The recent uproar over news that Vincent Li would be allowed out of the Selkirk Mental Health Centre on escorted passes for up to 30 minutes a day is testament to the strong opinions people hold about the man, who beheaded 22-year-old Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus west of Portage la Prairie in 2008.
On the one side, you've got supporters of the lock him up and throw away the key theory - or worse. On the other, there are people who argue it isn't his fault he was mentally ill and that he should be free to live his life once he's no longer a threat to himself or others.
These divisions aren't unusual. They can even divide families.
Growing up in Victoria, I was friends with a pair of brothers in junior high and high school, more so with the younger one, but also with his older brother. Later, I spent a couple of years as the roommate of the younger brother before moving to South Korea to work as an English teacher. A few years prior to our sharing an apartment, his older brother, at the age of 24, had killed their mother with a decorative sword that hung on the wall of her house. He was arrested shortly after, outside, within metres of the home where the killing took place.
Over the previous few years, his mother and father had tried to get help for their oldest son, who was displaying symptoms of schizophrenia, but couldn't get the level of treatment that he required. A few months before the killing, he was arrested - in camouflage gear, a gas mask and wrapped in tinfoil to block "alien" messages from entering his head - cutting satellite cables at a local TV station and newspaper. A court-ordered psychiatric assessment determined that he was delusional and paranoid, but not having thoughts of violence, and so he was released into his mother's care. He was later found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity and confined to hospital for treatment. With treatment, his condition improved and he was released a few years later, and started working as a mechanic.
His father became a crusader for the mentally ill, and for the right of parents to know more about the condition of their mentally ill children. My roommate, on the other hand, never spoke about the murder and, as far as I know, didn't have any contact with his brother during the time we lived together, though he occasionally saw his sister and father.
The guy I knew in high school was not the type who would ever commit the kind of act he did, but the person he was at that time was nothing like the person I knew. Is it fair that killers with mental health problems can, in the view of some people, escape the consequences of their actions that caused grief for those who were close to their victims? Maybe not. Is it right that people suffering mental illness may not receive the kind of help they need until after they've demonstrated the behaviour that untreated conditions may lead to? Definitely not.
It's possible laws could be changed to create a class of prisoner who is recognized as not morally responsible for a crime but still subject to indefinite detention, though it may not stand up if challenged as contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The reality is, that wouldn't stop future attacks by people suffering from mental illness. Recognizing the symptoms and ensuring that those who display them get the proper calibre of care might.