A man who beheaded a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba will soon be allowed to leave a mental hospital without an escort.
Thursday's ruling by the Criminal Code Review Board means Vince Li will be on his own in public for the first time since he stabbed Tim McLean and then ate parts of his body six years ago.
The board granted Li all the new freedoms his psychiatric team had requested at a hearing earlier this week. Lead psychiatrist Dr. Steven Kremer said Li, a schizophrenic, has stopped experiencing delusions and is a model, non-violent patient.
Instead of the supervised outings Li had been granted previously, he will be allowed unescorted trips from the Selkirk Mental Health Centre into the nearby city of Selkirk. The visits, to begin next Thursday, are to start at 30 minutes and increase to full days.
As well, Li's supervision on outings to other communities —Winnipeg, Lockport and nearby beaches — will be relaxed. He is to be part of a group without a staff member dedicated to monitoring him.
Li is also to be moved to an unlocked ward at the hospital from the secure wing where he has been kept.
Victim's mother 'very disappointed' with decision
For McLean's mother, the changes were an outrage.
"We're not surprised. We're very disappointed, embarrassed, ashamed," Carol DeDelley said.
"I ultimately do not believe that when you take a life, you have the right to freedom any longer."
Li, 46, was found not criminally responsible for stabbing and beheading McLean, a young carnival worker, in July 2008.
The two men were strangers when Li sat next to McLean on a bus ride to Winnipeg from Edmonton. Li's attack was unprovoked — he said he heard voices telling him to kill McLean. The bus stopped and horrified passengers fled as Li carved up McLean's body.
Li was initially kept inside a locked wing of the Selkirk mental hospital for 24 hours a day. Each year the review board has granted him more freedoms.
Crown attorney Susan Helenchilde did not oppose the changes proposed at this year's hearing. She noted that Li has co-operated with hospital staff at all times.
Li's doctors said he willingly takes his medication and understands the importance of doing so.
DeDelley is not convinced. She said there is no way to guarantee that Li will continue to take his drugs if he's unsupervised.
"He poses no threat in care. I propose they keep him in care so he's not a threat."
DeDelley has been running a website, www.timslaw.ca, where she highlights cases across the country in which people found not criminally responsible for crimes reoffend after being released.
"They get to a point where they're feeling well, that they don't require the medication, that it's everybody else that is sick," she said. “A killer is a killer is a killer, even if they are mentally ill.”
Tories push for new legislation
Peter Van Loan, a Tory MP who has pushed for victims’ rights legislation in the past, said he is “very troubled by the decision.”
“It was a particularly brutal crime and to have an unescorted pass is very troubling,” said Loan. “We need to have a measure of balance restored so very dangerous offenders are actually recognized as being high risk so the community can be protected.
Van Loan pointed to legislation the Tories have introduced that would make changes to existing laws surrounding being found not criminally responsible, but the party wants co-operation from the Liberals and the NDP in passing it.
The review board holds annual hearings for people found not criminally responsible to review conditions imposed on them. Li's psychiatric team has said the ultimate goal is to reintegrate him into society.
Responded to treatment 'wonderfully'
Mental health advocates agree that it is unusual for a patient such as Li to get unsupervised leave after only five years in treatment.
Manitoba Schizophrenia Society executive director Chris Summerville said typically patients are in treatment for much longer before having such freedoms, but Li is not typical.
"Yes, it comes as a surprise that it would be so soon," Summerville said. "But he's done so wonderfully well as a patient."
Summerville said it's similar to giving children more privileges as they earn more trust.
"The average length of stay in a forensic unit is somewhere around 10 to 15 years on average, but this is unusual in light of the fact that he has responded to medication and treatment."
Vince Li timeline
Minister of Justice issues statement
Minister Peter Mackay issued a statement late Thursday on the developments in Li's case. You can read his full statement below:
We offer our sincerest condolences to the family of Tim McLean during this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with his mother Carole de Delley and his loved ones. I was fortunate enough to meet with Mrs. de Delley in Winnipeg when I was consulting Canadians about victims’ rights, over this past summer.
Our Government has legislation before the Senate that will ensure public safety is the foremost consideration in considering cases involving persons found Not Criminally Responsible. Canadians expect to be protected by our justice system and our Government has been clear – we are committed to protecting our communities and putting victims first.
Through the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act, our Government has proposed to create a new high-risk designation for NCR accused. This designation would only apply in the limited number of cases where the accused person has been found NCR of a serious personal injury offence and where there is a high likelihood of further violence that would endanger the public.
This legislation will protect Canadians from the most high-risk individuals while enhancing the rights of the victims.
We encourage those Senators who remain opposed to these entirely reasonable reforms to help us get this bill passed as quickly as possible, so we can better protect Canadians and keep all our communities safe.