Mr.Swan`s pandering disreputable
Justice Minister Andrew Swan swiftly declared the decision of a board to allow Vince Li short walks outside a mental health centre contrary to public safety. Mr. Swan said Thursday it is not going to happen until the health centre, with provincial health officials, tightens security on the property.
What precisely will be those conditions -- a razor-wire fence? guard dogs on the perimeter? The minister did not say. Nor did he say why he thought the provincially appointed board had erred in its decision. Mr. Swan has acted disreputably in pandering to the public.
It is an extraordinary intervention when a minister of the Crown imposes his will to interfere with a decision of an arm's-length, quasi-judicial body. It undermines the principle of independence, which assures ordinary people that they will be judged and treated according to law, free from the whim of political fear or favour.
The case of Vince Li was bound to test the mettle of the justice minister in support of that principle. The crime this man admitted to committing was horrific almost beyond imagination. One dark night he stabbed young Tim McLean, a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus ride into the Winnipeg. He then held the body on the bus, mutilating and decapitating it, while the driver, passengers and police were at bay on the roadside.
Mr. Li was found not criminally responsible. In the grips of schizophrenia, he was following the voices that ordered him to kill.
Mr. McLean's family is understandably appalled the man who stole Tim's life is not being locked up forever. Much of the public is with them. But the administration of justice is not counselled by opinion poll. The review board, tasked with reviewing Mr. Li's status, which is dependent upon his mental fitness, had the expert opinion of a psychiatrist and of the health centre staff. It considered the objections of the Crown attorney, who said that the additional supervision the health centre will attach to Mr. Li on his 15-minute strolls -- patients are typically accompanied by one, not two staff members and Mr. Li will have a security guard alongside -- was indication alone the man was not ready for a small slice of freedom.
Mr. Swan swept aside the professional advice. He insists he must protect the public, but -- like Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen -- offers no evidence that Mr. Li's short strolls are a menace to anyone. He says the Criminal Code, which guides the review board, does not recognize public safety as paramount. Yet Section 672.54 compels the board to consider a number of factors in assessing an individual's status and top of the list is the "need to protect the public from dangerous persons."
Vince Li's psychiatrist made the case that this man, in his recovery, now needs to feel a bit of sunshine and to test his ability to walk outside locked doors. It is a step -- both small and large -- to Mr. Li's return to full and managed health and to society.
Mr. Swan sacrifices Mr. Li's progress and would perhaps fence in all patients at the Selkirk centre to bow to the clamour of the fearful and vengeful. Public office occasionally demands that leaders stand up and do the right thing. Rather than supporting the review board, Mr. Swan sought the refuge of a cynical easy out, pulling tighter the strings that hold the public captive to their ignorance and fear.