Vince Li, man who beheaded passenger on Greyhound bus, given absolute discharge

Vince Li was found not criminally responsible in the killing of Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus in 2008.

Man now known as Will Lee Baker does not pose significant threat to public, review board says

Vince Li is pictured during a court appearance in Portage La Prairie, Man., in August 2008. He has since changed his name to Will Lee Baker. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Vince Li, the man who was found not criminally responsible for beheading a man on a Greyhound bus in 2008, has been granted an absolute discharge. 

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.

Baker was found to have been suffering from untreated schizophrenia when he stabbed, beheaded and partially cannibalized Tim McLean, 22.

McLean's mother, Carol de Delley, a vocal critic of Canada's not criminally responsible laws and who believes Baker should remain in custody for life, posted to Facebook on Friday that she has nothing to say about his discharge.

"I have no comment today. I have no words," de Delley wrote.

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.

Last year, he was permitted to move into independent living, but he had to abide by certain rules, which included taking medications and attending counselling appointments.

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.

The review board said it heard testimony from mental health professionals before concluding that the "weight of evidence" showed Baker is not a risk to the public.

'Some will be fearful'

Chris Summerville, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, worked with Baker for around eight years and said he's confident Baker will manage his illness effectively.

"We've seen — and I've seen — face-to-face, person-to-person, heart-to-heart, his ability to recover, that is, to learn to live beyond the limitations of his mental illness, with a sense of purpose and hope," Summerville said.

Baker has expressed a desire to "stay engaged" with his doctors and mental health organizations, Summerville said.

Summerville said he believes recovery, rehabilitation and redemption are possible for people with schizophrenia.

"I know that it's very difficult and I appreciate the fact that there are millions of Canadians who are listening to this report, even, that will disagree, and some will be fearful," he said.

"I try to do my best, the schizophrenia societies across Canada try to do their best, to educate the public that people can effectively and successfully live with schizophrenia and manage it and be responsible citizens, have a moral conscience, and stay with their treatment plan. I see it every day."

'Concerned about a relapse'

Matt Logan, a former RCMP officer and forensic psychologist, said he thinks Baker's absolute discharge isn't in the public interest. He said he would have preferred to see a conditional discharge that included requirements for Baker's continued surveillance by mental health professionals.

Logan, who has never worked with Baker, said the man may have progressed well in an environment of support and structure, but he worries an absolute discharge could mean Baker won't access those resources anymore.

"I am concerned about a relapse. I'm concerned about a lack of insight in the taking of medications," he said.

"But the public interest looks at this and says, you know, 'Nine years? Nine years, really, for this kind of crime?' And I think we have to weigh that as well."

Logan said society needs to improve the way it bridges criminal justice and mental health. His own professional experience has included both.

"The de-institutionalizing of people with mental illnesses and putting them into the public and leaving them to the criminal justice to monitor — I think we have to have a lot of discussion about this yet."

Absolute discharge 'inevitable,' prof says

Law professor Isabel Grant hasn't worked on the case herself, but based on what she's seen in the media, she said Baker's absolute discharge was the "inevitable outcome" of his case, based on the evidence provided by mental health staff that he was progressing well.

Grant teaches at the University of British Columbia, and specializes in criminal and mental health law.

She took issue with Logan's assertion that the verdict isn't in the public interest.

"I'm a lawyer and I'm going to go back to the law on this, and that is that the public interest isn't what the Criminal Code says," she said.

"The review board is required to apply the standard in the Criminal Code, which says that if the tribunal finds that he is not a significant threat to the public, they have to give him absolute discharge."

Grant said the criminal justice system doesn't apply its usual "punishment-based model" to offenders who are not criminally responsible. Instead, the model is based on treatment with the goal of allowing offenders to eventually function in society.

But she said the system can feel painfully unfair for people affected by violence.

"I think that we have to be respectful of people who disagree with the decision on that basis, but recognize that we've made a decision as a civilized country that we don't punish people who really didn't know what they were doing at the time of the offence, and really didn't know that they were doing something wrong, and that's a very, very small subset of people," she said.

Mobile users: View the document
(Text KB)
CBC is not responsible for 3rd party content