Tim McLean's family say they feel like their call for justice has fallen on deaf ears.
Dave Melcosky, McLean's great-uncle, said the family is disappointed that Vince Li, the man who was found not criminally responsible for beheading McLean, 22, on a Greyhound bus in 2008, was granted an absolute discharge.
"It's like if you had a little kid with a scraped arm and he kept picking at it. It's picked open again; the sore is exposed again," Melcosky said.
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The Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board ordered the discharge on Friday, saying Li, now known as Will Lee Baker, does not pose a significant safety threat.
McLean's mother, Carol de Delley, was a vocal critic of Canada's not criminally responsible laws. Melcosky said she wasn't surprised to hear about the discharge but was still devastated.
"It's not going to change the fact that Carol's son is never going to come up and yell at the back door, 'Mom I'm home,' or 'I'm here to visit.' That's never going to happen again. So, she's lost that forever."
De Delley posted on Facebook on Friday that she has nothing to say about the discharge.
"I have no words," de Delley wrote.
Baker was found to have been suffering from untreated schizophrenia when he stabbed, beheaded and partially cannibalized McLean.
Baker was found not criminally responsible in 2009 and spent seven years in treatment at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre before being allowed to move to Winnipeg, where he was treated at Health Sciences Centre. In 2016, he moved into independent living, but he still had to abide by certain rules including taking medications and going to counselling.
The board's decision means he will no longer be subject to any conditions or monitoring to ensure he takes his medication.
For Melcosky, it feels like there's no justice for his great-nephew and his family.
"I think the ideal justice would have been, all things considered, that there was more, there was some conditions," he said.
Balance between rights and public safety
According to a 1999 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, a review board must order an absolute discharge if a person doesn't pose a significant threat to public safety.
John Stefaniuk is the chair of the Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board and he sat on the panel that heard Baker's case. While he can't speak to the particular case, Stefaniuk said the threshold for the board is whether a person poses a significant threat to the safety of the public.
"This is a balancing of rights and interests, but the protection of the public is the paramount consideration," he said.
The panel is made up of three people including a psychiatrist and a lawyer with at least 10 years' experience. The board hears evidence from the accused patient's treatment team including psychiatrists, mental health workers, social workers, family members and sometimes the individuals themselves.
"We weigh all the material on their files, medical reports, psychiatric reports, psychologist reports, and all of that goes into making of the decision," he said.
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Stefaniuk said he recognizes there is concern about whether any individual who is granted an absolute discharge will continue to follow the recommendations, such as continuing to take their medication, but rates of recidivism are low.
"Rates of violent acts among review board patients is very low — around [the] five per cent mark — much, much less than the general criminal population," he said.
Baker's doctors have described him as a model patient, said he responded well to medication and understood that he must continue to take it to keep his illness at bay.
Federal Tory leader concerned about release
The federal Opposition's interim leader, Rona Ambrose, criticized the decision in a Facebook post saying, "Justin Trudeau must put the rights of victims before the rights of criminals."
Ambrose says in her post that "now Li is a free man" and that he'll "be living not too far away from Tim McLean's mother."
The national director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Mark Henick, said releasing Baker was the right choice.
"The former Mr. Li … was held not criminally responsible on account of his mental illness. That mental illness has since been treated," he said.
"In the expert opinion of his physicians he is in recovery. So I don't believe there is any risk to the public here."
Henick said he expects Baker will continue treatment and that in Canada there's a belief that people "can and do recover from all kinds of mental illnesses."
That doesn't bring much relief to McLean's family.
"It doesn't change the fact that this is likely one of the most heinous or horrendous crimes by somebody that was declared [not criminally responsible] in Canada," Melcosky said.
"Like we know that [Baker has a mental illness]. Everybody knows that. It's been nine years of us having that pounded at us," he added.
However, he said the family's suffering continues. McLean's mother has post-traumatic stress disorder and the ordeal has also brought financial burdens, he said.
"Carol's got a lot of healing to do. It's affected them emotionally, psychologically, a many number of things, plus financially," he said, adding that de Delley travelled to Winnipeg for hearings and Ottawa for advocacy work.
"The money that they've expended to try and get some type of justice for what has happened, it's cost them."