Tory MP asks Manitoba review board to deny Vince Li more freedom
Schizophrenia Society calls MP James Bezan a 'fear-mongering politician'
Conservative MP James Bezan wants the Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board to deny Vince Li's request to live independently in the community — and he's calling on Manitoba Justice to designate him a high-risk NCR person.
Li was found not criminally responsible for beheading 22-year-old Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus in 2008. Li has changed his name to Will Baker, as part of his treatment plan of reintegrating into the community.
On Monday, his treatment team recommended a discharge with conditions, prompting a statement from the Manitoba MP for Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman.
"I am asking the Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board to deny Will Baker's [Vince Li's] request to live independently. Will Baker, regardless of the name that he goes by, still beheaded and cannibalized Tim McLean, and to allow him to live independently is an insult to his victim's family," Bezan wrote in the statement.
"I am very concerned about Tim McLean's family, who has yet to see justice served, and I express my condolences to the family for this callous request. In my opinion, this request poses a great risk to public safety."
Li would continue to live at the Winnipeg group home where he has stayed since last year, under similar conditions — until the board receives another report with recommendations on independent living.
The board said it would release its decision shortly.
"The provincial decision to grant [Li] unescorted trips to Winnipeg, and to let him move into a Winnipeg group home was unacceptable," Bezan said. "The Crown has the ability to place [Li] as a high-risk person, but instead is choosing to give him increased freedoms and the opportunity to potentially reoffend."
MP called 'misinformed'
The statement drew criticism from Chris Summerville, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, and a friend of Li's.
"James Bezan is misinformed, in denial of any [not criminally responsible] person's therapeutic progress as a patient and denies the science of the futility of a 'high risk' designation. As a 'Trump type' he is just a fear-mongering politician," Summerville wrote in an email response to CBC News.
"It is very unfortunate that an elected official is issuing a press release like this," said Debra Parkes, associate dean of research and graduate studies at the faculty of law, University of Manitoba.
"It misrepresents the law and the work of the review board. It also whips up public fear."
A key purpose of reforms to the not criminally responsible system in the early 1990s was to get politics out of these decisions, Parkes said.
Before the Swain decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1991, people found not criminally responsible were automatically detained indefinitely in secure psychiatric custody, regardless of the risk.
However, the Supreme Court ruled that this automatic detention violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"The political nature of the process of review/release from detention was also a big part of the unconstitutionality of the old regime. I am very sorry to see attempts to inject politics into this process that is very much concerned with public safety," Parkes said, adding the verdict of not criminally responsible has a high standard of proof and [is] relatively rare.
"We only punish people for acts that they understand and know and are somehow accountable for," she said. "If we didn't have that kind of a system, we'd be punishing people for being ill."
The not criminally responsible designation also means mentally ill offenders can be appropriately treated and are not released to the community until they've been deemed healthy and not a risk to the public.
Less likely to reoffend
Studies done by the Canadian Psychiatric Association and other groups show people who are found not criminally responsible and are treated for their mental illness are 1/5th as likely to reoffend as those who are convicted and sent to prison.
Many of those found not criminally responsible spend more time in psychiatric hospitals than they would if they were convicted and sent to jail or prison, and they're more closely monitored when they do start living in the community, Parkes said. The approach does more to protect public safety by addressing the root causes of the offence, she said.
"We are never going to reduce risks to zero, either in the prison system or the NCR system, but frankly the NCR does a much better job of focusing on risk, addressing it and only releasing people when they're satisfied," she said.
"If we actually are concerned about public safety and preventing these kinds of tragic incidents, we would focus on better community based mental health treatment such that people actually don't end up this situation where they're untreated and commit these acts in a psychotic break."