She was back in the community in six months

It was a crime so horrific it shocked and sickened people across the country. Newspaper headlines all over Canada reported the brutal Manitoba slaying. Months later, many people were upset when it became clear the accused was going to be declared not criminally responsible instead of being handed a long prison sentence as punishment.

But it’s not last summer’s stabbing and beheading of Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus by Vince Weiguang Li that we are talking about – it’s the slaying of four-year-old Skylar Trevor Wiebe by his own mother, Donna Lynn Trueman, with a broom handle more than 17 years ago.

During a three-day hearing this week, Li is expected to be the latest person who committed a criminal offence in Canada to be found not criminally responsible for his actions.

In 1992, Trueman was the first to be sentenced under the then-new federal law. It had just replaced the former verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

The main change had to do with who looks after the patients.

Under the old law, provincial politicians determined what happened to those found not criminally responsible for their crimes. Under the new law, a system of forensic review boards was set up in every province.

Trueman, a Winnipeg mother, choked her son with a broomstick handle before thrusting it through his head in October 1991.

She said she did it because she believed her son was possessed by the spirit of Adolf Hitler.

Five months later, a judge found Trueman not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder. Because the province’s chief psychiatrist said she wasn’t a danger to anyone, the judge released her into the care of her parents.

Overall, in Trueman’s case, the law was a success. She has continued to live her life and she has never committed another crime.

There’s no question that when Li stabbed and beheaded McLean last summer he committed a horrifying act. But is he a criminal and responsible for his actions?

Justice sources have told the Winnipeg Free Press that Crown and defence counsels will each put forward a psychiatrist who will say Li should be found not criminally responsible for McLean’s death. With no other evidence, it is expected the judge will agree.

There likely will be a great outcry from the public.

For months, McLean’s mother, Carol deDelley, has been trying to persuade politicians to amend the federal law to make it mandatory that anyone who voluntarily takes another person’s life loses their freedom for the rest of their own life.

Nicole Chammartin, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Manitoba, said her organization is supportive of people who are ruled not criminally responsible.

“But I have great empathy with the (victim’s) family in this case – I can’t fathom what they went through,” she said.

“I can understand why they have strong feelings, but is the model of the justice system rehabilitation or punishment?”

Psychiatrist Dr. Fred Shane, who recently moved his practice from Manitoba to B.C., said Trueman’s case is how the law is supposed to work.

“The meds worked, they reintegrated her, and she wasn’t deemed a threat,” Shane said.

“She was in the community within six months and that’s alarming if you read the paper, but the reality was she was OK.”

Shane said contrary to what many people think, being found not criminally responsible may mean a stiffer sentence than a criminal conviction.

“When a person is (found not criminally responsible) and put in an institution, it is indefinite. You could be there your whole lifetime,” he said.

Veteran criminal defence counsel Greg Brodsky said people who commit offences while suffering from a mental illness shouldn’t be punished like criminals.

“They have a mental disorder. It doesn’t mean they’re evil,” Brodsky said.

“I once (represented) someone saying they took instructions from a rabbit. You wouldn’t say they should be locked up with someone in prison.”

5 thoughts on “She was back in the community in six months”

  1. I am so sorry for the lose of Timothy.
    May it be that in his death there will arise
    a new justice that protects the innocent and
    deals with the guilty accordingly.

    No one would suggest that brutality is met
    by brutality…that is why war doesn’t work,
    but there is a time to fight back with the
    intellect and rights and fortitude of our
    humanity…that is a righteous and right
    thing to do when dealing with criminals.

    Sane or not…criminal activity is criminal
    and but for a very few cases, there is no
    fogginess, only in the application of the law that some in power refuse to apply evenly…more chaos and loopholes that make
    society a mine and mind field.

    The cannabalistic activities of unspeakable
    nature is beyond the pale and beyond the
    acceptance of any society to endure. It
    certainly is too much for any family to endure…but the telling of this story begs
    a look into many other situations where
    lax authority due to underdefined morality

    May God have mercy upon us. And may your
    work be blessed by those that need a spokesman for the daily insult of murder and mayhem.

  2. Robert,

    I do appreciate your comments. I actually agree with many of your statements. We can not as a society begin to lock people away… out of sight.. out of mind.

    In Canada, justice must not only be done, but must also seem to be done. You have stated the facts in your wife’s case.. it’s been a 20 year battle. There are numerous cases on record that demonstrate a pattern of release after very short periods of time… and this is the reason this debate is required!

    In your case, your wife has been fortunate enough to have the support required to reach a place of retaliative calm.. Li did not. And we see the consequences. If society becomes the support system that Li was missing, there is a real danger of instituting the “Nazi” mentality you refer to. Can we do more… yes.

    But justice must also seem to be done. If society fails, and the worst scenario unfolds, we also need to take steps to ensure this particular person doesn’t re-offend.

    But thank you for your thoughts.. it adds a balancing perspective.

  3. While I empathize with the family and friends of Tim, I must object to the lifetime punishment idea they propose. Living with my wife’s lifetime psychotic depression I have a good idea of how turbulent and confusing their life can be. After almost 20 years of living through her “episodes”, starting with her drawing a knife on me, I see how some can demand they be put away for life. I can also see the torment and anguish that plagues my wife forever. There is no recollection of events; there are permanent memory blanks; there is the lifetime of medications and relapses when tolerance builds up. Electroconvulsive therapy, exotic drug cocktails, psychoanalysis, family therapy ( yes we are victims and patients too) all exact a toll on everyone. Even now, I still watch and wait for the “next time”, it never leaves and is always a possibility. With strong family support, my wife still had 5 visits to the psych ward. Eventually the right drug cocktail was found and EVENTUALLY she learned the meds are for life, but the apprehension never really leaves.

    Vince Li and others without a strong support system have a much harder challenge in finding a chance at life. They need someone to watch over them, just as I still do with my wife. Throwing away the key will not solve the problem. The real issue is a major lack of resources and funding. Peoples’ perceptions need to change; these people really do not know reality, the voices are REAL! Since my wife became ill we have not seen the best man at our wedding, (I think they believe she’s contagious!) they want nothing to do with us. With love and patience, and her meds, we have a normal life.

    Do we now return to the days when lepers have their own colony and do not provide treatment?

    Nobody believes Hitler was right in locking up the gay and lesbian population. Are we now returning to that kind of paranoia???

  4. I think that in this case, once Li gets the medications he is supposed to get and is sane in the eyes of the court, that he should spend a life sentence in prison. Why should he get to go free if a mental health review board says he is mentally healthy and is no longer a threat to society? What happens if he stops taking his medications? This could happen again, schizophrenia treatment is not an exact science and once patients feel better, and no longer hear the voices in their heads telling them to do something, they generally go off their medication because they feel they don’t need it anymore. There is no one to monitor them once they are released, and with no criminal record they are free to do this again. Even the people from his church begged him to take his medication, and he refused. So what are we to do? Once the mental health facility has him stable he should spend the rest of his life in prison. He still committed a crime and he has to pay for that crime.

    1. I miss you Grandma 😔

      Even though you had done this, I still love you so much and I miss you ❤

      My Grandma shouldn’t have suffered through this tragedy. Shes an amazing hearted person and Supportive, Caring, So loving, and so much more.

      You’re the best Grandma ❤

      I hope you’re in a wayyy better place ❤

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