Vernon, B.C., halfway house to be bulldozed

August 21, 2004 

VANCOUVER (CP) - The halfway house in Vernon, B.C., that housed two men who killed again and another now accused of murder will be closed and demolished Feb. 1, it was announced Friday.

"To take on a national bureaucracy like Corrections Canada and get a win, it's pretty big," said Vernon Mayor Sean Harvey. "Hopefully out of this tragedy, something good can come." The eyes of the nation were on the Okanagan town of 36,000 after convicted murderer Eric Fish was accused of killing retiree Bill Abramenko in an Aug. 4 home invasion after walking away from Howard House on June 22.

That spurred about 300 people to protest outside the facility operated by The John Howard Society on Tuesday, demanding it be closed until the safety of residents from violent offenders is assured.

Harvey said a number of agreements were reached as a result of the uproar following Abramenko's death.

The news came Friday as a joint announcement from Corrections, the city and the society.

Corrections Canada will continue to scale down the number of parolees at the facility until it closes -although an emergency homeless shelter will remain open.

A facilitator will work with the city to restore faith in the corrections system and also take ideas on what residents want in the way of safety measures for a halfway house, Harvey said.

Also, the city will have input on future parolees in the city.

"No longer will high-risk offenders be released in the community with no body knowing," Harvey said. "That's a biggy.

"We'll make sure we control the kinds of parolees coming to our community."

Harvey added the current facility will be demolished and affordable housing built containing a community residential facility of 16 beds, down from the current 27 beds. That is due to open in 2006.

"We got everything we asked for," Harvey said. "The community will have a chance to grieve with the victims of the murders and to heal.

Harvey said the city will now pass the baton to Conservative MP Darrel Stinson to push for changes to the national parole system "so other communities don't suffer the same thing we did."

The charges against Fish follow the 1996 murder of Darlene Turnbull by Raymond Russell, who was renting a room from her after moving out of the halfway house. In 2000, Karen Miller was killed by her common-law husband, Howard House resident Don Falkner.

Both men had previous murder convictions.

Harvey said four deaths have been linked to the halfway house and a fifth is under investigation.

While Corrections officials could not be contacted late Friday, Brian Lang, B.C.-Yukon director of community corrections programs, said earlier the department wanted to maintain a facility in Vernon, one of 23 in B.C.

In a statement issued late Thursday, Corrections said no new offenders will be sent to Howard House and current residents will not be replaced after completing their sentences.

Corrections contracts for up to 27 beds at Howard House but the average population is 19, Corrections official have said.

Howard House also no longer accepts emergency referrals -residents having difficulty adapting to life outside prison who need the added structure of a halfway house.