There will be plenty of people discharged from Manitoba hospitals this weekend with nary a discouraging word nor cloud of controversy.
But Vince Li is no ordinary patient -- and Thursday's decision to allow him to begin taking steps back into the community has set off a firestorm of debate.
It has been almost four years since Li attacked a sleeping stranger on a Greyhound bus near Portage la Prairie. Tim McLean, 22, was stabbed, beheaded, castrated and cannibalized in a case that made international headlines.
Li, 44, was found not criminally responsible for the July 2008 killing after a judge agreed with defence and Crown evidence that showed Li suffered from violent hallucinations due to untreated schizophrenia and believed he was acting on orders from a higher power.
He was sent indefinitely to a hospital rather than a prison, with the caveat he would only be released if doctors felt he no longer posed a risk to society.
That day appears to be closer than ever.
On Thursday, the Manitoba Review Board ruled Li can begin receiving temporary passes that will allow him to walk out of the Selkirk Mental Health Centre for visits in Selkirk. They will start at 30 minutes and can eventually expand up to full days, allowing Li to visit restaurants and shops in Selkirk provided he is accompanied at all times by a peace officer and a nurse.
There's no indication the community will be given any notice about where or when he will be let out. The accompanying peace officers will be allowed to wear ordinary clothes to avoid drawing attention to Li.
"The residents of Selkirk are not endangered by Mr. Li being released," his lawyer, Alan Libman, told the Free Press Thursday. "Mr. Li is a model patient. I think most Canadians would appreciate treating someone with mental illness."
The decision comes on the heels of Li's annual review board hearing on Monday, where his treatment team recommended the day passes along with extending his privileges on the grounds of the hospital based on his rapid progress. Since last summer, Li has been allowed passes out of the locked forensic unit to walk on hospital grounds under the direct supervision of a peace officer.
Doctors said he is doing so well with the daily 60- to 90-minute walks, he should be allowed general supervision just like any other patient at the hospital. The review board agreed.
"The review board has taken into consideration the need to protect the public from dangerous persons," the written decision states.
"The treatment team is of the opinion his condition is stable and that it would be appropriate and safe for him to leave the locked ward."
Li's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Steven Kremer, told the review board Li is on medication and experiencing no symptoms or hallucinations. He has been diagnosed as having a 0.8 per cent chance of violently reoffending in the next decade.
"The privileges being asked for... would not place the public at high risk," Kremer told the board. "He has done very well. He has been a robust responder. He understands if he were not to take his medication, he would experience a deterioration."
Kremer and another psychiatrist described Li as a model patient who has had no incidents with staff or other patients and has shown great insight into what he's done. Li has improved his English and taken occupational therapy programs, including job training and meal preparation.
Crown attorney Susan Helenchilde did not oppose either of the recommendations, citing the expert reports of two doctors who have worked closely with Li since the killing.
But McLean's mother took a much different position. Carol de Delley attended Monday's hearing wearing a T-shirt bearing her slain son's photo.
She said it seems inevitable Li will regain full freedom in the near future and called it "ironic and ridiculous" that the mental-health system, which she said failed to properly protect society from Li, is recommending he slowly be reintegrated into society.
"Letting him go puts the rest of the public at risk," she said.
De Delley has advocated for mentally ill killers such as Li to be held indefinitely in a hospital.
Chris Summerville, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, also attended Monday's hearing and has met with Li several times. He said he understands the public's concerns but doesn't believe they are at risk.
"His risk of reoffending is very low. Vince is not a criminal, he's a patient. Patients get better, and Vince has been an ideal patient," he said.
On the eve of the Li decision, Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced he 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 specify the Li case, the timing was striking. He said Canadians have expressed concerns.
"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 necessary changes to support the view that public safety must come first. He said he is working with provincial governments "to ensure the protection of society is the paramount consideration for review panels looking at these cases."
Manitoba cases where the defendant was found not criminally responsible
1991: Gripped by the belief her four-year-old son Skylar was possessed by Adolf Hitler, Winnipeg's Donna Lynn Trueman grabbed a broom handle and killed him. Five months later, she became the first Canadian to be found not criminally responsible for her crime. The verdict was a new legal option that had replaced the old (and famous) term, "not guilty by reason of insanity." Trueman was placed on medication and released into her parents' care. She has never committed another crime. In a brief phone conversation with the Free Press in 2009, her mother described her daughter as "fine."
2000: In the ashes of a Niverville-area house fire, police discovered the body of 39-year-old Candis Moizer. Her stepson, 17-year-old Earl Joey Wiebe, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. At trial, experts testified a childhood spent watching his biological mother getting raped and beaten had shattered the young man's mind. He was found not criminally responsible and sent to the Selkirk Mental Health Centre. In 2006, he escaped from care and was eventually apprehended in British Columbia. In 2009, he was charged with several criminal offences after setting fire to his room. The investigation revealed he had started a relationship with a nursing student hired to escort him, and had smuggled a knife, booze and pills into the centre. In 2010, health and justice officials begged for him to be held at the Winnipeg Remand Centre while the criminal charges proceeded, saying he was too dangerous to stay in care in Selkirk. His future remains unknown; the province would like to ship him to out of province to a high-security forensic facility, after the latest criminal proceedings are completed. "I don't fear Selkirk. Selkirk fears me," he once told a hearing.
2009: In an unprovoked attack, 27-year-old Darryl Lawrence Monkman grabbed a knife and killed his cousin, 38-year-old Kelly Godfrey, as both of the men's spouses watched. At the time, Monkman was delusional, believing Godfrey had a microchip implanted in his brain and was planning to kill him. He also believed rat poison was dripping from the ceilings in Godfrey's home. "I was just protecting my family," he told arresting officers. At trial, defence lawyers argued the 27-year-old man had fallen through the cracks: Only weeks before the killing, he had been discharged from a Winnipeg psychiatric facility after not being deemed an immediate danger to himself or others. He was found not criminally responsible for Godfrey's death and taken into mental-health care, where he responded well to treatment. He will be subject to annual reviews for the rest of his life.
2010: A 23-year-old Montreal man sneaked into the 17 Wing air force base, stole an army F-150 truck and drove it down the runway at Richardson International Airport. The bizarre incident didn't disrupt air traffic and the man was arrested without incident. In court, a judge ruled the man, who had a history of mental illness, didn't know right from wrong when he embarked on the misadventure. The incident joined a list of others back in Quebec for which the man was found not criminally responsible.