A Saint John woman has started an online petition to protest the release of a serial rapist to a halfway house in the city.

“Once I found out that he was coming here, that’s when the seed to take action and make the petition took hold,” says Joan MacDonald-Bradford.

In 1989, John Arthur O’Brien was convicted of raping eight women in Nova Scotia and sentenced to 37 years in prison.

Parole board documents indicate O’Brien is now in his early 50s. His criminal record dates back to the mid 1970s.

In the late 1980s, he was convicted of a number of offences including five counts of sexual assault with a weapon, two counts of sexual assault, and two counts of using a firearm while committing an offence.

O’Brien was dubbed the ‘motorcycle rapist’ because he was wearing a helmet and riding a motorcycle in many of the attacks, most of which occurred in rural and secluded areas in and around the Halifax area.

He now qualifies for statutory release and was released from prison to the Parrtown Community Correction Centre this week, after having served two-thirds of his 37-year sentence.

But a recent assessment indicated O’Brien’s risk to reoffend and commit another sexual assault is in the high end of the moderate range, which has some community members on edge.

Saint John resident Holly Campbell says she has felt “fear and disgust” since hearing the news, and is one of over 1,500 people who have signed the petition.

“Hopefully it will make the parole board rethink their decision,” she says.

While many people in the city are expressing concerns about their new neighbour, one uptown group says O’Brien’s release to the halfway house may be for the best.

“It would be a much scarier situation to think that people were coming straight from the institution right into the community with no type of assistance or help to meet their needs,” says Susan O’Neill of the John Howard Society, an organization that advocates for prisoners.

She feels a system that allows a prisoner to gradually integrate back into the community works best.

“This way they have all the assistance in the world and they’re able to make many pro-social choices. They have that support.”

But MacDonald-Bradford says she doesn’t feel the public has been given enough information.

“We need to follow this very, very closely,” says the petition organizer.

“We need to know when he starts getting the option to leave the house. Is he going to be escorted? You know, what conditions are going to be applied? How is he going to earn the right to leave the halfway house?”

She plans to take the petition around Saint John to gather more signatures and plans to contact her local MP.

Parole documents indicate O’Brien will need to be closely monitored and supervised. He has also been ordered not to contact any of his victims or their families.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Ashley Dunbar