The Vince Li case has entered the political arena, with Manitoba MP Shelly Glover and the Manitoba government swiping at each other about which freedoms should be granted to the mentally ill killer.
Glover blasted the provincial Crown attorney's office Friday for not objecting to enhanced freedoms for Li, who was found not criminally responsible for the random killing of Tim McLean on board a Greyhound bus in 2008. In an unusual move, Glover called for Justice Minister Andrew Swan to file a legal appeal of his department's own position on the controversial matter.
"The decision by the Manitoba government not to object to any of the recommendations made to grant Vince Li additional freedoms, including unescorted trips into Selkirk, is an insult not only to the family of Tim McLean but to all law-abiding Manitobans.
"Our Conservative government is firmly calling on the province of Manitoba to immediately appeal this insensitive decision," Glover wrote in a news release on Friday that was distributed to media by the Prime Minister's Office, indicating it had approval at the highest level of government.
Glover's demand drew a quick response from the province, which accused her of "playing politics" with a serious matter.
Dave Chomiak, speaking on behalf of Justice Minister Andrew Swan, said a provincial attorney general cannot intervene in a review board decision. Chomiak, a former Manitoba attorney general, said the province has sent two letters to the federal government urging it to change the Criminal Code to make public safety the paramount issue in these types of cases.
'The decision by the Manitoba government not to object to any of the recommendations made to grant Vince Li additional freedoms, including unescorted trips into Selkirk, is an insult not only to the family of Tim McLean but to all law-abiding Manitobans' -- Manitoba MP Shelly Glover, in a news release Friday
"Shelly Glover could easily go down the hallway, talk to her colleague in the cabinet (federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay) and have the law changed, as we recommended," he told reporters. "They have not changed this law. It is their responsibility to do so."
Then Glover issued a terse response to Chomiak.
"The people of Manitoba deserve better protection. Unlike the Manitoba government, which has not lifted a finger while Mr. Li was released onto the streets of Selkirk, our Conservative government has moved to amend the law to protect Canadians from dangerous offenders found not criminally responsible," her statement said.
Li learned this week the Manitoba review board agreed to all of the enhanced freedoms that were proposed at his annual review on Monday -- and endorsed by Crown attorney Susan Helenchilde.
Li will be allowed unescorted passes into Selkirk on an incremental basis, beginning at 30 minutes and up to a full day at a time.
Previously, Li was allowed off-site only with an escort. He has had more than 100 visits into Selkirk, without incident.
Li also will be allowed more relaxed escorted passes into Winnipeg. Before this week's order, Li was given one-to-one supervision.
Dr. Steven Kremer recommended Li be placed under "general supervision," which will be one worker for every three patients.
Finally, Li will be moved from a locked facility at Selkirk into an unlocked facility. He will also be allowed to continue receiving escorted passes to Lockport and area beaches, as has been the case for the past year.
Each of these conditions applies for the next year and will be reviewed in early 2015. Selkirk officials have the right to suspend the privileges if there are issues or concerns.
Chomiak said he understands some members of the public might be concerned. "If you're going grocery shopping at Sobeys or at Superstore in Selkirk, and you were to encounter him (Li), you would feel unsure of yourself," he said.
If Ottawa had amended the law as the province suggested, the review board's decision might have been different, Chomiak said.
"I don't want to guess what the review panel would say, but I think it's pretty evident that if the paramount concern was public safety, that this decision would not have been made," he said.
On Monday, Li was described by his treatment team as a "model patient" who no longer suffers from the type of hallucinations that triggered the July 2008 attack near Portage la Prairie.
The Crown didn't object to the recommendations, despite calling this "one of the most ghoulish tragedies in Canadian history."
"Mr. Li has done everything that's been asked of him," Helenchilde told court. She conceded her department is in a difficult position given it represents the public and Li's actions were so brutal. But she said Li's best interests must be considered following his not-criminally-responsible finding in court.
That doesn't sit well with Glover, who said Friday the "insensitive" decision is an affront to public safety.
"Canadians expect that their justice system will focus on protecting the rights of victims and safeguarding the public from high-risk individuals," she said in her statement.
Experts say Li is a low-risk to reoffend, given his medical treatment.
Li was found not criminally responsible for the beheading of McLean. A judge found Li suffered hallucinations from untreated schizophrenia at the time of the attack and ordered him held at the Selkirk centre.
To that extent, Kremer said Li knows the importance of taking his medications for schizophrenia and has shown insight into what triggered the attack. Kremer said the only security concern as Li ventures out into the community is that a member of the public might attack him.
McLean's family has been a vocal critic of Li's increased freedom and has pushed for tougher federal laws.
The federal government introduced Bill C-54, the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act, last year in response to Li's case. The bill would create a new category of high-risk offenders who can't be considered for release until a court agrees to revoke the designation.
They would not have a review of their status for three years, would not be given unescorted passes and would only get escorted passes under narrow circumstances.