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Man who beheaded bus passenger in Manitoba wins right to unescorted trips

An artist's drawing shows Vince Li inside a courtroom in Winnipeg on March 3, 2009.

TOM ANDRICH/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A man who beheaded a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba will soon be allowed to leave a mental hospital without an escort.

Thursday's ruling by the Criminal Code Review Board means Vince Li will be on his own in public for the first time since he stabbed Tim McLean and then ate parts of his body six years ago.

The board granted Li all the new freedoms his psychiatric team had requested at a hearing earlier this week. Lead psychiatrist Dr. Steven Kremer said Li, a schizophrenic, has stopped experiencing delusions and is a model, non-violent patient.

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Instead of the supervised outings Li had been granted previously, he will be allowed unescorted trips from the Selkirk Mental Health Centre into the nearby city of Selkirk. The visits, to begin next Thursday, are to start at 30 minutes and increase to full days.

As well, Li's supervision on outings to other communities —Winnipeg, Lockport and nearby beaches — will be relaxed. He is to be part of a group without a staff member dedicated to monitoring him.

Li is also to be moved to an unlocked ward at the hospital from the secure wing where he has been kept.

For McLean's mother, the changes were an outrage.

"We're not surprised. We're very disappointed, embarrassed, ashamed," Carol DeDelley said.

"I ultimately do not believe that when you take a life, you have the right to freedom any longer."

Li, 46, was found not criminally responsible for stabbing and beheading McLean, a young carnival worker, in July 2008.

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The two men were strangers when Li sat next to McLean on a bus ride to Winnipeg from Edmonton. Li's attack was unprovoked — he said he heard voices telling him to kill McLean. The bus stopped and horrified passengers fled as Li carved up McLean's body.

Li was initially kept inside a locked wing of the Selkirk mental hospital for 24 hours a day. Each year the review board has granted him more freedoms.

Crown attorney Susan Helenchilde did not oppose the changes proposed at this year's hearing. She noted that Li has co-operated with hospital staff at all times.

Li's doctors said he willingly takes his medication and understands the importance of doing so.

DeDelley is not convinced. She said there is no way to guarantee that Li will continue to take his drugs if he's unsupervised.

"He poses no threat in care. I propose they keep him in care so he's not a threat."

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DeDelley has been running a website, www.timslaw.ca, where she highlights cases across the country in which people found not criminally responsible for crimes reoffend after being released.

"They get to a point where they're feeling well, that they don't require the medication, that it's everybody else that is sick."

The review board holds annual hearings for people found not criminally responsible to review conditions imposed on them. Li's psychiatric team has said the ultimate goal is to reintegrate him into society.

Federal Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney was unhappy with the decision.

"The provincial decision to grant Mr. Li unescorted trips around town is an insult to Tim McLean, the man he beheaded and cannibalized," Blaney wrote in a news release from Ottawa.

"Canadians expect that their justice system will keep them safe from high-risk individuals."

Justice Minister Peter MacKay also issued a news release pointing to federal legislation before the Senate that the federal Tories insist would protect the public in cases involving people who have been found not criminally responsible (NCR) for violent crimes.

"Our government has proposed to create a new high-risk designation for NCR accused," said MacKay. "This designation would only apply in the limited number of cases where the accused person has been found NCR of a serious personal injury offence and where there is a high likelihood of further violence that would endanger the public."

However, MacKay did not comment directly on Li's case or whether Li would fall into the category covered by the proposed high-risk designation.

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