B.C. city enraged by halfway house inmate crimes

Globe and Mail Update

Vancouver — The streets will be closed off outside a controversial halfway facility in Vernon Tuesday, as hundreds of city residents are expected take their anger over Howard House right to the doorstep.

Mayor Sean Harvey, scheduled to speak at the protest rally, said Monday that the community has tolerated Howard House in its midst long enough.

Three parolees at the halfway house operated by the John Howard Society have been accused of murder in the past eight years in Vernon, a smallish city of 36,000 at the north end of Okanagan Lake.

In the most recent incident, Eric Norman Fish, who walked away from Howard House June 22, was picked up by Vernon police 10 days ago and charged with the first-degree murder of 75-year-old Bill Abramenko during a home invasion.

Mr. Fish had been on parole for an earlier murder of a home invasion victim.

“People feel helpless. They want something done,” said Mr. Harvey.

“They feel like we're dealing with this great big bureaucracy [the national parole board]. Whenever something like this happens, they say they will make changes.

“But nothing ever happens, and people keep dying.”

In addition to the murders, a string of other crimes have been committed by Howard House residents, Mr. Harvey said.

“There was a counterfeit ring flooding the community with fake 50 and 100 dollar bills. It was being run right out of Howard House. We've got a case here of the inmates running the asylum.”

The rally outside the 27-bed halfway house facility, a part of Vernon for more than 30 years, is being organized by local realtor Kelly Carnochan.

“People are worried and scared,” Ms. Carnochan told the media. “We want Howard House closed or relocated out of a residential area.”

An emergency meeting of city council has been called for next Monday to try and have the facility shut.

Brian Lang, head of community corrections facilities for B.C. and the Yukon, said he hopes to meet Wednesday with Mayor Harvey to discuss the escalating controversy.

In the meantime, he said a new president has been chosen by the Howard House board of directors and directors are working on a letter to the public.

“I think they're feeling very stressed right now. Vernon is a small community,” Mr. Lang said.