Hate the illness

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Mr. Justice John Scurfield will decide if Vince Li is criminally responsible for the murder of Timothy McLean. Based on Tuesday's testimony of the Crown's expert witness, psychiatrist Stanley Yaren, and given that the only witness scheduled to testify today is a psychiatric expert for the defence, the case would seem to be already concluded. If Justice Scurfield does find Mr. Li not criminally responsible for his actions, however, it will be a contentious and controversial ruling, given the mood of the victim's family and, it appears, the community at large.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/03/2009 (5087 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Mr. Justice John Scurfield will decide if Vince Li is criminally responsible for the murder of Timothy McLean. Based on Tuesday’s testimony of the Crown’s expert witness, psychiatrist Stanley Yaren, and given that the only witness scheduled to testify today is a psychiatric expert for the defence, the case would seem to be already concluded. If Justice Scurfield does find Mr. Li not criminally responsible for his actions, however, it will be a contentious and controversial ruling, given the mood of the victim’s family and, it appears, the community at large.

Few crimes in Manitoba memory have evoked such horror, raised such revulsion and inspired such anger. For no reason that anyone has been able to understand, Mr. McLean was attacked on a Greyhound bus, stabbed, killed, beheaded, mutilated and cannibalized by a fellow passenger he did not even know. All of those emotions came together Tuesday when Mr. Li entered a plea of not guilty by reason of not being criminally responsible, which would mean that he would receive psychiatric treatment until — or if — he recovers and then he would be released into the community with no criminal record.

Dr. Yaren testified that Mr. Li was suffering from a mental disorder, a major psychotic state brought on by schizophrenia, when he killed Mr. McLean. The idea that Tim McLean’s killer might be found not guilty on such grounds has been difficult for his family and friends to accept. His mother is campaigning for what she calls "Tim’s Law," which would require people found not criminally responsible for murders to serve life sentences even after they had recovered their mental health.

That passion is as understandable as it is misplaced, although many people will be able to empathize with it even as they realize that it would not serve justice, which is, after all, what Mr. Li’s trial is about. That does not make it any easier, of course. But Dr. Yaren had some words of advice and explanation that may eventually help the McLeans and other angry members of the community to better understand these situations in the future, regardless of how the court rules in Mr. Li’s case today.

Mr. Li, the psychiatrist said, is sick, but he is a decent person and, in a different but also horrible way, a victim just like Mr. McLean and his family: "Don’t hate the person. Hate the illness," were his words and as hard as they may be to hear, they constitute good advice for both the families of victims of such crimes and for the legislators who are pressured to change laws to make things seem more fitting.

If there is a lesson to be learned from cases such as Vince Li’s, it is that we all need to try to better understand the mysteries of mental illness. People in full control of their faculties can have difficulty comprehending how others who are not in control cannot do so in the same way, that they might act without intent or responsibility.

Nothing can undo the horrors inflicted on Tim McLean, but perhaps in his death he can help us all understand better the worlds we, and Mr. Li, live in.

 

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