A Winnipeg law professor has come out in support of the decision handed down Friday to grant Vince Li unsupervised day visits to Winnipeg, but concerns are mounting over whether Li could become the target of those seeking vigilante justice.
Li stabbed, beheaded and ate parts of fellow Greyhound bus passenger Tim McLean's body in Manitoba in 2008. The two men were unknown to each other.
Li, who has schizophrenia, has undergone years of treatment at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre just north of Winnipeg since the Manitoba Review Board found him not criminally responsible for 22-year-old’s death.
And on Friday, based on the assessments of medical professionals working closely with Li, the review board ruled that he will be allowed to visit Winnipeg on unaccompanied day trips.
Psychiatrist Dr. Steven Kremer told the review board at a hearing earlier this week that Li has had no hallucinations in more than a year, he takes his medication and he has had "profound improvement" in his mental status.
The board also said it may consider eventually allowing Li to live in a group home.
"I'm not surprised by it but I am frustrated and angry and sad," Carole de Delley, Tim McLean's mom, said after hearing the news.
"Now he's going to be walking the streets of Winnipeg. I'm horrified by that. I am absolutely horrified that he has that opportunity."
Li’s new privileges only last so long as he remains on his medication and keeps a working cell phone with him.
‘He feels great remorse’: Advocate
Chris Summerville, chief executive officer of the Schizophrenic Society of Canada, and law professor Debra Parkes support the board's ruling.
"Those decisions are made in a very conservative, small-c conservative way," said Parkes. "The review board's foremost consideration is public safety and they do exercise that in a very risk averse kind of way."
Parkes said the board's decision wasn't made lightly.
"If you're seeing a decision like this one, where there is some graduated risk, it's because there is overwhelming evidence that this person is not a risk to public safety at this point."
Summerville, who meets with Li once a month, said he is happy Li has been granted more freedom.
"It's again an assurance to the public that they are not going to release into the community anyone that would be considered high risk, and even if they are not high risk, they are going to be gradual, baby steps," he said.
But Summerville is also concerned for Li's safety. He worries certain members of the public may try to confront or hurt Li.
"We hope that nothing negative will come of this, but when you read the blogs and the tweets ... there are a lot of people who just wish he would disappear from the face of this earth," said Summerville.
"This is not real freedom. I don't consider it freedom because he will be in bondage to public sentiment, public prejudice.
"He will have to be very careful in terms of where he travels, the places that he visits."
Victim's mom, MP critical of ruling
The decision has set off a chorus of conflicting concerns from politicians, mental health-care workers, legal experts, the public and McLean’s mom.
"I think he has a right to life in a locked facility because he took a life," said de Delley. "I don't care whether you're mentally ill or if you're not mentally ill. If you've committed a murder, I think you need to be segregated from society for the rest of your natural life."
She said she doesn't want the death of her son to have been in vain, and that there has been a lack of accountability on behalf of the board and the legal system that has led to Li's release.
"If he reoffends, who is going to be responsible then now?" said de Delley.
"We know who won't be. It won't be Vince Li and it won't be the review board. It won't be the Crown, it won't be the defence attorney and it would be anyone else. So who is going to be held responsible? Certainly not them and certainly not the system that failed all of us and continues to fail all of us."
Shelly Glover, MP for Saint Boniface, slammed the Manitoba Review Board's decision.
"It is unacceptable that dangerous and violent offenders are released into our communities, when they pose a threat to society," Glover said in a statement.
"We made changes to the Not Criminally Responsible Act to ensure that dangerous offenders at risk of re-offending are kept behind bars, where they belong."
Glover closed the statement by saying her heart goes out to Tim McLean's family.
MP's fear-mongering unhelpful: Parkes
But Parkes said Glover's comments incite unnecessary fear.
"The question is how do we want to prevent further tragic events like that from happening," said Parkes.
"We are not going to prevent them if we are promoting misinformation about how the review board operates and about mentally ill people more generally."
Summerville said all Li wants is a chance to rebuild his life.
"He wants to reintegrate in society successfully in terms of an occupation, whether that be being a baker or an automobile mechanic. He just wants to settle back down into life and not be any problem or troublesome to anyone."
ON MOBILE? Read the Manitoba Review Board's decision here.