Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan stepped in Thursday to shut down a decision that would have allowed Vince Li to leave a locked forensic unit for short periods of time, saying it is "contrary to the interests of public safety."
Swan's overruling of the Criminal Code Review Board's decision means Li will not be allowed to stroll the Selkirk Mental Health Centre's grounds until the facility beefs up security measures.
Swan would not specify what types of security measures would be considered before Li would be allowed outdoors. He said that would be left up to the centre, subject to government approval.
"The Department of Health and our government will make sure that there are appropriate steps taken to protect public safety before Mr. Li is anywhere other than inside that locked forensic unit," Swan told reporters.
Li was found not criminally responsible last year for the 2008 beheading of 22-year-old Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus near Portage la Prairie. He admitted responsibility for the attack, but a judge found him to be suffering from hallucinations and untreated schizophrenia at the time, which left him unable to appreciate or control his actions.
On Thursday, the Criminal Code Review Board gave Li -- over the objections of a Crown attorney -- clearance to start receiving supervised passes from his locked, high-risk ward.
But Swan said the escorted passes "will shock the conscience of Manitobans and indeed all Canadians."
He phoned and wrote federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson to voice his concerns about a decision-making process that, he said, did not have public safety as its paramount concern.
"We strongly urge that the Criminal Code of Canada should be amended to ensure that such a demonstrably unfit disposition cannot be made," Swan wrote in his letter.
The Conservatives renewed demands that a fence be erected at the centre to safeguard the community and, failing that, that Li be sent out of the province.
Late last year, Manitoba justice officials decided to send Earl Joey Wiebe, a mentally ill killer, to a facility outside the province because they could no longer control him at the Selkirk centre. Wiebe was caught hiding a knife, drugs, alcohol and cash in the ceiling tiles of his private room at the medium-security facility. He also escaped in 2006, spending three weeks on the run, and was later involved sexually with a psychiatric nursing student on the grounds of the facility.
But mental-health advocates decried the political rhetoric, saying it stigmatizes people who have a mental illness. They said if a fence were to be built around the facility, it would send treatment in Manitoba back to the Dark Ages.
The executive director of the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society applauded the review board's decision, calling it "reasonable, just and fair."
Chris Summerville said he has met Li and would allow his 24-year-old daughter to walk the grounds of the Selkirk institution with the man.
"If we want to make Selkirk Mental Health Centre a prison, we will be the most archaic province in Canada," he said.
Annette Osted, executive director of the provincial College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses, said she is concerned that politicians are failing to provide leadership on this issue. "As a matter of fact, they're promoting fear and misunderstanding," she said.
Osted said it's "very understandable" the issue of outdoor passes would provoke fear and anger among Tim McLean's friends and family and that there would be public concern. "But it's totally unacceptable that leaders react to emotions rather than to facts when they make decisions that affect us all," she said, noting 20 per cent of people will need some sort of "mental-health assistance" in their lifetimes.
Swan said the Crown will study the review board's decision to see if there are grounds for appeal.
Tory justice critic Kelvin Goertzen said the government should have been prepared for the review board's decision. "I'm surprised that there isn't a specific response in terms of what's going to be done," he said Thursday.
McLean's family and friends filled a courtroom Monday when the review board heard evidence as to Li's suitability for outdoor passes. They said the risk of something going wrong is too high. "I am shocked the whole facility isn't surrounded by a fence," McLean's mother, Carol de Delley, said at the time.