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
Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan has quickly called for tighter security before Vincent Li will be allowed to have his walks. But will his voice be heard?
“Vince Li will not be allowed to leave the locked forensic unit at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre for brief outings until security measures are beefed up”, Justice Minister Andrew Swan said. Swan continued that the decision by a Criminal Code review board to allow Li to have brief escorted passes outdoors on the health centre’s grounds “will shock the conscience of Manitobans and indeed all Canadians.”
“In our view this order is contrary to the interests of public safety and seriously undermines public confidence in the Canadian system of justice,” he stated.
Swan wrote a letter to federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson outlining his concerns.
“We strongly urge that the Criminal Code of Canada should be amended to ensure that such a demonstrably unfit disposition cannot be made,” Swan said in the letter. “At a minimum, the Criminal Code should provide that public safety must be the paramount consideration before the Criminal Code Review Board.”
Swan said the Selkirk Mental Health Centre, which houses Li, will decide what security measures are needed.
While the statements made by Justice Minster Swan are appreciated they will do little to change the reality of the decision. The Supreme Court of Canada has clearly decided that the rights of Vincent Li are the only consideration before the Review Board.
There is clearly a need to amend the Criminal Code of Canada and that is the motivation of Tim’s Law. But as Justice Minister Andrew Swan is all to aware, to provide safety and security to the general public of Manitoba, and the rest of Canadians, there needs to be some major changes and renovations to the facility that Vincent Li is housed in, Selkirk Mental Health Centre (SMHC).
This will require taxpayers dollars… is Justice Minister Andrew Swan lobbying for this from his provincial counterparts?