Public safety should come first
Canada seems a little less safe now that a schizophrenic man who beheaded a fellow bus passenger has been granted complete freedom. Thanks to the unconditional discharge handed out Feb. 10 to Will Baker – formerly known as Vince Li – he will be able to live where he wants, go where he likes and do what he chooses without reporting to anyone.
Because he was allowed to change his name, he will not be as easily identified. In addition, no one will be monitoring Baker to ensure he takes the medication he needs to treat his illness. This is why the public has a right to be worried. Its safety should have come first.
In setting Baker free – no strings attached – the Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board concluded he no longer poses a significant threat to public safety as long as he takes his medication. But the board’s decision includes no guarantee that medication will be used. That’s an egregious error.
In 2008, Baker stabbed, beheaded and began cannibalizing Tim McLean, a complete stranger. The two men were sitting beside each other on a Greyhound bus when Baker, a diagnosed schizophrenic, said he heard God telling him to kill McLean. Baker stood trial for this heinous act but a court found him not criminally responsible.
Based on the evidence, that decision was correct. The difficult question is always what happens next.
Many people are convinced Baker should never be freed. While he does not belong in prison, they argue he should be kept for the rest of his life in a secure facility. Yet a strong case can also be made that if someone can be successfully treated for a mental illness to the point that they no longer pose a threat to anyone, that person should be freed. The Supreme Court of Canada backed this position in 1999.
The problem with the board’s recent ruling on Baker is that although he is no threat if he takes his medication, the public cannot be certain he will.
Even some professionals in the mental health community are concerned by this lack of oversight.
It’s true that Baker’s road to freedom has been a long one. Initially held in a locked psychiatric hospital, he was allowed to move to a group home in 2015, then given approval to live independently in his own apartment in Winnipeg last year. But at that time he was monitored nightly to confirm he took his medication.
As of today, no one – not in the justice system, the general public or on a police – can state with absolute confidence that Baker is taking his meds, that he will not become dangerous again and will not seriously harm somebody.
Canadians have no interest in trying to punish this man. But Canadians have a clear interest in knowing everything possible is being done to ensure their safety. The Feb. 10 board ruling fails to do that.