The Province

Old pretrial centre houses stories

‘Head-in-a-bucket’ murderer, ‘techno-bandit’ among former residents

- CHERYL CHAN AND GLENDA LUYMES THE PROVINCE chchan@theprovinc­ gluymes@theprovinc­

If walls could talk, those at 250 Powell St. would tell stories.

Renovation­s to the Vancouver social-housing project are progressin­g quickly, with the first tenants set to move in next year. But while they may be the first to call the building “home,” they won’t be the first housed there.

Previous residents of 250 Powell, the former Vancouver Pretrial Centre, include one of B.C.’s most notorious gangsters, the so-called “headin-a-bucket” murderer, among others.

“Some of our most high-profile suspects went through that facility,” recalled Anne Drennan, ex-media spokeswoma­n for the Vancouver police.

Built in the late 1970s, the provincial remand centre housed men awaiting trial for a gamut of crimes. It was closed in 2002.

The “techno-bandit” Charles McVey is believed to be its longestser­ving inmate, spending 29 months in custody fighting extraditio­n to the U.S. He was accused of selling technology to the Soviet Union and eventually returned there to learn the art of champagne-making.

The jail’s last prisoner was Air India bomb-maker Inderjit Singh Reyat, for whom an entire floor was renovated. Transporti­ng him from the centre to the Vancouver courthouse required an Emergency Response Team and a special motorcade, said Drennan.

The bomb-maker was one of many headline-grabbing inmates to inhabit a cell at Vancouver Pretrial:

Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay spent time in the remand centre awaiting extraditio­n to the U.S. The West Vancouver teens were eventually deported to face charges related to the 1994 murder of Rafay’s parents and sister in Seattle. They are currently serving life sentences.

Gangster Bindy Johal awaited trial for the murder of drug-dealing brothers Ron and Jimmy Dosanjh. Johal was eventually acquitted, along with his former brother-in-law Peter Gill. It was later discovered that Gill was having an affair with juror Gillian Guess during the trial. Johal was murdered before a new trial could begin.

Mihaly Illes also spent time at the jail. Known as the “head-in-a-bucket” murderer, Illes shot a fellow drug dealer, then cut off his head, placed it in a Home Depot bucket and showed it to several people. He was found guilty of murder in 2003.

Former prison chaplain Dick Reeve said, that looking back, Vancouver Pretrial was a special place.

“There was a spirit about Vancouver (Pretrial) ... Even now, people that worked there will identify with each other and say ‘You were in Vancouver (Pretrial), weren’t you?’”

Reeve said the prison’s layout was unique for its time, with individual cells surroundin­g group living units.

“We had hard-core criminal guys and a lot of very broken people, and staff seemed to understand that,” said the chaplain. “We really worked as a team.” The jail was designed by architect Richard Henriquez. His architect son, Gregory Henriquez, who also designed the new Woodward’s Building, first approached the City of Vancouver and B.C. Housing about transformi­ng the vacant jailhouse into social housing in 2008. After years of work, the project is moving forward. The distinctiv­e concrete “pods” that jutted from the side of the building and were actually sleeping quarters have been removed. They will be replaced by windows.

Henriquez said his dad designed the building with the cells on the outside wall as a metaphor for the inmates’ status “in a state of confinemen­t, but not yet convicted, so still a part of society.”

The prison will be transforme­d with 96 units of permanent, affordable and shelter-rate rental housing. The prison yard will be made into a community garden, while the gym will function as a community space and amenities room.

The Downtown Eastside Community Court will continue to operate from its lower floors.

Gregory Henriquez described the rebirth of the building — from prison to social housing — as “beautiful poetry.”

 ?? DAVID CLARK/PNG FILES ?? The Vancouver Pretrial Centre, here in 1997, will be transforme­d with 96 units of permanent, shelter-rate rental housing.
DAVID CLARK/PNG FILES The Vancouver Pretrial Centre, here in 1997, will be transforme­d with 96 units of permanent, shelter-rate rental housing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada