OTTAWA -- Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson is reviewing the Criminal Code with an eye to putting public safety ahead of individual rights in cases involving people found not criminally responsible for their actions.
Although Nicholson did not specifically mention Vince Li, the review comes just two days after Li's psychiatrist asked a review board to let the man leave the Selkirk Mental Health Centre for 30-minute supervised excursions.
Li, 44, made international headlines for beheading another man on a Greyhound bus near Portage la Prairie in July 2008.
He was found not criminally responsible for killing 22-year-old Tim McLean, who was asleep on the bus when Li stabbed and beheaded him.
Li was having hallucinations due to untreated schizophrenia at the time of the attack.
Nicholson said Canadians have expressed concerns about the risks posed by people found not criminally responsible for their illegal acts.
"They are worried that those who have committed very serious and violent acts and who represent a threat to the community may be released onto our streets," Nicholson wrote in a statement.
He said he has instructed his officials to examine the law to identify any necessary changes to support the view that public safety must come first.
He said he is working with provincial governments "to ensure that the protection of society is the paramount consideration for review panels looking at these cases."
McLean's mother, Carol de Delley, said Monday letting Li go puts the public at risk. She has long pressed for a law that would keep mentally ill killers such as Li behind bars indefinitely, regardless of any improvement in their illness.
Chris Summerville, chief executive officer of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, urged the government not to set public policy based on the highly emotional circumstances of one case.
"It was such a grotesque, horrific, ghastly event," Summerville said. "I don't expect to witness that again in my lifetime. To make public policy on one event that is driven by a lot of emotion is not good policy."
Summerville said public safety is crucial, but so are individual rights, and the two must be balanced. People who are a high risk to reoffend are not released, but low-risk individuals must be, he said.
Li's psychiatrist, Dr. Steven Kremer, told the review board, which looks annually at Li's case, his patient is on medication and experiencing no symptoms or hallucinations. Assessments of his condition conclude he has only a 0.8 per cent chance of reoffending in the next seven years.
Li is currently allowed 60- to 90-minute walks on the mental health centre's grounds under supervision of two security officers and a health worker.
At the review hearing Monday, his treatment team proposed extending those walks under general supervision. They also proposed he be allowed to take 30-minute trips within Selkirk, escorted by a peace officer and a nurse.
The review board is expected to make its decision this week.
In June 2010, provincial Justice Minister Andrew Swan overruled the review board's decision to allow Li supervised walks on the hospital grounds until security improvements were made at the centre. Those included training 11 security officers at the centre as special constables. Two of them and a health worker were then required to accompany Li on walks on the grounds.
The centre also added $400,000 in security-equipment upgrades, including additional video surveillance and more access controls.
Swan wrote to Nicholson in 2010 asking him to amend the Criminal Code to prohibit decisions that are against public safety needs. Jodee Mason, a spokeswoman for Swan, said the government is pleased Ottawa has finally agreed with that request.
"We will continue to work with the federal government to ensure that appropriate changes can be made at the earliest opportunity," Mason said.