Less than two years after he stabbed and beheaded a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus, Vince Li is set to get his first small taste of freedom.
The Criminal Code Review Board of Manitoba approved a plan Thursday to let Mr. Li walk around the grounds of the Selkirk Mental Health Centre as long as he is escorted by two staff members.
The decision was a blow to the family of Tim McLean, the young carnival worker killed by Mr. Li.
"When you do what he did, you should be locked up for the rest of your natural life, period," Carol DeDelley said from her home in Elie, Man.
"My son's human rights were violated in the most horrific manner, and that's completely disregarded and forgotten, and they're all concerned about Mr. Li's human rights."
Mr. Li has been held inside a locked portion of the centre since he was found not criminally responsible for the killing of Tim McLean in July, 2008. The two men had never met and just happened to be sitting next to each other briefly on a bus ride to Winnipeg from Edmonton.
Mr. McLean was listening to music on his headphones, with his eyes closed. Suddenly, Mr. Li stood up and started stabbing McLean repeatedly as horrified passengers looked on. He carved up the body and scattered it around the bus. Part of Mr. McLean's heart and his eyes were never found.
As people scrambled to get off the bus and police surrounded it, witnesses reported seeing Mr. Li holding Mr. McLean's head in the air, taunting officers.
Mr. Li suffered from undiagnosed schizophrenia, his trial was told. He was ordered to stay in the mental hospital pending annual reviews of his treatment. Earlier this week, Mr. Li's psychiatrist told the review board Mr. Li was responding to treatment and should be allowed short walks outside on the hospital grounds.
The idea has stirred up controversy because the hospital grounds are not fenced in. Manitoba's Opposition Progressive Conservatives want Mr. Li shipped out of the province to a more secure hospital.
The review board order states that Mr. Li's walks will be only 15 minutes long, twice a day at the beginning, gradually increasing to two one-hour long walks. At all times, he is to be accompanied by two staff members — one more than the standard in such cases — who will be equipped with cell phones or two-way radio.
Ms. DeDelley feels people are more concerned with Mr. Li than with her family and other people affected by Mr. Li's crime, including other passengers.
"I would like to be doing a job and enjoying my life again but we haven't had one iota of closure. Each year, Mr. Li is going to begin to receive more and more freedoms, more and more of a life back. And I don't think that he should."
But a schizophrenia support group said allowing Mr. Li sunshine and fresh air is both humane and an important part of his treatment.
"The people who take exception to it, unfortunately, have bought into the myth ... about mental illness that pervades our society. They think the person can't get better," Chris Summerville, the group's executive director, said.
"The science is very clear. (Li) can learn to manage his illness."