As It Happens

"Forgiveness is not relevant": Montreal man whose mentally-ill brother killed their mother

John Stewart says Minister Shelly Glover's opinion that Vince Li, the Manitoba bus beheader, should be denied more freedoms is "cruel and vindictive."
The Stewart family in 1986. Top row, from left: Michael Stewart and Peter Stewart. Bottom, from left: father David Stewart, twins Rebecca and John, mother June Stewart. (Courtesy of Stewart family)

Is someone who kills when they are mentally ill forever a danger to the public? That’s what Shelly Glover told As It Happens last week. The federal cabinet minister from Manitoba said Vince Li, who beheaded a man on a Greyhound bus while suffering from schizophrenia, should not be allowed out alone in public. 

But listener John Stewart disagrees. And so does the review board that oversees Li's case. They've since decided to allow him out on his own in Winnipeg. 

Stewart wrote to As It Happens about his own family’s story. His mother, June, was killed in 2002 by his mentally-ill brother, Michael.

“There is a punitive edge to Minister Glover’s motivations,” Stewart tells As It Happens host Carol Off. “While she claims to be interested in the public good, there is actually nothing contained in the recently-passed Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act that addresses prevention.”

Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages Shelly Glover responds to a question in the House of Commons on Monday, April 28, 2014. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

Stewart says punishment should not be part of the judicial response to those found not criminally responsible for violent crimes because they are not at fault.

“It’s not our opinion . . . that Michael killed anyone,” he says. “Schizophrenia led directly to my mother’s death . . . Michael was in a state of acute psychotic distress. He did not know what he was doing. He was out of his mind.”

A court found Michael not criminally responsible. He has since been receiving treatment and now lives in an apartment with a roommate.

“His mental health is stable and it’s the best it’s been almost ever,” says Stewart. He has no fear that Michael will do anything violent again.

“We have other concerns that are far more pressing,” he says. “We’re worried about his happiness. We’re worried about his future. We’re worried about his own peace of mind, having been involved in this violent act.”

He says that he does not need to forgive his brother.

“Forgiveness is no longer relevant,” Stewart says. “He’s not someone who should be forgiven, just as we don’t forgive cancer patients or other badly-disabled and ill people for the illnesses they contract.”

Stewart notes that Li tried to find help for his mental illness before he killed Tim McLean. Li has since committed to treatment and to taking his medication.

Vince Li, the accused in the Greyhound bus beheading of Tim McLean, appears in a Portage La Prairie court Aug. 5, 2008. He was found not criminally responsible. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

“The bill to my mind, is not motivated at all by public safety,” Stewart says. “I feel that the minister posits a false choice between public safety and the rights of mentally-ill accused. We don’t need to chose between the two. Everyone is interested in public safety.”

He has spoken with the family of the Greyhound bus victim, who opposes any freedoms for Vince Li.

“I share many of their concerns,” he says. “But the idea of locking someone behind a door or behind walls for the rest of their lives when we know that they are legally and morally innocent of a crime and then become healthy and well and peaceful people is morally unconscionable.”

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