Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive June  6, 2010)

A walk in the park

By Bob Cooper



Few will forget the events aboard a Greyhound bus near Portage La Prairie, Manitoba when Vince Weguang Li stabbed a 22 year old fellow passenger, Tim McLean, to death.   He then cut his victim’s head off and sliced off other body parts.  Some of these he ate while others he put in his pocket presumably to save for later.  While Li was busy doing this the driver managed to get the other passengers off the bus and contain Li aboard the bus until the police arrived and arrested him after a lengthy standoff.  Unlike most things that occur in Manitoba, this event made headlines literally around the world.

Subsequent investigation also revealed the attack was motiveless, the two had never met and the victim merely had the misfortune of travelling on the same bus as Li, all of which might lead the average guy to scratch his chin and wonder if ‘there’s something not quite right with this guy’.  At Li’s murder trial the CBC reported “psychiatric evidence suggested he is a schizophrenic who suffered a major psychotic episode”.  In the words of Basil Fawlty, ‘masters of the bleedin’ obvious’.

The judge agreed and found Li Not Criminally Responsible under the latest Criminal Code amendments dealing with insanity.   Accordingly, Li was remanded to a Manitoba psychiatric facility for an indefinite period where he would be treated and his case reviewed every year by the Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board which functions like a parole board for those found Not Criminally Responsible.

In addition to the horrific details the event should be familiar as it occurred on July 30, 2008.  That’s right, less than two years ago.  Now on the occasion of his first case review Li has apparently made splendid progress and his psychiatrists have recommended that he be allowed outside twice a day for 15 minutes to walk the grounds and get some fresh air as long as he is accompanied by 2 staff members.   The Crown opposed this but the Board sided with Li’s doctors.  So what’s the problem, you say.  Well, it seems they don’t have a fence.   

Public reaction was swift and predictable prompting Manitoba’s Attorney-General, Andrew Swan, to step in and order that Li’s outings be delayed until more stringent security measures are put in place.  This earned the A-G the condemnation of the Canadian Psychiatric Association which was expressed in a letter written by Dr. Stanley Yaren to the Winnipeg Free Press.  In addition to being the president of the association, Dr. Yaren has also treated Li since his confinement.  In his letter, Dr Yaren writes, “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.”

Somehow those words have a familiar ring.  Perhaps Liberal Solicitor-General Jean-Pierre Goyer’s statement in the early 70s that rehabilitation would now trump the protection of society in the new and enlightened philosophy of Corrections Canada.  Or Dr. Yaren’s colleagues who convinced the B.C. Government to close down most of Riverview Hospital and dump literally hundreds of mental patients into the Downtown East Side of Vancouver.  We all remember how well those ventures worked out.

I’m certainly not without sympathy for the mentally ill.  Mental illness has affected the lives of a number of close friends of mine.  I realize that Mr. Li is legally blameless and I don’t disagree.  He is confined at the facility to be treated and not punished and I don’t disagree with that either, but let’s not forget how demonstrably dangerous he is.   I don’t have the medical training of Dr. Yaren but I do know that there is no magic pill that cures schizophrenia.  Those afflicted will suffer with it to some degree for the rest of their lives.  The lucky ones will get their medication tweaked just right and will lead reasonably normal lives while the less fortunate will not.

Dr. Yaren’s confidence in Li’s progress is belied by the words of another psychiatrist, Dr. Steven Kramer who, in supporting Li’s outings, testified that Li doesn’t hallucinate as much as he used to, and advised the Board that they were taking a very cautious approach because “we have no way of knowing how he will respond”. 

‘Nuff said.

Even the Board’s order read, in part, that the outings should only take place on days when Li is ‘calm and stable’.  Just like the passengers on the bus described him while he was stabbing his victim.

While I respect Dr. Yaren for vigorously advocating for his patient, he’s operating in a vacuum oblivious to all of the collateral issues at play not the least of which is proximity and the fact that Tim McLean’s family have barely begun to heal making Li slightly more popular than Gordon Campbell & the HST at the moment.   It’s rather like the Muslim group that wants to build a mosque by the site of the 9-11 attacks in lower Manhattan and was surprised at the negative reaction.  A Houston radio talk show host aptly compared it to the idea of the Japanese opening a Beni Hana at Pearl Harbor in 1950.

Stow the soap box, doc.  All they’re asking for is a fence.

A big high one, please.

Prime Time Crime

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