Pub­lic safety should come first

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - John Roe

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 Fri­day 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 last week’s board 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. Last week’s board rul­ing fails to do that.

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