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True Crime Canada: The Greyhound bus beheading case

The tale of Vince Li, who left Canadians reeling in disgust after beheading fellow bus passenger Tim McLean in 2008, continues to cause anger across the country. Warning: This story contains details that may be distressing to some readers.
Tim McLean was killed in July 2008 while travelling on a Greyhound bus headed for Winnipeg.

Warning: This story contains details that may be distressing to some readers.

The tale of Vince Li, who beheaded fellow bus passenger Tim McLean in 2008, continues to cause anger across the country.

The strangers were travelling on a Greyhound bus headed for Winnipeg on July 30, 2008, when Li stabbed, beheaded and cannibalized Li as horrified witnesses from the evacuated vehicle looked on.

Eight years later, Li was given temporary passes away from a high-security mental hospital where he was treated for schizophrenia. 

Then, in 2017, under the new name Will Lee Baker, he was given an absolute discharge with no restrictions.

To understand this case, we need to backtrack a bit.

McLean, a 22-year-old carnival worker, had been sitting at the rear when Li boarded the bus in Erickson, Man. At first, Li sat near the front before moving back to sit beside McLean, who was asleep.

It wasn't long before the quiet trip became a horror scene.

Witnesses said McLean was sleeping with his headphones on when his seatmate suddenly produced a large knife and began stabbing him in the chest and neck.

The driver pulled over to evacuate as Li continued his gruesome attack as witnesses watched on from the roadside in horror. The driver and two passengers attempted to rescue McLean but were chased away by Li, who slashed at them from behind the locked bus doors before returning to McLean's body.

On March 5, 2009, a judge found Li not criminally responsible for McLean's killing.

The court heard Li had been told by God to kill McLean and that he faced execution if he didn't follow through. The judge ruled Li was not criminally responsible as he didn't understand his actions were morally wrong and that he believed he was acting in self-defence.

In Canada, an accused person must have the capacity to understand their actions were wrong. They cannot be found guilty of an offence if they can't.

And, while the horror of the killing sickened many Canadians, the process afterwards caused outrage.

After sentencing, Li was confined to Manitoba's Selkirk Mental Health Centre to be treated for schizophrenia. Only a year later, he was granted the ability to take walks on hospital grounds while escorted by two staff members.

By 2012, Li was granted increased freedom to have excursions into the community of Selkirk. The passes began at 30 minutes and slowly increased to day passes but required a staff member and security officer escort.

In 2013, Li was granted supervised, full-day trips to Lockport, Winnipeg and nearby beaches. He was also allowed to be unescorted on hospital grounds — starting with 15-minute periods and working up to a full day.

By early 2014, Li was allowed to leave the hospital without an escort to visit Selkirk and was moved to an unlocked hospital ward.

Another year passed, and experts recommended Li be transferred to a Winnipeg hospital in the lead-up to a transfer to a community group home. His psychiatrist and other doctors also recommended Li have unescorted outings in Winnipeg.

However, the Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board allowed Li unescorted visits to Winnipeg, adding he had to stay at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre or a Winnipeg psychiatric centre.

Finally, in 2017, Li was granted an absolute discharge. The board found he no longer posed a significant safety threat.

The board decision said public safety was its paramount consideration and that the evidence did not substantiate that Li posed a "significant threat to the safety of the public."

However, the board's decision-making process sparked controversy, with Manitoba's legislative justice critic noting its secrecy around releasing information about Li brought the justice system into disrepute.

McLean's mother, Carol de Delley, also waded in, saying Li should be treated as a criminal, not a patient, and there should be no secrecy around her child's killer.

The board relented. It decided health issues would remain private, but its overall decisions on Li would be released.

Since then, de Delley has joined other Canadians fighting to change the Criminal Code to ensure that mentally ill killers remain behind bars for the rest of their lives in places where they can receive treatment.