I was blown away by two (2) articles published in print media last week.
The controversial decision by the Criminal Code Review Board granting Vince Li unescorted trips to the town of Selkirk, Manitoba.
If you’re not familiar with Vince Li you’ll have to do your own homework. I’ve seen enough sensationalism in the media and refuse to participate in the publication of shocking headlines or gratuitous descriptions of his violent crime.
Dan Lett, Winnipeg Free Press reporter, can never be accused of not taking a strong position on the issue. In fact, his article reads more like an intolerant, jaded attempt to put the Vince Li issue in a box. Lett attacks, stereotypes, insults, and marginalize any person or group, (Conservatives) who have dissenting opinions.
His most pointed attacks were directed towards Conservative MP’s Steven Blaney, Public Safety Minister, and Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, who’ve taken positions suggesting the decision to grant Li more freedom was an “insult” to the McLean family.
Lett unabashedly rejects the MP’s concerns and goes on the offence.
“I, like many of you, enjoy a good bit of purposeful political theatre. A rousing bit of chest-thumping and arm-waving and mock indignation when the time is right,” he sarcastically wrote.
He calls Blaney a, “Tory power broker” and insults Glover by accusing her of spewing, “Her own bit of vitriol,” on the issue. He then proceeds to stereotype the entire Conservative base by suggesting they’re a bunch of vigilantes who, “prefer punishment to crime prevention any day of the week.”
Lett categorizes concerns on the flip side as, “Theatre, absurd, disquieting, shameful and verging on dangerous.”
The article written by Winnipeg Sun reporter Dean Pritchard enters the world of absurdity in his efforts to champion the rights of Vince Li.
His angle, all human beings are capable of murder.
“I could kill you,” he writes. And, “So could you,” he suggests.
“No matter how well we are raised, no matter how “good” we are, there is always a danger that, with the right trigger, we will fall into an abyss and do something horrible,” Pritchard continues.
Pritchard’s attempt to minimize Li’s crime is nothing less than astonishing. As if we should have more understanding and forgiveness for Vince Li because we’re all capable of committing murder. The entire premise is ridiculous.
Last year there were twenty-five (25) homicides committed in the City of Winnipeg. Based on a population of 715,000 people, 0.00349 % percent of the citizens who make up our population committed murder last year. That minute percentage tells me an argument built on the logic that we’re all capable of committing murder has no place in a common sense discussion regarding Vince Li’s freedom.
The City of Winnipeg is not populated by masses of potentially murderous people teetering on the edge of a murderous schizophrenic breakdown. That’s just not our reality.
The minimization sunk to greater depths.
“If released next year, Li will have spent more time in custody than a lot of violent people I’ve seen sentenced. People who have killed others over a case of beer or stabbed a friend for a meaningless slight. People with no real excuse for their actions other than drunkenness or stupidity,” Pritchard writes.
While it’s true, soft justice and grotesquely light sentences for murder offences are realities in our broken justice system, I disagree with the logic that one abomination of justice can somehow justify another.
Much of Pritchard and Lett’s arguments center on the issue of vengeance and punishment. It was Pritchard who captured the true essence of their concerns when he wrote, “We can’t allow the horror of McLean’s death to give way to vengeance masquerading as justice,” he concludes.
Pritchard and Lett might be surprised to hear I agree with them. I just don’t share their view that people concerned about public safety need to be labelled as vengeful vigilantes.
For me, it’s not about vengeance, punishment or vigilantism, it’s about public safety, end of story.
Vince Li committed one of the most profoundly horrific murders in the history of our Country, and no, in my experience most people are not capable of committing radically violent murders that involve decapitation and cannibalism. The reality is, Vince Li and a small percentage of people like him are capable of committing such crimes. That much we know.
The champions who support Li’s freedom like to suggest a hallmark of a civilized society is measured by how we differentiate between criminally responsible and not criminally responsible (NCR) individuals.
While I feel no need to denigrate their opinion, I believe the hallmark of a civilized society is measured by our willingness to place our highest priority on public safety. Do we not all have the right to live in a peaceful and safe society?
I ‘m not moved by arguments that center on progress, treatment and low recidivism rates.
The fact is, Vince Li is an extremely dangerous man who will always pose an inordinate risk to public safety. I’ve had a great deal of experience dealing with schizophrenic people who’ve come in conflict with the law. Some of these individuals committed murder while others required placement in a secure psychiatric facility for a variety of reasons.
In my experience, the most common reason for a return to the psych ward was because the subjects failed to adhere to protocols regarding their medication. While on their meds subjects felt stable and inevitably adopted the idea their medication was no longer required. Others simply didn’t have the ability to live a regimented lifestyle while some complicated their issues by using alcohol or street drugs.
Ironically, Lett followed up his article with a piece tackling the complex issue of, “Making sense of NCR.”
The story features questions about NCR which are answered by Ken Mackenzie, manager of the Forensic Mental Health Program at the WRHA. The article contains some interesting factoids about people who’ve been found not criminally responsible for their crimes.
Ironically, the factoids seem to undermine Lett’s position.
Q “Did all NCRs commit violent, gruesome slayings?”
A “No, in fact, NCRs involve a wide range of crimes. Only a small portion of the total number committed heinous, violent crimes.”
-Does that reality not suggest we should have more stringent protocols and reduced freedoms for the small percentage of those that do commit heinous, violent crimes?
Q “Do NCR’s, once they’re released, ever re-offend?”
A “For NCR’s the recidivism rate is between 10 to 15 per cent. However, for those NCR’s hospitalized for the most violent crimes, the recidivism rate nationally is almost zero. The majority of “crimes” committed by NCR upon release are violations of the conditions of release: failure to take medication, leaving the jurisdiction with permission, failing to abstain from drugs or alcohol.
-I question what “almost zero” means. “Almost zero,” is simply not good enough. When it comes to extreme violent crimes like the one committed by Vince Li only zero is acceptable. I don’t want my mother, brother, sister, wife or children to be included as an “almost zero” statistic.
-I find it interesting that Lett’s follow-up article confirms that “failure to take medication” is one of the most common reasons for recidivism. The inability of mental health professionals to guarantee that Vince Li will take his medication forms a central part of the argument against his increased freedom.
Q “Can a person found NCR for an act of violence be forced to take medication?”
A “The Charter of Rights and Freedoms prevents the Crown from forcing anyone to take medication against their wishes, Mackenzie said. However, the board makes medication a condition in all release orders, with no exceptions. An accused person can refuse, but they will not be released, Mackenzie said.”
-The fact remains, Vince Li can agree to take his meds to gain his freedom but can stop taking them once he’s been released. No one can guarantee that won’t happen. I ask you, what then? What happens when Vince has his next violent schizophrenic episode? Who will be the next victim? Who will be accountable? Should public safety be sacrificed in the face of such risk?
A Winnipeg Free Press poll indicates 77% of all those polled (4,879) disagree with the review boards decision to grant more freedom to Vince Li.
Should we dismiss the opinions of the people who took the poll as card-carrying vigilantly members of the Conservative Party, or is it possible some of them are just decent people who have valid public safety concerns?
I want Mr Lett & Mr Pritchard to know that I ‘m not a vigilante, nor am I a member of the Conservative Party, yet I have real concerns regarding the public safety risk the Vince Li’s of the world present to our communities.
I guess that makes me a radical nut job.