WINNIPEG — In early September, 2005, Toronto police picked up a “dishevelled and confused” Chinese immigrant as he wandered aimlessly along the city's Highway 427.
Over the previous months, the hard-working, church-going Winnipegger had begun hearing what he thought were commands from God.
The orders started as general advice, but gradually morphed into more bizarre instructions – buy land he couldn't afford in Thompson, Man., travel to Toronto for work, and dispose of all his personal belongings, according to a psychiatric report released Wednesday in the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench.
Failing in his Toronto job search, the man was apparently commanded to return home. So he began walking. For several days, he followed the sun along Toronto's highway system until police found him and, against his will, took him to the emergency room at William Osler Health Centre in Etobicoke.
Within 10 days, Vince Li said that he fled the hospital and returned to Winnipeg, defying doctors who had begun treating him for schizophrenia, according to the report.
Nearly three years later, during a similar hallucinatory road trip, Mr. Li hacked his seat-mate aboard a Greyhound bus more than 100 times with a four-inch buck knife before dismembering and cannibalizing Tim McLean's body.
At day two of Mr. Li's second-degree murder trial Wednesday, prosecutors continued asking why he was allowed to leave the Ontario hospital, even as Mr. Justice John Scurfield repeatedly dismissed their line of questioning.
After a day and a half of testimony, the trial will close Thursday morning when Judge Scurfield decides whether Mr. Li should be held criminally responsible for the murder.
Both defence and prosecution argued that because Mr. Li was suffering a major psychotic episode involving “command hallucinations from a voice that he believed belonged to God,” he should be found not criminally responsible.
Judge Scurfield will likely concur, a decision that would exempt Mr. Li from jail, sending him instead to a mental health facility in Selkirk, Man.
But questions about why a future killer was discharged in 2005 will linger, especially among Mr. McLean's family.
“Why are the details of his release so fuzzy?” Carol deDelley, Mr. McLean's mother, demanded outside the court Wednesday.
Even if doctors at William Osler could not divine his murderous potential, why was he permitted to leave against medical advice?
“Nobody has a perfect instrument to determine whether someone is a future risk,” said Stephen Hucker, professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, who is not involved in the case.
The Etobicoke hospital did not return calls for comment Wednesday. According to forensic psychiatrist Jonathan Rootenberg's evaluation, Mr. Li disputed his 2005 schizophrenia diagnosis.
“I didn't think I was sick,” Mr. Li is quoted as saying. “I lost my temper one night and they gave me a needle and I slept for two or three days. When I woke up, I saw the doctor, who told me I should stay longer, but I got scared; I took my stuff from the nurse and took the bus back to Winnipeg.”
Despite being placed on a Form 3 certificate – an involuntary admission document that forces patients thought to pose a risk to themselves or others into a psychiatric facility for up to 14 days – Mr. Li defied doctors by leaving after just 10 days.
Patients can appeal a Form 3, but there is no public record indicating that Mr. Li did so.
“If he was still under certificate and it was thought that he might harm himself or others, the doctors can call the police,” Dr. Hucker said. “But there is always that tension between the rights of the individual and the rights of the rest of us.”
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