Stanley Yaren responds to Justice Minister Andrew Swan

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

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editor/pandering-destructive-and-ignorant-95678169.html