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Pandering, destructive and ignorant

Minister's decision drags treatment back to dark days

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Re: Security must be tighter for Li, justice minister says (June 4). The provincial government's reaction to the granting of a carefully considered slight increase in the liberty of Vincent Li as articulated by Justice Minister Andrew Swan is an example of the worst kind of political pandering and fear-mongering. It demonstrates a shocking lack of understanding of mental illness.

Swan joins those members of the public who would return to the days when the mentally ill were cast out of society to be incarcerated in prisons and asylums, never to see the light of day. The fact is that recovery from mental illness is possible and fortunately so because 20 per cent of the population may at some point require hospitalization for a mental disorder.

While the pain, suffering and anger of all those affected by this tragic episode is understandable, it is the reaction by this government and not the Criminal Code Review Board decision that is inappropriate. The chair, John Stephaniuk, and the members take their job very seriously and are, in my experience, a diligent, knowledgeable and thoughtful group of men and women. Criticism of the board for acting responsibly is unwarranted and improper political interference in the judicial process.

The attitude towards mental illness by some members of the public and as reflected by Swan's remarks is stigmatizing and hurtful to people and their families living with mental disorders. Stigma and fear create barriers to treatment. They prevent individuals such as Li from seeking early intervention for mental-health issues that may have prevented this tragedy from ever occurring.

By far, most people living with mental illness are not violent, and when they are, it is usually the result of inadequate or no treatment. Rather than investing money in a fence around Selkirk Mental Health Centre, the government would do much more to prevent the uncommon occurrence of violence by mentally ill individuals by joining the efforts of the Mental Health Commission of Canada in reducing stigma and by investing in improving access to mental health treatment.

STANLEY YAREN, MD, FRCPC

Canadian Psychiatric Association

�ñº

Justice Minister Andrew Swan's response was an embarrassing display of ignorance, an insult to the review board and those suffering a mental illness, a slap in the face to those caring for them. It has set the acceptance of mental illness back 100 years.

On medication, Li is no more or less dangerous than any of us, perhaps less so.

I was born, raised and spent the first 20 years of my life living on the grounds of the Selkirk Mental Hospital. As the children of the psychiatrists, we rode our bikes around those grounds and interacted with some of the then 900 patients -- without fear.

There were no fences then, there never has been nor is there any need for one now, in fact less so. Medication is the public safety net.

Fifty years ago, in response to questions regarding our safety, my father mused, "you're safer here than on Portage Avenue" -- that was 50 years ago. Today that may be Kennedy Street.

Swan's comments are nothing more than political pandering. I don't hope to see enlightenment lapping at the steps of the Legislative Building any time soon.

CYNTHIA WEBSTER

Gimli

�ñº

I suffer from depression, which is a mental illness. I have bit my tongue on this issue for two years, but it was time to finally speak out. I have been very disappointed and frustrated with the public opinion towards Vince Li.

Li suffers from a severe case of the mental illness schizophrenia. He is detained in a highly secure mental hospital and receiving treatment for his illness. He is not a criminal. He has a mental illness. But many people want to demonize him and treat him like a criminal.

He has been granted a basic human right to be allowed to go outside and get some fresh air and be on supervised walks. But many want to have him caged up like an animal.

Our society is willing to take away human rights from those that have a mental illness, but are quite willing to have sympathy, and uphold the rights of guilty criminals. Those in jail are granted conjugal visits, TV, weight rooms, allowed to walk outside and all other human rights, due to moaning of bleeding-heart liberals.

Others are allowed to walk around free with or without their ankle bracelet, while laughing about dead cab drivers. While others are allowed double time and a half for being in remand and are out in less than half the time of their sentence because of good behaviour. We are so willing to go after a victim of mental illness, but those that are victimizing our communities are given a second chance.

The death of Tim McLean was horrific, but the acts by those that are criminally responsible are equally or even more horrific because they knew what they were doing. Children beaten, burned, left to die on a cold floor. Young girls shot while playing at home. Gunning down people at a wedding social. The list goes on and on. These criminals are the ones the public needs to be fearful of. These criminals shouldn't be allow to go outside for a very, very long time.

JAMES HOGABOAM

Winnipeg

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2010 A17

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