Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pandering, destructive and ignorant -- Justice minister`s decision drags mental health treatment back to the dark ages!

Re: Security must be tighter for Li, justice minister says (June 4). The provincial government's reaction to the granting of a carefully considered slight increase in the liberty of Vincent Li as articulated by Justice Minister Andrew Swan is an example of the worst kind of political pandering and fear-mongering. It demonstrates a shocking lack of understanding of mental illness.
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. The fact is that recovery from mental illness is possible and fortunately so because 20 per cent of the population may at some point require hospitalization for a mental disorder.
While the pain, suffering and anger of all those affected by this tragic episode is understandable, it is the reaction by this government and not the Criminal Code Review Board decision that is inappropriate. The chair, John Stephaniuk, and the members take their job very seriously and are, in my experience, a diligent, knowledgeable and thoughtful group of men and women. Criticism of the board for acting responsibly is unwarranted and improper political interference in the judicial process.
The attitude towards mental illness by some members of the public and as reflected by Swan's remarks is stigmatizing and hurtful to people and their families living with mental disorders. Stigma and fear create barriers to treatment. They prevent individuals such as Li from seeking early intervention for mental-health issues that may have prevented this tragedy from ever occurring.
By far, most people living with mental illness are not violent, and when they are, it is usually the result of inadequate or no treatment. Rather than investing money in a fence around Selkirk Mental Health Centre, the government would do much more to prevent the uncommon occurrence of violence by mentally ill individuals by joining the efforts of the Mental Health Commission of Canada in reducing stigma and by investing in improving access to mental health treatment.
Canadian Psychiatric Association

Justice Minister Andrew Swan's response was an embarrassing display of ignorance, an insult to the review board and those suffering a mental illness, a slap in the face to those caring for them. It has set the acceptance of mental illness back 100 years.
On medication, Li is no more or less dangerous than any of us, perhaps less so.
I was born, raised and spent the first 20 years of my life living on the grounds of the Selkirk Mental Hospital. As the children of the psychiatrists, we rode our bikes around those grounds and interacted with some of the then 900 patients -- without fear.
There were no fences then, there never has been nor is there any need for one now, in fact less so. Medication is the public safety net.
Fifty years ago, in response to questions regarding our safety, my father mused, "you're safer here than on Portage Avenue" -- that was 50 years ago. Today that may be Kennedy Street.
Swan's comments are nothing more than political pandering. I don't hope to see enlightenment lapping at the steps of the Legislative Building any time soon.

I suffer from depression, which is a mental illness. I have bit my tongue on this issue for two years, but it was time to finally speak out. I have been very disappointed and frustrated with the public opinion towards Vince Li.
Li suffers from a severe case of the mental illness schizophrenia. He is detained in a highly secure mental hospital and receiving treatment for his illness. He is not a criminal. He has a mental illness. But many people want to demonize him and treat him like a criminal.

He has been granted a basic human right to be allowed to go outside and get some fresh air and be on supervised walks. But many want to have him caged up like an animal.
Our society is willing to take away human rights from those that have a mental illness, but are quite willing to have sympathy, and uphold the rights of guilty criminals. Those in jail are granted conjugal visits, TV, weight rooms, allowed to walk outside and all other human rights, due to moaning of bleeding-heart liberals.
Others are allowed to walk around free with or without their ankle bracelet, while laughing about dead cab drivers. While others are allowed double time and a half for being in remand and are out in less than half the time of their sentence because of good behaviour. We are so willing to go after a victim of mental illness, but those that are victimizing our communities are given a second chance.
The death of Tim McLean was horrific, but the acts by those that are criminally responsible are equally or even more horrific because they knew what they were doing. Children beaten, burned, left to die on a cold floor. Young girls shot while playing at home. Gunning down people at a wedding social. The list goes on and on. These criminals are the ones the public needs to be fearful of. These criminals shouldn't be allow to go outside for a very, very long time.

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.

I completely agree with all of these comments. Li is not a criminal. He is a victim of his mental disorder. Under medications, he would not pose a risk to anybody if allowed to have supervised walks. That is a human right. His mental condition has improved greatly over the last two years and he is not the same person mentally, than he used to be. 

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