Prime Time Crime


(Prime Time Crime exclusive Aug.  6, 2008)

This Tragedy is Not a Horror Show


 By Sandra Martins-Toner

The tragedy that unfolded on a Greyhound bus July 30, 2008 was not a horror movie, but the last moments of an innocent young mans life.  22 year old Tim McLean was sitting quietly at the back of the bus when the violent assault on him by a fellow passenger took his life.  Just the thought of the details we have heard about the vicious attack is enough to make one sick.  I can not even begin to imagine the emotional trauma left with the passengers who witnessed this savage attack.  Like a terrible nightmare most of us could not even watch unfold on the big screen.

Within hours of the tragic event memorials popped up all over the internet revealing the identity of the young man.  F.A.C.T. left a message on the Facebook memorial when it had a mere 168 members, and within hours the numbers rose into the thousands.  People from across the globe sending their thoughts and prayers to the friends and family left to deal with the aftermath.  Now the site boasts well over 124,000 members from all over the world.

Now we watch as the attention shifts from the victim to the accused killer. We are all asking ourselves what he could have been thinking, or not thinking to have done something so horrific.  How could someone seemingly normal to everyone around him play out this scene?  What kind of a man becomes so mentally unwound, with no warning signs, then killing a young man in a manner so savage?  Could he be a serial killer coming out of the closet?  How could this possibly be his first violent act?

We have heard very little about Vince Li thus far.  Li was a newspaper carrier for the Edmonton Sun and Journal, and an employee of a McDonalds.  It seems his marriage was on the verge of break-up, but nothing noteworthy.  Certainly nothing that warned of what was to come.

Focus has been on the grisly details…Somewhere outside Portage-la-prairie Tim McLean was sitting in his seat on the bus, apparently listening to music on his headphones and text messaging a friend, when Li produced a large knife an stood up.  What happened next is the stuff seen in horror movies.   Li stabbed young McLean between 40-60 times, all the while remaining expressionless and methodical, according to eyewitness reports. The driver stopped the bus and got other passengers off to a safe distance, at which point Li came to the front of the bus with McLean’s’ severed head in his hands, to display to the crowd.  Other passengers and the driver blocked off the door to prevent his escape and called police, who arrived and apprehended Li without much struggle.

Perhaps just as disturbing as the crime is the thought that Li might get away with it…

What’s that, you say?  How could that be?  Something in law called NCR; “Not Criminally Responsible.” Here is how the legal trail goes……When Li was first taken into custody police originally charged him with first degree murder.  It was reasonable to assume he got onto the bus with a large knife in his possession for the purpose of committing an act of murder.  The formation of intent and a plan constitutes first degree murder.

Shortly thereafter, police downgrade the charge to second degree.  Guess they thought he didn’t have a clear plan, just a general urge to stab something.  Intent can be difficult to prove in our justice system.  Unless the accused comes right out and admits he planned it, the onus is on the Crown to convince a jury.  Next we hear that Li is to undergo a psychiatric assessment, and finally Crown council is muttering those dreaded words – Not Criminally Responsible.  What this means is the person is found to be not capable of standing trial, due to their mental state.  In layman’s terms; they aren’t guilty because they can’t understand the difference between right and wrong.  This is sometimes referred to as temporary insanity.

Seems convenient right? This is not the first time we’ve seen this farce play out.

On February 5, 2004, a BC resident, Raymond Irwin tortured his adoptive mother, Mary Richards, for hours before dragging her into the shower stall and strangling her to death with the shower hose.  His reasons for killing his mother - he believed she was a Chinese assassin trying to kill him as part of a CIA plot.  The Court immediately labelled him NCR, and remanded him to a mental facility.  The experts believed Irwin was suffering from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, although he had not been diagnosed with any mental illness before the murder.  Several months after the crime, he regained his “mental capacity” enough to launch a law suit for his share of his dead mother’s estate.  The family has done everything they can to expose Raymond, but there is nothing under current law to protect his mothers estate from him, regardless of the fact that he murdered her.  Mary’s children believe Irwin should not be allowed to profit from his crime, but they no longer have a say in this, as the courts have ordered them to pay Raymond out for his share of the $1 million dollar estate.  Raymond now walks our streets on unescorted day passes, soon to be a wealthy man.

We can only hope that in the Li case, he won’t be able to hide behind the NCR designation to escape culpability for his horrific crime.  Witnesses on the bus report that just prior to the attack Li was quiet, but not behaving strangely, and stood with other passengers having a smoke at a rest stop.  Doesn’t sound like the typical deranged madman, does it?  Then again I have heard that many Serial Killers have been described as soft spoken and polite.

If the NCR defence is offered and accepted in this horrific case, then that should send all thinking citizens a clear message; responsibility, and therefore culpability for your crimes, is on its way out.   We have become a society that values rehabilitation above punishment and the courts continue to coddle the criminals.  Perhaps it’s time to hire babysitters rather than prison guards!

Sandra Martins-Toner is the founder and executive Director of F.A.C.T. and can be contacted at


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