing Child Pornography (2 counts) in June 2021. As part of the sentencing, Ward was placed on a lifetime prohibition order, which banned him from accessing the internet or other digital network[s]. In April 2022, Ward was released from custody after having completed his sentence.”

Since Country Harbour area residents learned of Ward’s presence, they have been rallying to spread awareness about the offender on social media, through a flyer campaign and word of mouth.

On June 3, a meeting was held at the Country Harbour Gun Club where concerned citizens, Cpl. Marc Michon of the Sherbrooke RCMP detachment, municipal and provincial government officials and victims’ family members gathered to share information and develop strategies in response to residents’ concerns.

Capt. Guillaume Tremblay, public information officer for the RCMP told The Journal in an email that Cpl. Michon agreed to a private meeting with community members to discuss the community’s concerns over one of its residents, to relay information he has already provided to some members of the community, remind individuals to contact the RCMP if they wish to report a crime and answer questions regarding criminal offences brought to his attention.

The email stated, “In general, individuals who are on conditions often do have to report any change of address prior to moving. At times, other conditions could also limit the individual from living near certain areas or to remain a certain distance from a specific place or person. Information regarding a person’s address is covered under the Privacy Act and as a result I cannot comment on someone’s address.”

The email also noted, “RCMP officers routinely ensure that individuals obey their conditions or curfews by attending their residences to physically check the person is present. [And] Correctional Services Canada also monitors individuals who are on probation.”

A Facebook post outlining what happened at the June 3 meeting reported that approximately 100 people attended, a number confirmed by The Journal in a telephone interview with community member Courtney Hayne on June 5.

During the meeting, participants discussed measures they could take to facilitate removing Ward from the area. Those measures include a flyer information campaign, signs with Ward’s picture and information spread throughout the community, refusal of service at local businesses, securing Internet access with Wi-Fi passwords, community watch and education of children.

Hayne, a mother of four, told The Journal that a petition has been circulated, in the community and at the meeting, calling for changes that would prevent a known child sex offender from taking up residence in an area with lots of children; the community estimates there are as many as 80 children in Country Harbour and surrounding area.

Hayne also noted that residents were not made aware of Ward moving to the community by the authorities, which is something they are asking to change in the petition.

“People should know about people like those moving into their community. We should have been warned…somebody that has charges to his extent shouldn’t be put in a small community like this.”

Speaking to the tone of the meeting, Hayne said, “Everyone afterwards felt educated on the situation. Everyone was on the same level, on what to watch for and what our next steps are.”

Those next steps include the installation of security cameras at the local playground, Hayne told The Journal, adding that everyone in the community is well aware of Ward’s presence.

“We know what he drives. We know what he looks like. Everyone is working together to protect the community. And the thing about being in a small community, if anyone feels threatened, or feels worried, they know they can call their neighbour and they’re going to be there.”

Given the heightened feelings involved in this issue, Hayne said the June 3 was peaceful. “I was proud afterwards…I felt overwhelmed by the community support; how calm everyone was… everybody is watching out for everybody’s kids.”