Dr. Dawg

Vince Li and the media

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Vince Li.jpg

Vince Li, during a psychotic episode, committed a horrific offence: without warning, he beheaded a passenger on board a Greyhound bus, and partially cannibalized him.

Nothing can reduce the enormity of this act. He is now in secure confinement, receiving treatment for the psychosis that seized him, and he’s not about to move next door to you anytime soon.

But he’s in the news again, and how those headlines scream!

Doctor pushes for more freedom for bus killer

Greyhound bus killer may be allowed off hospital grounds within a year: Doctor

More freedom recommended for bus killer

Man who beheaded seatmate on Greyhound bus may get expanded hospital privileges

In a nutshell, this is what is being proposed:

A psychiatrist told the review board Monday that Li is responding well to medication and has not been a management problem.

Dr. Steven Kramer said Li socializes well with staff and other patients.

In June of 2010, the criminal review board agreed with a recommendation from psychiatrists that Li be granted escorted walks outdoors on the grounds of the centre. Implementation of the plan to grant him time outside was delayed by a few months.

On Monday, Dr. Kramer recommended Li should be supervised outside by one staff member, down from the current three staff members providing him escorted walks. That could later be lowered to one, said Kramer.

Following the one-on-one supervision, Kramer said the next step would be to ask for general supervision on the centre’s grounds, in which one staff member supervises three patients.

Kramer said that given Li’s conduct and attitude, that could be possible within the next eight to 12 months.

Following that, Li could also be given future passes for supervised visits into the town of Selkirk, said the doctor.

Obviously the victim’s family is not pleased with this turn of events. The mother has spoken out, and the Crown seems to agree:

“I totally disagree with it. I don’t think he should ever be off the grounds,” she said.

The Crown said it is “vehemently opposed” to both Li getting general supervision and to his integration beyond the boundaries of the centre. The Crown also said Li had a hallucination only five months ago.

I’m not about to fall into the same trap as the media and the understandably upset parent of the deceased. I have no opinion whatsoever on whether or not what is proposed is a proper course of action.

But a few observations need to be made. First, there is the behaviour of the media on this matter. Too many of them are simply fear-mongering, and no doubt the doctor actually treating the patient is coming in for a good deal of ill-informed abuse as a result.

Once again, irresponsible sensationalism has trumped a sober review of the facts available. And, where we obviously don’t have all the facts needed for a judgement, judgement is implicitly being encouraged in any case.

Secondly, this all raises a more profound question. Consider a person with an infectious disease. Being unaware of this at first, he or she might go out in public, and others might become infected. But the illness runs its course, with proper treatment, and the patient is cured.

It would be absurd, wouldn’t it, to place this individual under a lifetime quarantine?

But with mental illness, old attitudes die hard. Many people do get better. But we in the general public are never absolutely sure, and we get particularly worried when violence is involved.

That’s entirely understandable. But if someone is actually responding to treatment (rather than simply telling a good story at a parole board hearing), we need to be able to factor that in, instead of reacting blindly and emotionally.

It’s not as though Li is being set loose upon the community, after all. It’s a question of supervised walks, phased in over time. He remains confined, and his treatment is continuing.

Another point to consider, and I’ve come to no hard and fast conclusions here, is the question of identity. Is Vince Li the same person today that he was on that bus? Is identity—who a person is—so rigidly constructed that his or her future must be guided by the person’s past? Was that unspeakable act on the bus definitive, in some way, an indelible, unchanging aspect of Vince Li?

Maybe yes, maybe no. I’m one progressive who tends to look at notions of “rehabilitation” of violent criminals with considerable scepticism. We simply don’t know enough about the human psyche to be sure that recidivism won’t occur, and yet in many cases it doesn’t. It’s really the not-knowing that has us concerned—we want guarantees. (I’m setting aside here the traditional punitive notions that are pretty much the province of the Right.)

We aren’t going to get any guarantees about Vince Li, I think. I suspect he’ll require supervision for the rest of his life because of it. But nothing suggested at this point departs from that.

My final point is about closure, something that we all crave. We don’t have, in Vince Li’s case, any real sense of finality. It’s a defective narrative, one without a conclusion, and it leaves us profoundly unsatisfied. The outcry over escorted walks represents, at least in part, a frustrated desire for that conclusion. We want the story to end.

As it is, everything seems up in the air. Perhaps we can agree, however, that ill-judged media babbling adds nothing whatsoever to the discussion. Comments are welcome.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on May 31, 2011 11:02 AM.

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