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Christmas Eve ‘dads stroll’ flushes out suspect in Fort Langley break ins

Langley RCMP warned about keeping distance from suspects
A photo of Matthew Ostrander was released by Langley RCMP in 2015 when he was described as a local “bush man.” He was later sentenced to more than two years in prison for local burglaries. (Langley Advance Times files)

A suspected thief arrested in Fort Langley following spontaneous patrols by local residents has a long criminal history, ranging from minor offences to assaults.

After a recent string of break ins around Fort Langley, a group of local men organized an informal patrol on the night of Dec. 23, and in the early hours of Dec. 24, they spotted a suspected break in. An RCMP officer arrested a suspect, later charged and identifed as Matthew Wayne Ostrander.

“While the Langley RCMP is a strong supporter of community and grateful for the help from citizens being willing to be the eyes and ears in their neighbourhoods, we caution anyone from putting themselves in harms way,” Cpl. Craig van Herk said of the informal patrols.

In a summary of the night’s events provided to the Langley Advance Times by local man David Vandas, the group of local dads said that the event took place after a couple of months of repeated break-ins that had put the community on edge. Security camera footage shared online had allowed locals to determine the same person was responsible for multiple thefts, and to connect him with previous incidents in the area going back years.

One man found the suspect inside his new RV trailer – the trailer was trashed. The local offered to help the man get into housing or a recovery program, but the suspect fled.

After an RCMP officer in the online chat mentioned that police would be out on the night of Dec. 23 looking for the suspect, a couple of men decided to meet up and go for a stroll together. Word spread, and 17 men turned up, later joined by another 10. They spread out in groups of two or three from Glover Road.

“There wasn’t any one person leading,” said Vandas’s summary. “It was organic.”

When three of the men spotted the suspect inside a closed store just off Glover Road, they contacted police and stayed back.

Video taken by one of the men shows the suspect leaving the store and walking around the building, through a field, and into a back alley. The men follow at a distance but don’t approach him.

The suspect was arrested nearby about a minute later as police arrived, and surrendered to officers without a struggle.

The summary of events notes both the fear of thefts and break ins in the area, and that locals are concerned for the suspected perpetrator.

“The experience has brought a further awareness to these Fort Langley dads and the local Fort Langley community of those in our community navigating homelessness and battling with addiction, and discussion has turned to how the community can provide support,” the summary said.

Issues around homelessness and hunger were also on the mind of Fort Langley resident and lawyer Amelia Cline, who noted that Ostrander’s repeated previous arrests do not seem to have helped.

“He is victimizing people, I don’t want to downplay that,” Cline said. Nor was she saying he shouldn’t have been arrested.

But Cline wondered if the kind of community effort that brought together the informal dads patrol couldn’t have been turned to helping people like Ostrander. She noted that much of what was stolen in recent break ins was food.

“[The justice system] isn’t a perfect remedy and it’s not a complete one,” she said. It isn’t designed to address needs like homelessness and food.

The emotions raised by thefts and break ins have led to visceral reactions, Cline noted. After she spoke out in another media outlet about the incident, she received a couple of threatening emails.

Ostrander has a criminal history in Fort Langley going back to 2015, and farther in other parts of B.C. His record is a mixture of petty thefts and mischief charges with more serious offences involving assaults and weapons.

In Ontario in 2011 and 2012, he racked up arrest warrants for possession of a firearm, careless use of a firearm, uttering threats, and various breaches of probation.

At some point between then and 2014 he moved west.

In B.C. he was convicted for breaking and entering, along with some counts of mischief, mostly on Vancouver Island in 2014 and 2015.

On Sept. 1, 2014, Ostrander was arrested after three incidents in Ladysmith, B.C.

The first was a break in and theft on Sept. 1.

On Sept. 4, the victim of the theft recognized a man in public wearing some of the stolen items and attempted to stop him. Police said that that the victim was assaulted and the suspect escaped.

Another home was broke into on Sept. 10, while the owner was still at home. The would-be burglar fled. A police tracking dog led officers to Ostrander. Officers noted at the time that Ostrander was “of no fixed address,” meaning he was functionally homeless.

By 2015, Ostrander was in the Fort Langley area, where police began looking for him after a June 4 break and enter. Officers stated at the time that he was “comfortable moving about in the bush,” and he was believed to be in the area around the Houston Trail.

After he was spotted sleeping in a home under construction, the Emergency Response Team and Lower Mainland Dog Services officers arrested him. Ostrander was found hiding in the crawl space. Items found when he was arrested led police to another break in that hadn’t even been discovered yet by the victims.

Convicted of breaking and entering, being unlawfully in a dwelling, and breaching his probation, Ostrander was sentenced to 28 months in federal prison.

READ MORE: Arrest warrant out for bush man last seen in Fort Langley

READ MORE: Federal prison time for Fort Langley thief

Out of prison in 2017, he was arrested for an attack in Coquitlam and convicted of assault with a weapon. He was sentenced to four more months in prison followed by a year of probation.

Court records show that Ostrander has a history of not turning up in court – bench warrants were issued several times over 2019 charges of mischief and obstructing a police officer in Langley, and Ostrander is now due back in court on those counts on the same day he’ll face his most recent charges of break and enter and theft, which stem from his Christmas Eve arrest.

Ostrander will be back in Surrey Provincial Court on Jan. 10.

- with files from the Ladysmith Chemainus Chronicle

Some of the men who undertook an informal patrol on Dec. 22 and 23 spoke to Matthew Ostrander shortly after RCMP arrested him. Ostrander now faces a breaking and enter charge. (Tom Aubert photo/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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