How the mental health system failed Vince Li
WINNIPEG — Vince Li jumped from the bus
window likely thinking he would be greeted as a hero.
In his mind, he and
his trusty buck knife had just slain a demon. With blood smeared across his
face and three of the demon's body parts stuffed in his pocket, he couldn't
understand why police surrounded him as soon as he landed, or why they “put
cuffs on my hand and then they took me to the police station and treated me
like a murderer,” he later told a psychiatrist.
It took weeks of treatment before Mr. Li realized the extent of his
actions the night of July 30, 2008: that a major psychotic disorder had
compelled him to stab, dismember and disembowel a 22-year-old stranger
aboard a Greyhound bus bound for Winnipeg.
The story of Mr. Li's descent into murderous psychosis is not just the
tale of one man's tragic flaws – but of multiple flaws in the way Canada
deals with its mentally ill, of a patchwork mental health system that failed
Mr. Li, the public and, under the most dreadful circumstances possible, Tim
Family, friends and doctors all noted abnormal behaviour at various stages
along his five-year plunge into depths of schizophrenia and failed to act. What
broke down in the case of Vince Weiguang Li, who was found not criminally
responsible this week due to a major psychotic disorder? And will it happen
The voices first beckoned Mr. Li five years ago. He'd always been a reclusive
man, even before he moved from China to a new country and a new language with
his wife Ana in 2001. But these voices added a worrisome dimension to his
personality. In the summer of 2004, Ana noticed him “acting weird” after several
days of irregular eating and insomnia. “He cried a lot and told me he saw God. I
thought he was just tired so I bought him sleeping pills from Shoppers Drug
Mart, but that didn't work too well.”
Friends advised Ana to take her husband to a doctor. She refused, citing
language and cultural barriers as well as Mr. Li's inevitable opposition to any
plan that might label him as mentally ill.
Therein lies the most powerful reason Mr. Li was never treated. “The stigma
around the illness is so severe,” said Mary Alberti, executive director of the
Schizophrenic Society of Ontario, “that people are afraid to talk about it,
afraid to come forward because they are afraid of how they will be treated by
Ana obviously cared deeply for her husband. She took days off work to help
him. When Mr. Li briefly returned to China in 2005, she implored his parents to
get him medical treatment. Even after the couple divorced in 2005, she gave him
money and let him stay with her while he was unemployed.
In March, 2005, Mr. Li abruptly left their Winnipeg home for Thompson, Man.,
apparently commanded by the voice to buy land there, even though he had no
money. Six months later, again compelled by the voice, he hopped a plane to
Toronto. “Then God's voice told me to go back to Winnipeg … so I started walking
on the highway; I threw out my luggage after God told me to do that,” he told a
He was picked up by police and taken to William Osler Health Centre in
Etobicoke. “He was vague, seemed to be hallucinating, staring into space,” a
doctor there noted. “He has not slept or eaten for three days.”
He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and given medications that he refused to
Believing Mr. Li was at risk of harming himself or others, doctors placed him
on two involuntary admission certificates and could have legally detained him
for 14 days. For reasons still unclear, he walked away from the hospital after
just 10 days. The hospital said it cannot comment on Mr. Li's case for “privacy
and confidentiality” reasons. Mr. Li says he escaped. What's certain is that he
left against medical advice.
Of the 60,000 people who are admitted involuntarily to Canadian hospitals
every, it's unclear how many escape.
“In most hospitals, this will happen more than once a year,” said Richard
O'Reilly, professor of psychiatry at the University of Western Ontario. “Unless
we lock all the doors to all the hospitals, people will be able to get out.”
When patients do escape, doctors are generally obliged to alert the
“In theory the police should always be called because the patient was still
on certificate and therefore must have still been a threat to himself or
others,” said Phil Klassen, deputy clinical director for the Law and Mental
Health Program and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. “In
practice, that does not always happen.”
Several factors can influence whether doctors notify police. The patient may
have been responding to treatment or nearing the expiry of a certificate. Or the
hospital simply did not have the resources. Since mental health facilities began
a massive deinstitutionalization trend 40 years ago, much of the burden of
caring for the mentally ill has been placed on general hospitals.
“Most hospitals have enough other people to look after,” said Simon
Verdun-Jones, an expert in mental health law at Simon Fraser University. “As a
result, these people who refuse treatment are often placed at the back of the
line when in fact they are the illest of the ill and should be placed at the
Ontario's mental health laws could have hindered attempts to detain Mr. Li as
well. Other provinces have broad laws that allow them to scoop up anybody
thought to pose a harm to themselves or others. Ontario specifies that patients
must show potential for physical harm, which is much more difficult to prove,
according to John Gray, author of Canadian Mental Health Law and Policy.
“Ontario has a fairly narrow criteria compared to other provinces,” said Dr.
Gray, who added that the broader measures used in B.C. and Manitoba might have
prevented Mr. Li's release. “We need laws that help people, even when illness
doesn't allow them to realize they are ill.”
After fleeing the William Osler Health Centre, Mr. Li headed straight for
Manitoba, exposing yet another defect in the country's mental-health system.
Health is a provincial jurisdiction. As soon as Mr. Li crossed the provincial
boundary, his Form 3 certificate would have lost authority.
“There are no good interprovincial links when it comes to these laws,” Dr.
Gray said. “It's not like the Criminal Code where if you are charged in one
province it holds in the next.”
After escaping the William Osler centre, Mr. Li returned to Ana looking “like
a homeless person,” she said. But he continued to evade treatment. On a visit to
China, a doctor there gave him a clean bill of health. In 2007, the couple moved
back in together, but he continued to reject treatment.
In late July, 2008, he left their Toronto home and a puzzling note for Ana:
“Don't look for me, I wish you were happy.”
Bizarre, but not out of the ordinary. She didn't discover his whereabouts
until the RCMP called her late on July 30, as her beloved ex-husband was
dismembering Mr. McLean's body.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
on Mental Health costs billions, and society has no desire to even discuss the
issue. Just imagine if breast cancer was a taboo subject devoid of government
recognition? What if diabetes were treated as a taboo subject?
Mental health illnesses including personality disorders have an insidious cost,
it can't be seen because no one wants to see it. You might as well ask Tim
Hortons to fund Elizabeth Fry or the John Howard society for prisoner
rehabilitation. Its politically incorrect.
The root cause of billions of dollars of Canada's economic cancer have their
root in a society that makes Political Correctness paramount over legal rights,
the rule of law and the rights of minorities which include those with mental
health problems and or immigrants who, like fathers, get treated as second class
citizens despite a politically correct charter of rights and freedoms that is
seen only through a politically correct judicial lens.
The root cause of Canada's economic waste falls on the failure of parliament to
insure that Judges do NOT have mental health problems and or a personality
Our judicial selection process actually encourages the very worst of the worst
of the legal profession to become judges and also encourages them to
"flagrantly" abuse their power by making political rather than legal decisions.
The worst examples in Ottawa are Justice Allan Sheffield and Justice Denis
Power, famous for their draconian decisions removing children from fathers,
imputing incomes that never existed or making criminal convictions without a
trial by means of "summary judgment" based on a mentally ill mother's claims
based on quadruple hearsay.
Justice Denis Power suffers from what is called "court rage", he simply dumps on
anyone he does not like especially anyone who criticizes the judiciary. Some
judges are next to saints, others are professional abusers.