Halfway house slaying shocks community

A fatal shooting outside a Vancouver halfway house has neighbours calling for tougher screening measures to keep criminals with gang ties away.
Rajinder Soomel, 35, was gunned down on busy Cambie Street in Vancouver. ((Vancouver police handout))

A fatal shooting outside a Vancouver halfway house has neighbours calling for tougher screening measures to keep criminals with gang ties away.

Rajinder Soomel, 35, of Surrey, B.C., was shot dead outside his halfway house in the Cambie Village area of Vancouver on Sept. 29.

Soomel was released on parole in August after being convicted of plotting to kill a man who implicated his younger brother in the murder of Indo-Canadian Times founder Tara Singh Hayer in 1998.

Upon Soomel's release, the parole board said the threat of his being killed was very real, and his presence compromised the safety of the community because of the possibility of violent retribution.

He was then placed at the Dick Bell-Irving House with no warning to the community.

The halfway house has been in the neighbourhood for 40 years, but that news came as a surprise to many neighbours.

Residents, mayor want tougher screening

Resident Leslie Hurtig told CBC News she had no idea there was a halfway house directly across the street from Edith Cavell Elementary School, which her two sons attend.

"The fact that there's a halfway house housing violent criminals right across the street from our school is very shocking to me and to a lot of the parents here," Hurtig said.

Mary Schiffer said she's surprised someone with gang ties was housed there.

"That was really shocking. I didn't expect that in a real nice neighbourhood. We just moved here," she said.

"I understand that people need to live somewhere, but especially considering the severity of his past transgressions, you'd hope that it was not so close to children and daycares and everything else. You have to find a good location."

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says parolees with known gang ties shouldn't be living so close to a school. ((CBC))

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said people that could be the target of gang retribution shouldn't be living in areas where there are children.

"We are particularly concerned about those with gang ties and possible retribution being at halfway houses and close to schools, in particular," Robertson said.

"We'll be working closely with Corrections Canada to be sure that they're cognizant of this and aware of that proximity factor, and we don't have an event like this again."

Halfway house bans those with gang ties

Corrections Canada spokesperson Brian Lang acknowledged people with gang connections have a higher risk of being targeted at halfway houses, and said it's happened at least once before.

But Lang said halfway houses are still the best way to introduce convicted criminals back into society. It's also required by law.

He said the agency works "with our halfway house partners and particularly with our police agencies, and the National Parole Board, to ensure that offenders can be released into areas in the safest way possible."

The halfway house in this case is run by the B.C. Borstal Association.

"It certainly made us want to go back and look at what our criteria is and take this situation into account," said the association's Larry Hayes.

"So I'm very prepared to say that those with active gang affiliations will no longer be coming to this house."

With files from The Canadian Press