Carol de Delley isn't surprised Vince Li is one step closer to living on his own in the community, but she is worried.
Li, now known as Will Baker, was found not criminally responsible for the beheading death of de Delley's son, 22-year-old Tim McLean, in 2008.
Li, who had untreated schizophrenia at the time of the killing, spent about seven years in the Selkirk Mental Health Centre, but he has been living under conditions in a halfway house in Winnipeg since last spring.
"It's exactly what I've been trying to make the public aware would happen. These types of individuals are generally released in three to five years. And I believe Vince Li was held a little bit longer because of the notoriety attached to the case," de Delley said.
On Thursday, the Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board released a decision saying Li could move to independent living in the community once his treatment team completes an assessment report and community living plan and recommends that he's ready to do so.
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De Delley said most people don't realize the public will never know when Li is discharged to the community.
"I don't have confidence in this. No, I don't," she said Thursday.
"I do believe with an incurable illness, the likelihood of him descending back into his illness is high. At the end of the day, we do not have a legal mechanism in Canada that requires him to take his medication, treat his illness. If he decides not to, we can't make him, even after what he did. He retains that right to make that decision. I don't think he should."
A fundamental principle of the Canadian justice system is that accused persons must have the capacity to understand that what they did was wrong — otherwise, they can't be found guilty of an offence.
Studies show people who are found not criminally responsible and are treated for their mental illnesses are likely to reoffend one-fifth as often as those who are convicted and sent to prison.
Still, it's a concern — and a misconception — many people have about the mentally ill, said an Ontario man who was found not criminally responsible for his offences.
'Being NCR is very scary. It's an open-ended sentence – you don't just do your time.' - NCR patient in Ontario
The man is telling his story now, hoping to create understanding and dispel some of the stigma of mental illness.
CBC News is not naming him because he's worried the publicity will affect his family and his career.
"The problem is the people that I haven't met. I don't want strangers to see my illness before they see me," the man said in the following email interview.
Q&A with an NCR offender
Q. What/when/where was your index offence?
A. I actually have a few index offences. They all occurred over a short span of time in 1995. I got into an altercation with tavern staff at the end of the night, where I threw a beer and was charged with assault. When the police arrived, I spit at the officer and was charged with assaulting an officer. A few weeks later, I was pulled over by police while on a joyride in a stolen vehicle. I had failure to appear for both incidents.
Q. Where/how long were you in a forensic hospital?
A. My NCR was issued either in late 1995 or early 1996. From then until 2000, I was either living in a group environment or in hospital (Royal Ottawa). I had alcohol and drug issues and an order to abstain. This non-compliance and a reluctance to take my prescribed medication were the reasons for being readmitted. In 2000, I convinced my review board to allow me to move back to my hometown — living on my own in my own apartment. It wasn't long before my alcohol and drug use was detected and in a panic, I took my parents' car and ran away. I drove to Newfoundland. Once discovered, about three or four weeks later, police escorted me back to Ottawa and I was hospitalized.
I was moved from Ottawa and admitted to the long-term facility in Brockville in November or December 2000 against my wishes. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. I got clean. I took my meds and they cleared a fog from my eyes that I hadn't even realized was there. I attended every type of therapy group available. I reconnected with my God. In 2003, I moved into my own apartment in the community. I did volunteer work. I attended church. Eventually I got part-time work. In 2005, I told the review board of my intention to get a college diploma and they gave me an absolute discharge. It surprised me, but they felt I was well. I must have been. I have since earned three college diplomas and currently work as a self-employed web designer.
Q. What was that like for you?
A. Being NCR is very scary. It's an open-ended sentence — you don't just do your time. You get presented to a group of professionals from various walks of life and they decide how you will spend the next year of your life. Basically, you can't leave until they have decided that you are better (or at least managed to a point where you are no longer a danger to others or yourself). When I looked around at the other inpatients in the long-term facility who had been there for, in some cases, decades, I told myself "not me" and began my journey back to health in earnest.
Q. What has been the most challenging thing for you to overcome?
A. Trust. Once I began to trust my doctor and the treatment team, I was able to overcome the obstacles that were keeping me under my warrant. I still remember thinking to myself, "If they'd been trying to kill me, I'd be dead by now." That was the turning point in my treatment.
Q. What are you most proud of in your personal healing journey?
A. Helping a good friend who had been in hospital for almost his entire life realize that it was possible to leave the grounds and live in the community. He has been living in his own apartment for many years now without incident.
Q. A lot of people are afraid of NCR patients in the community and of Vince Li in particular — they worry he will go off his medications, get mentally ill, and become violent. What assurances do you want to give the public?
A. I can't give that assurance. I met a man whose index offence was attempted murder. He was treated and released into the community. He went off of his meds and murdered the person he had tried to kill before. Mr. Li needs to take his meds at all cost — whether in hospital or out.
Q. What safeguards are in place?
A. A group of highly trained professionals make up the client's treatment team. They spend a good deal of time with their client and can tell what has improved and what still needs to be fixed. The members of the review board take that same evidence but don't know the client personally. This combination of professional opinions seems to me to be enough to determine if the public is safe. Nothing happens overnight either. It takes many review boards before any client gets access to the community in any way.
Q. If you could talk to Vince Li, what would you say to him?
A. Stay on your meds and build real bonds with your treatment team. Talk to them. None of us has to take this journey alone.
Q. What would you say to those people concerned about him being out in the community with more freedom?
A. NCR patients must earn the right to each tiny increase in privileges. Access to the community is not guaranteed in any way, regardless of how long the patient has been in hospital. If the treatment team thinks a patient is ready for the community, they ask the review board and it is that board that decides. If proper treatment does not hold the hope in recovery, why would the doctors and hospital staff even try?
Q. You've asked not to be identified because of the stigma attached. How much of an issue is stigma?
A. The stigma 20 years ago was pretty bad, but I feel it has gotten better. My friends all know that I have schizophrenia. Most of them know the I was declared NCR. Almost every one I've met since my absolute discharge in 2005 has had some sort of contact with mental illness and is sympathetic. The problem is the people that I haven't met. I don't want strangers to see my illness before they see me. I don't hide my condition, but I also don't go around broadcasting it.
Q. Is there anything else you'd like to say?
A. I was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia in spring of 1993 (20 years old — fairly typical). I wasn't a danger to myself or others, so the hospital could not legally hold me and I wasn't going to volunteer (probably due to a combination of ignorance about my illness and prejudice towards the mentally ill). My index offenses gave the doctors the legal right to force me into treatment.
I am very grateful that my index offences did not result in any real harm to anyone. I feel that the most dangerous symptom of mental illness is a skewed sense of judgment. Proper treatment helps, but that requires the ability to make the decision to get help. NCR is a means of getting a person the treatment they need to get better without the whole rest of his or her life thrown away into the prison system because of the mistake(s) made during that period of skewed judgment.