Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'I don't hear voices' Vince Li says

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Vince Li understands why people are still afraid of him.

He remembers what happened on a Greyhound bus bound for Winnipeg during that midsummer's nightmare in 2008.

But now that he is medicated for his illness, the aliens he was afraid of have disappeared, the voices he heard are silent, and he is aware of why it happened on a different level.

Painfully aware.

"I try to forget it... I feel nervous. I feel painful. I am embarrassed. It was wrong."

Li spoke those words last weekend when, for the first time in the nearly four years since he made international headlines for the horrifying psychosis-induced beheading of fellow Greyhound passenger Tim McLean, Li granted an interview for release to the media.

Li also said he feels sorry for what he did and what it has done to McLean's family.

"I would do anything for their family. I would ask forgiveness, but I know it would be hard to accept."

The interview was conducted Sunday at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre by Chris Summerville, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, who said he has spoken with Li once every two months, on average, since Li's confinement began nearly four years ago. Li will remain in Selkirk until a review board judges him fit to be released. He was granted temporary passes last week by a review board to take supervised walks in Selkirk.

The interview was held in the foyer of Selkirk's forensics unit. Summerville and Li separately had to go through two sets of locked doors to meet in the foyer.

The contents of the interview were supplied exclusively Monday to the Free Press.  Read it below.

With Li's written permission, Summerville released the "formal" portion of the 45-minute interview because, the Winnipeg-based mental-health executive said, he feels "Mr. Li's story needs to be told."

"What we have here," Summerville added in an email that accompanied the interview, "are two victims and two families who are victims of untreated, uncontrolled psychosis."

Summerville further explained why he had decided Li's story should be part of the broader conversation on the not-criminally-responsible debate being driven, in part, by McLean's mother, Carol de Delley, who is championing the so-called Tim's Law, which would keep people judged not criminally responsible for a homicide confined for life.

"There are no easy answers to the many-faceted questions that bombard both families and the media," Summerville said.

"However, I think the media have been more favourable to the McLean family, probably because public sentiment is on their side and we as a country have entered a period of 'tough on crime,' with little attention paid to restorative justice, rehabilitation, recovery and redemption, or the influence and role of mental illness in this particular most unfortunate incident."

Summerville also added this:

"Before I do any interview regarding the Greyhound bus tragedy, I always ask myself, 'What if it had been my 25-year-old daughter?'

"My sympathy to Ms. de Delley and her family is real. And yet, I also ask, 'What if it had been my son who had killed Tim McLean in such a ghastly and grotesque fashion?' I hope that such self-questioning softens my response to the many questions I have been asked about my personal and professional knowledge of Mr. Li."

Summerville brought Li a Chinese meal, which they shared prior to the formal portion of the interview.

"Mr. Li was soft-spoken, using simple English as English is not his first language," Summerville said. "His answers were rather direct and succinct, revealing a person who has given much contemplation to this tragedy and his guilt."

This is the interview conducted, edited and supplied by Summerville:

Summerville: Tell me about your background.

Li: I am a 44 years old and grew up in northeastern China in the province of Liaoning.

My mother and father are still living. I have an older brother who is a businessman and a younger sister who is a secretary. They know about the Greyhound bus situation, but my mother and father do not.

My wife and I immigrated to Winnipeg, Canada, in June 2001. I had studied as a computer engineer for four years in China. But I could not find a job in Canada. I worked at McDonald's, Meatland Foods and at Grant Memorial Baptist Church.

Do you have a spirituality?

I believe in Jesus Christ. He is my saviour. I try to follow God.

When did you begin to experience schizophrenia?

In 2004. I didn't know what it was. I now know what it is. I began to hear voices that normal people do not hear. I thought I heard the voice of God telling me to write down my journey. The voice told me that I was the third story of the Bible. That I was like the second coming of Jesus. I was to save people from a space-alien attack. That is why I travelled around the country. I am not sure of all the places I went to. I now know that it was schizophrenia I was suffering from.

 Why did you do what you did on the bus?

I bought a knife at Canadian Tire. I bought it for any emergency for the journey to protect myself from the aliens. I was really scared... I believed he was an alien. The voices told me to kill him. That he would kill me or others. I do not believe this now. It was totally wrong. It was my fault. I sinned. But it was the schizophrenia.

What else do you remember about the incident?

I try to forget it. I try to stay busy here. It is painful to think about.

How do you feel about what happened?

I feel nervous. I feel painful. I am embarrassed. It was wrong.

Do you understand why people are scared of you?

Yes. I don't think I will ever do it again. I didn't know at that time I had schizophrenia. Now I do.

What would you say to Ms. de Delley and Tim McLean's family?

I am really sorry for what I did. If I could talk to her directly, I would do anything for their family. I would ask forgiveness, but I know it would be hard to accept.

How has the time been at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre?

I know that I suffer from schizophrenia. The treatment team gives me a chance to recover, to be normal. I am glad to be taking the medication.

Do you think you are getting better?

Yes. My thinking is becoming normal. I don't think weird things. I take my medication, Olanzapine, every day. I am glad to take it. I don't have any weird voices anymore.

How do we know you will take your medication when you get out on your own?

I would be glad to be under a treatment order, because medication helps me. It is very important. I don't want to do what I did ever again.

How does it make you feel that most people do not think you should get a pass to walk around in Selkirk? Do you understand their fear?

I understand people are scared because of my behaviour on the Greyhound bus. I am not at risk for anybody. I don't believe in aliens. I don't hear voices. I would call my doctor if I heard voices again. Yes, I understand their fear.

Some say the RCMP should have killed you that night.

I should have been killed at that time. I still believe that. But I am thankful that the RCMP didn't.

What is schizophrenia? What are you learning?

It is hearing voices or having delusions. You don't know what is real. I need to take medication on time. I also have to have meaningful activity, something to do. I have to learn how to handle stress.

What helps you deal with stress?

Taking my medication. Exercising and doing Bible study with the chaplain here.

Do you have side-effects from the medication?

Yes. I sleep too much. I feel tired a lot and I have gained some weight.

Do you believe you should be under a treatment order?

I should be here. I should be under a treatment order.

If you ever got out of the Selkirk Mental Health Centre, what would you do?

I hope to leave one day, but I have to make sure it wouldn't happen again. That there would be no voices. I would change my name to be anonymous. But I would still be in touch with my doctor.

What do you think of Tim's Law, that any mentally insane person who kills someone would never be released?

I don't think so, that that should happen. Mental illness is an illness. It is treatable. My schizophrenia is not the real me, but it is an illness.

How would you know you were getting sick again?

Hearing voices, stopping my medication and starting to believe in aliens. God would not tell me to do something bad.

How do you feel about what you are reading in the newspapers?

I don't read the papers because I don't want to be reminded of what happened on the Greyhound bus because it was so bad and wrong.

Are you happy?

No.

Will you ever be happy?

No. I can never forget the Greyhound bus.

Any final words?

I would like to say to Tim McLean's mother: 'I am sorry for killing your son. I am sorry for the pain I have caused. I wished I could reduce that pain.'

Summerville added this as a postscript:

As we ended the interview, I could see the moisture in Mr. Li's eyes. It is remarkable the insight Mr. Li has. It is even more remarkable the positive effects of the medication. Up to 25 per cent of people who will have a psychotic break with reality will never experience another psychotic episode. Up to 65 per cent will experience a degree of recovery in order to live a meaningful life. Ten per cent will take their life by suicide due to the losses associated with schizophrenia.

Of the 300,000 people in Canada who live with some form of schizophrenia, the vast majority lead quiet, law-abiding lives hoping for some quality of life. People living with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violence rather than being perpetrators of violence. Schizophrenia is treatable. Recovery is possible.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2012 B1

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Updated on Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 11:12 AM CDT: Adds sidebar.

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