Vince Li move to independent living considered by review board

The Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board heard that Vince Li is interested in independent living at a hearing Monday afternoon. He has been living in a Winnipeg halfway house for about eight months. The board heard Li is at a low risk to reoffend.

Board decision expected in the next few days

The Manitoba review board is considering new freedoms for Vince Li — including looking at an eventual move to independent living. 2:33

Vince Li, who beheaded a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus in 2008, is being considered for new freedoms, including an eventual move to independent living, by the Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board.

Li was found not criminally responsible for the beheading death of 22-year-old Tim McLean.

The board heard that any future independent living would likely still include supervised administration of medication and contact with health specialists and his treating psychiatrist.

Li's treatment team is recommending a discharge with conditions.

He 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.

Vince Li could potentially move to independent living.

At Monday's hearing, Li wore blue jeans with a black top and had short hair. He did not speak. 

The board heard Li has not had any problems since he began living in the halfway house last year. He has forensic support and weekly contact with the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society. He also attends church weekly as well as a monthly Bible study.

He has taken medication to control psychotic symptoms since 2008, the board heard, and has not had a re-emergence of psychotic symptoms since 2009. He is monitored while taking his medication, and the board heard that he wishes to continue taking it.

The board heard that Li has coping strategies to help him manage the high-profile nature of his case and that he is a low risk to reoffend.

Crown attorney Brian Sharpe described the recommendations from Li's treatment team as appropriate, while noting a need for review board involvement in the future.

"Society is being protected," said Sharpe of Li. "He's done everything asked of him."

A board member said there should be a decision within the next few days.

Tim McLean was stabbed to death and beheaded by Li. (Canadian Press)

McLean's mother, Carol De Delley, refused to comment on today's hearing.

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 illness are likely to reoffend 1/5th as often as those who are convicted and sent to prison.

Traumatized bus passenger

But Li's request for more freedom is controversial.

"He does deserve a right to be out, more free, but yet I also have the fear still in me that there's going to be a relapse," one of the passengers on that Greyhound bus recently told CBC News. CBC is not naming the woman because she has a child in the care of Ontario's child welfare system.

This woman, whom CBC is not identifying, says she is still dealing with the after-effects from the night McLean was killed. (CBC)

The woman is being treated for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and she still has flashbacks.

"I still have a hard time going on crowded buses. I'm always scared that someone is going to start going crazy on the buses."

Last month she gave birth to a girl who was apprehended by social workers two days later. The infant was put into foster care and her mother only sees her three times a week.

"She's my world. I love her. I want her. I need her around me. She's the one that helps me start to be better," she said, adding that Li stole more than McLean's life that night.

She says her daughter is "very much a victim of Vince Li, because I don't get to raise her because of how an anniversary in my head plays."

Although she struggles with mental illness herself, the woman worries about what could happen when Li gets more freedom.

"I'd say to Vince Li, I don't look at you as a monster. I understand you had mental illness that was not diagnosed properly or in time. but please … if you struggle one day, or get too comfortable with your medications, get the proper help."

'I wasn't in my right mind'

Ten years ago, a man whom CBC News is calling Bill stabbed a young woman while in the grip of schizophrenia.

"That whole afternoon or evening is just a blur to me," he said.

"I was sick, I wasn't in my right mind. It wasn't something I wanted to do and it isn't something I'm glad I did. It's something I have a great lot of regret about."

Like Li, Bill was found not criminally responsible.

He spent nine years in a forensic hospital in Brockville, Ont. 

After intensive counselling and following the right course of medication, he was given a second chance. First, he moved to a group home and then a regular apartment, all the while under conditions like a curfew, and regular monitoring.

More than one year ago, Bill got an absolute discharge and is now living on his own in the community.

"I don't think I would do it again, but I'm just taking it one day at a time," he said. "It's been less of a challenge lately. As I get better, as I put myself back together, it gets easier.

Dr. Adekunle Ahmed is a forensic psychiatrist at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group.

Dr. Adekunle Ahmed, a forensic psychiatrist, says Canada has one of the best systems in the world for monitoring people who have been found not criminally responsible. (CBC)

He said it can be hard for some in society to make a distinction between the person and the mental illness.

"There's no doubt there is a risk they may go off their medication. That's why the review board system across the nation, not only in Ontario, is very cautious in terms of when this individual goes into the community," he said.

"All the parties involved err on the side of caution, even the defence counsel errs on the side of caution, because nobody wants whatever happened in the index offence or something similar to the index offence to ever occur again."

Canada has one of the best systems in the world for monitoring people who have been found not criminally responsible, Ahmed said.

"I would say a show of compassion and understanding, rather than stigmatizing this individual would go a long way to protecting others in society, because the more you stigmatize, the more you marginalize. The more you marginalize, the more people feel disenfranchised, and that creates more problems in the long run," he said.

Bill isn't required to report to anyone anymore, but he chooses to see an outreach nurse every other week, and his psychiatrist every three months.

He's determined not to relapse, and he has this message for those concerned he and others like him pose a risk to society.

"Vince Li, I can't say what kind of a risk he is, I don' t know the man, but I think he and I both deserve a second chance."