Vince Li and the politics of fear

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Manitoba's senior member of Parliament, Shelly Glover, uttered four sentences on the Vince Li case Tuesday. The thoughts in each sentence were emotional, irrelevant and factually incorrect. Ms. Glover's comments merely inflamed the stigma and misunderstanding associated with mental illness and schizophrenia in particular.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/02/2015 (2778 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba’s senior member of Parliament, Shelly Glover, uttered four sentences on the Vince Li case Tuesday. The thoughts in each sentence were emotional, irrelevant and factually incorrect. Ms. Glover’s comments merely inflamed the stigma and misunderstanding associated with mental illness and schizophrenia in particular.

Mr. Li is not a convicted criminal, and there is no legal basis for treating him as such, much less ensuring “that penalties match the severity of the crime.”

Her words also reflect, however, the sincere views of many Canadians who can’t accept that Mr. Li could eventually be free to walk the streets of Winnipeg, less than seven years after he beheaded a man on a Greyhound bus while in the grip of a severe schizophrenic episode, a previously undiagnosed condition.

Shelly Glover: tough on crime

The fact he was found not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder, he was incapable of knowing right from wrong at the time of the slaying, is irrelevant to those who believe he deserves to be punished for the rest of his life. Others also worry there is no way to be sure he won’t reoffend.

Of course there is no way to be sure people convicted of drunk driving won’t reoffend and possibly kill someone, yet no one is demanding they be locked up forever to protect the public. In fact, alcoholics may well pose a greater risk to safety than the mentally ill, but the debate isn’t about rational responses to specific circumstances and facts.

Politicians should be better than that. They should do more than capitalize on the fears of the general public.

No other party in Canada is better at that than the Conservative party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has turned the exploitation of fear into a political art form.

Politicians of all stripes are guilty of the same offence from time to time, but no one has an enemies list longer than Mr. Harper.

In fact, the list includes the names of hundreds of organizations and individuals, according to a document leaked in 2013 that exposed the Nixon-like mentality of the government. The civil service, the CBC, the courts, Elections Canada, scientists and the premiers were among the “enemy stakeholders.”

Mr. Harper has exploited fear for many causes, but none more vigorously than the public’s unease about homeland defence.

While he talked about “a great evil descending upon our world,” U.S. President Barack Obama was trying to dial down the fear, calling for a sense of perspective and reminding Americans the threats they face today are far less serious than during the Second World War.

“We cannot afford to be buffeted by alarmism in a nearly instantaneous news cycle,” America’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, said in an effort to soften the rhetoric from purveyors of doom and gloom.

In Canada, however, the Conservatives rarely miss an opportunity to warn of impending catastrophe.

Thus, when doctors announced Mr. Li might be moved to Winnipeg and given more freedom as part of his treatment, Ms. Glover immediately pounced with false claims of injustice and peril.

Ms. Glover may believe what she said — although her words were nearly identical to another Conservative MP on the Li case a few years ago — but she ignored her responsibility to be factual and rational, to encourage thoughtful discussion and reduce panic.

Polls show many Canadians still stigmatize the mentally ill, and one in four is actually afraid to be around someone with such an illness.

The Conservatives should focus on that pressing problem rather than engaging in fear-mongering and cheap retail politics.

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