Psychiatrists blast Manitoba for interfering in bus beheader`s treatment
WINNIPEG — A group representing more than 4,000 Canadian psychiatrists has condemned the Manitoba government's decision to prevent infamous killer Vince Li from taking short supervised outdoor strolls, calling it "the worst kind of political pandering and fear mongering."
In a letter to the Winnipeg Free Press, the Canadian Psychiatric Association said provincial Justice Minister Andrew Swan's reaction to a review board's "carefully considered" decision to a "slight increase" in Li's liberty demonstrates "a shocking lack of knowledge and understanding of mental illness."
Li was found not criminally responsible last year for beheading and cannibalizing 22-year-old Tim McLean in front of horrified passengers on a Greyhound bus near Portage la Prairie, Man., in 2008.
A judge ruled Li was suffering from hallucinations and untreated schizophrenia at the time of the attack.
On Thursday, the Criminal Code Review Board ruled Li could receive outdoor passes twice daily from the locked forensic unit at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre as long as he is accompanied by two staff members.
However, Swan immediately vetoed the outings — calling them "contrary to the interests of public safety" — until the centre beefs up security measures.
The psychiatrists' letter of protest was written by association president Dr. Stanley Yaren, who has treated Li and is also director of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's adult forensic psychiatry program.
He stressed in an interview that his comments were made in his capacity as head of the national association.
"Mr. Swan joins those members of the public who would return to the days when the mentally ill were cast out of society to be incarcerated in prisons and asylums, never to see the light of day," Yaren said in his letter.
In an interview Friday, Yaren said he found Swan's reaction "quite outrageous" and surprising, considering that earlier in the week, in response to Opposition critics, the minister expressed reluctance to interfere in the review board process.
Yaren said that Swan's action and comments Thursday also seem to signal a change in government philosophy.
"His predecessor, David Chomiak, was really quite a champion for the mentally ill and also as justice minister. So there seems to be a turnabout in the whole philosophy of the government that's being espoused," he said.
In an e-mail through an intermediary Friday, Swan reiterated his position that public safety must be the paramount concern.
"We respect the Criminal Code Review Board and the need to ensure the ability of those deemed not criminally responsible to recover and potentially begin a process of reintegration into society after an appropriate period of treatment," he said.
"However, it is our view that this order — taken a mere two years since this terrible crime was committed — is contrary to the interests of public safety and seriously undermines public confidence in the Canadian justice system."
Mental-health advocates have been critical of politicians of all political stripes, saying their reaction to the Li decision has been stigmatizing and hurtful to people with mental disorders and their families.
But Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen said Friday it is important not to lose sight of what happened in this case — "that Tim McLean died at the hands of Vince Li in the most horrible way imaginable."
"This happened less than two years ago and today decisions need to be made that take into account the need to balance public safety and compassion for somebody with a mental illness," McFadyen said. "We believe that in the circumstances of this case that public safety should come first."
Well Duh! Someone with mental illness usually does know that what they are experiencing is not normal. Especially when they experience psychotic episodes.
That statement to me shows how much pain Li was in. The struggle he had being fighting. A fight he has had to fight alone, because of the stigma of mental illness.
For people suffering with this it’s like being in a 3-D movie for days or weeks on end. The problem is they can’t get up and leave the theatre.
Cognitive therapy is the preferred method, in my opinion. Once those avenues are exhausted, then medication may be the final option. If that is the case, a support network needs to be available for that individual to ensure that the medication continues.
Most can't get past their own emotions regarding a psychotic episode involving brutal murder and cannibalism. The reaction is mostly fear, bolstered by anger and a sense of helplessness.
Being able to separate emotion from thoughts and choice requires an awareness that you just aren't going to see represented here, on a web-based, anonymous comment section.
The truth is, this man poses little or no threat (on medication) while walking outside for 15 minutes twice a day. There's even less of a threat while accompanied by armed guard.
Andrew Swan continues to show his inexperience, and was prematurely appointed to the Attorney General position. He will continue to show his shortcomings in that position as time goes on.
All in all, an embarrassing situation that fans the flames of fear and confusion in the community. Hence the revealing comments here, ...but still, remarkably predictable.
Or, you or someone you love may develop a psychosis and commit murder and you'll see how it feels to see people calling you or your loved one a monster or an animal and screaming for the death penalty. Don't think it can happen? Think again.