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Most oppose trips for Li: poll

Majority also backs keeping ill offenders detained for life

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In the embers of a public debate that has raged for more than three years, new data give definition to Manitobans' attitudes toward Vince Li's future.

A new Probe Research survey for the Winnipeg Free Press shows the majority of Manitobans oppose allowing Li escorted visits to the city of Selkirk. A full six in 10 Manitobans oppose the short day trips, which represent the first time Li has ventured out in public since 2008, when he killed Winnipegger Tim McLean while in the grips of schizophrenia-induced delusions.

Indeed, the survey found, a majority of respondents -- 55 per cent -- would support a hypothetical Criminal Code amendment that would keep Li, and others with mental illness who kill, institutionalized for the rest of their lives. McLean's mother, Carol de Delley, has been lobbying for that type of amendment under the name of Tim's Law.

For anyone who's read public comments on a story about Li's future, the figures are far from a surprise. It is, if nothing else, a snapshot of who we are and how we see a system that wrestles with how to handle incidents where violence erupts from an ill mind.

"You just scratch the surface with these questions," said Probe president Scott MacKay. "Now we want to know, why is this? Is it because people don't believe what they're being told by experts? Or is it more of a punitive thing, where they feel he must pay the price for what he's done? We don't know, but we should do more research on this."

In Probe's data, nuggets of curious information emerge. Women often hold more progressive views on issues such as crime and rehabilitation, but in this case men and women were equally likely to oppose Li's visits to Selkirk and, indeed, any chance of his ever being discharged from the Selkirk Mental Health Centre.

In other demographic areas, there were small differences. A third of respondents in Winnipeg's core area said they "strongly opposed" the proposed Criminal Code amendment, whereas in the city as a whole, that number was 22 per cent.

Rural residents were more likely to oppose Li's supervised visits into Selkirk, with 67 per cent against the day trips. By contrast, 54 per cent of Winnipeggers felt the same.

Education also seemed to play a role, as respondents with a post-secondary education were more likely to support Li's outings to Selkirk than those who hold a high school diploma or less. Nicole Chammartin, the Canadian Mental Health Association's Winnipeg regional executive director, said there has been "frenzied attention" on the Li case.

"I can understand why people are fearful of a person who did an act like this, but he did it while he was sick," she said.

"And I think that if we know that medication can make somebody better, then we really have to examine ourselves and what it is that we want to say about crime and punishment, and things that aren't crime, things that are actually the acts of people who are ill."

Chammartin also said the majority of people who commit murders are not mentally ill.


-- with files from Gabrielle Giroday

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2012 B1

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