The Sad Case of Vince Li

The mental health system in Canada has been brought to the forefront of all of our minds with the shocking case of Vince Li, the Chinese immigrant who decapitated a Greyhound passenger and was recently found Not Criminally Responsible for his actions.

The family of the victim have publicly denounced the court system and have even said that Li is ‘getting away with murder.’ They were also quoted as saying that ‘he will be able to get a job in a day care and pursue life as he pleases.’

Frankly, it sickens me that these outrageous quotes and misinformed ideas have been allowed to spread through the media and the public opinion. It is understandable that the family of victim Tim McLean are completely shocked and abhorred by this unfortunate incident, but their distorted views are only bringing the plight of the mentally ill back another step.

Schizophrenia is one of the least understood of all of the major psychotic disorders. However, one thing is known for sure: people with schizophrenia are not any more likely than the general public to be violent. And in the rare cases that they do become violent, the violence is usually self-inflicted or geared towards close friends and family members. These types of situations are usually preceded by either a failure to take medication, experimentation with drugs and alcohol or extremely stressful life events, leading to a psychotic break with reality.

I have been following this case closely from the beginning and I admittedly have a more avid interest than most. As a student in the Mental Health and Addictions program, I will be doing my placement at the Forensic Unity of the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. Although Mr. Li will be hospitalized in Manitoba, I am eager to be able to meet other patients with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders who have come into contact with the law and hopefully piece together a bit of the puzzle.

Mr. Li most likely believed that he would be heralded as a hero when he jumped through the window of the Greyhound bus covered in blood from head to toe. Instead he was treated like ‘some sort of murderer,’ he later told a psychiatrist. In his mind, he had killed McLean on a direct order from God, because McLean was a demon. In his mind, he was doing the right thing. It was only weeks later upon being stabilized on anti-psychotic medications that Li came to understand the extent of his actions.

For some reason in mental illness, we tend to still somewhat hold the person responsible for their actions, where we never hold the same stance for physical illness. For example, the mother of the victim would probably not be as enraged if her son was killed by a driver who had an epileptic seizure behind the wheel. They are both out of the control of the patient, but for some reason we as a society still think the mentally ill should have to be punished for their actions.

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