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Why Blame the Halfway House?

Absurd: Letting Eric Fish kill again after taking 'anger management'. Final absurdity: razing his halfway house.

By David Berner 25 Aug 2004 | TheTyee.ca
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Howard House will close. Thus, one of the greatest public deceptions in recent memory.

We all know the gruesome, bloody tale now.

A man named Eric Fish murdered a much older man recently in Vernon, British Columbia. He did so viciously and with clear premeditation. The older fellow had advertised that he had something for sale. Mr. Fish pretended on his first visit to the older man's house that he was, indeed, an interested buyer. In short, he cased the joint. On his second and last visit, he tied up both the old man and his old wife. Then he beat the old man to death, and fled.

This would be horror story enough as it is. But the truth is much worse. Not merely for what Mr. Fish had been doing with his miserable life these many years, but in terms of public policy and public safety, for what the National Parole Board, Corrections Canada, and the RCMP spectacularly failed to do.

What was parole board thinking?

Some 20 years ago, Mr. Fish committed an almost identical crime. Except that in that case, in Ontario, after Mr. Fish tied up his home invasion victim, he ran a butcher knife specifically and surgically, through the man's heart. Not confident that he'd achieved his end, Mr. Fish then tired to strangle, suffocate (a plastic bag over the head), and beat his victim into a more certain and reassuring death.

What follows are many years of the usual Corrections Canada/National Parole Polka. Drugs in and out of federal prisons, escapes, escorted passes, transfers to medium and minimum-security facilities, and, of course, professional help.

The Help comes in a number of ready guises familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in such matters: counselling, faith, psychology and psychiatry. None of it cheap. All of it at taxpayers' expense.

And the most convincing Help of all, the one that causes the Parole Board to make the mistake we will presently reveal, the mistake they make with far too frightening regularity, the most convincing Help of all is that good old reliable Mr. Eric Fish is enrolled in Anger Management classes.

Stone cold pupil

Now, let's just pause and consider that notion for a moment. Anger Management.  Who is eligible for an anger management course? Who might profit? You and I might be good candidates. Perhaps we yell at our spouses or children too often, too convincingly. Perhaps we holler at traffic, while pounding our dashboard into submission. Maybe we lie on the sofa and indulge our revenge fantasies on our bosses during breaks in the ballgame. Maybe.

But let me ask you this. How many of you have run a neighbour through with a butcher knife? How many of you have beat an old man to death with heavy, blunt instruments?

You see, the truth is that Mr. Eric Fish is a Stone Cold Killer.

Mr. Fish has been a psychopath for an awfully long time. He is not capable of seeing your point of view, your interest. He cannot guess your thoughts or feelings. They are of no known use to him. He is not unlike a snake in high grass. Move, spot, snatch, devour. This is Eric Fish.

Why? Because I say so? Well, yes, of course. But also, it turns out, because a number of psychologists said so, said exactly this to the National Parole Board. Instead of taking heed, instead of listening to their own well-compensated experts, the Parole Board warned their psychologists against using such designations. The Psychologists said that Mr. Fish was a stone cold killer and that courses like Anger Management had only helped make him a much better versed psychopath, and that there was no known cure and that Mr. Fish was a serious danger to the community.

Parole granted

Following the Law of Life that "no good turn goes unpunished," the National Parole Board told their own minions to knock it off with all the Doomsday Talk. Mr. Fish could sue you for calling him names. We're not making this up; this is what they did.

So when it came time for a recent parole hearing, one of the three National Parole Board panelists hearing the case of Mr. Eric Fish said, "Well, I think the applicant is a Stone Cold Killer and he hasn't learned a darn thing except how to better manipulate folks like us and he's a frightening danger to the community. Parole denied."

Unfortunately, for you and me and for the old man in Vernon and for Howard House, the other two National Parole Board panelists decided that Mr. Eric Fish wasn't much of a risk after all. Parole granted.

Mr. Fish was sent to Howard House in Vernon, a halfway house run by the John Howard Society. In short order, he walked away, vanished into the ether for about ten days, and resurfaced only when the RCMP arrested him for murder. The RCMP, who had been alerted by Howard House that Fish was on the loose, have yet to explain why they didn't present this information (along with the lunatic's photo and description) to the unsuspecting public. God knows, the old man may have resisted letting Mr. Fish into his home.

Making of a public hoax

You should know that when Howard House was first opened a great many years ago, it was recognized by all and sundry as a wonderful program. The man who opened the facility was known variously as a saint and a genius. Management has changed over the years, people have come and gone, and Howard House has acquired the unenviable record of having several lunatics like Fish wander away and murder again.

The public outcry over this most recent tragedy had been enormous. Loud and angry. As it ought to be.

But the result is a public hoax. The very people who are responsible for this disaster are National Parole and Corrections Canada. Some day the relatives and friends of a victim will sue these bureaucrats. (Such law suits against Corrections services are becoming commonplace in jurisdictions as close as Washington State.) Some day these public servants who refuse to acknowledge the rare but deadly presence of Evil in our midst will be held personally accountable.

House as bad guy

For now, in this case, they have been able to divert the public's attention. They have made Howard House the Bad Guy. Even though Howard House has simply been taking the parolees that National Parole and Corrections Canada have sent it.

In its last great fit of exorcism, the Parole Board has decided not merely to close Howard House; but to raze it, to burn it to the ground.

God forbid, the building might find use as a senior's recreation centre, an adult education facility, a day care, a suite of offices for like-minded social services. No. The House of the Devil will blaze aflame before our eyes and, verily, let us all be cleansed. Amen.

David Berner, a CKNW talk show host, was the Founder and Executive Director of The X-Kalay Foundation, a residential treatment centre for drug addicts, alcoholics and convicts. His program, which operated in B.C. and Manitoba, never suffered anything resembling the tragic incidents described above.  [Tyee]

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