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andré picard

On July 30, 2008, Vince Li, a 41-year-old man suffering from untreated schizophrenia, stabbed, decapitated, dismembered and cannibalized his seatmate aboard a Greyhound bus, 18 kilometres west of Portage la Prairie, Man.

With body parts stuffed in his pockets, Mr. Li then jumped from the bus window, convinced he would be greeted as a hero for having slain the devil, just like the voices in his head told him to do. Instead, he was handcuffed and arrested.

On Friday, Will Baker (Mr. Li has legally changed his name) was granted an absolute discharge by the Criminal Code Review Board.

As much as it may sicken and anger people, it is the right decision.

Mr. Baker was charged with murder, but he was found not criminally responsible (NCR) because he was mentally ill and suffering from psychosis at the time of the attack.

The standard common-law test of criminal liability is expressed in the Latin phrase actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, meaning "the act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty." In legal terms, Mr. Baker did not commit a crime because he lacked the capacity to understand his actions.

Still, he did not get off scot-free.

Instead of being sent to jail, he was sent to a psychiatric institution until a review board deemed that he no longer posed a threat to himself or others, which it did on Friday.

Mr. Baker underwent treatment for 8 1/2 years, most of it in a psychiatric institution. (He has been living in a Winnipeg apartment and doing job training in Winnipeg since November, 2016.) Testimony at the review board revealed that he felt terrible remorse once he understood his actions, and that he had been a model patient.

His treatment was successful, therefore there is no legal justification to hold him.

Nobody deserves to die like Tim McLean did on the Greyhound bus that day. No family should have to live with the knowledge of the unvarnished horror that occurred on that Prairie night.

Mr. McLean's mother, Carol de Delley, has been an outspoken critic of Mr. Baker's treatment and his NCR designation. On Friday, her only response to the discharge was a Facebook post reading: "I have no words."

But jailing Mr. Baker for being sick would be another act of cruelty, not justice.

For the most part, the public doesn't like the not-criminally-responsible legal principle. They feel it allows people who are sick or, who like Mr. Baker refused to take their medications, to get away with murder – literally and figuratively.

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper pandered to these beliefs, passing the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act, that allowed for patients to be labelled "high risk" and held indefinitely. But Mr. Baker met that standard because he is deemed to be low risk.

There is a lot of prejudice, stigma and fear about people with severe mental illness, and none more so than people with schizophrenia, because they often display bizarre behaviour.

The purpose of the law should be to treat, not punish, people who are ill. It would be better still if mental-health law facilitated prevention, and intervened before illness becomes so severe that someone becomes delusional, psychotic and murderous.

Mr. McLean was, in large part, failed by our mental-health system. That his killer didn't get treatment earlier is a real crime. (The backstory is that Mr. Baker – then Mr. Li – failed to get proper care for many years and, when he was hospitalized involuntarily, he escaped, and there was no follow up. He should never have been on that Greyhound bus.)

Mr. Baker's case reminds that even the most severe cases can be treated successfully. If he continues to take his meds – and he will be monitored – there should be no problem.

The dull reality, too, is that the system we have in Canada, where people declared NCR have their cases reviewed by an independent Criminal Code Review Board, works remarkably well.

Still, let's be frank: There is no justice in this case. There never will be. But the solution is not to commit a second injustice by persecuting someone for being sick.

The mother of a man beheaded on a Greyhound bus in 2008 says Tim McLean's killer should "never" walk free without conditions.

The Canadian Press

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