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Man who beheaded Manitoba bus passenger asks for freedom

Will Baker (center), formerly known as Vince Li leaves after his meeting at the Criminal Code Review Board hearing Monday. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and found not criminally responsible for the killing of Tim McLean, 22, in 2008. Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press

WINNIPEG—While suffering from schizophrenia, he randomly attacked a stranger on a Greyhound bus in one of Canada's most notorious killings.

Now the man found not criminally responsible for the 2008 slaying wants the Criminal Code Review Board to place the ultimate trust in him and allow him to continue to live free in the community—without the safety net currently in place to catch him should he stumble.

Vince Li, who has legally changed his name to Will Baker, appeared in court Monday seeking an absolute discharge that would free him from any further court-ordered responsibilities. Defence lawyer Alan Libman told members of the review board they must cut his client loose based on all the evidence before them.

"He is a model patient. There is absolutely no legal reason why this board should not grant an absolute discharge," Libman said following nearly three hours of often heated evidence and submissions.

The Crown is opposed to the request, saying it's too dangerous to put responsibility on Baker to ensure he continues taking his daily dose of antipsychotic medication, which has wiped away the command hallucinations he was suffering from when he killed, dismembered and cannibalized 22-year-old Tim McLean on the bus on Trans-Canada Highway near Portage la Prairie, Man.

"The board should not lose sight of what occurred, because it does speak to his potential risk," said prosecutor Mary Goska. "It's clear he can be dangerous in certain circumstances. Although it's not probable, it's possible he will stop taking his medication."

A decision is expected by the end of this week.

Goska told the board she was "surprised" to hear about Baker's request two weeks ago. She said Baker was previously prescribed antipsychotic medication following an Ontario hospital stay years before the Greyhound attack, only to decide he no longer wished to keep taking them.

Dr. Jeffrey Waldman, the head of the treatment team that has been working closely with Baker, testified Monday he supports an absolute discharge. He admitted it's imperative Baker continues taking his daily medications and seeing a psychiatrist, but believes that will continue to happen regardless of the board's decision.

"He knows, and we know, it's the medication that got him well and is keeping him well," said Waldman. He said Baker plans to continue having his medication intake supervised even if it was no longer required.

"He's consistently demonstrated excellent understanding of his illness," said Waldman. "He's made it known to his treatment team he will remain on antipsychotic medication indefinitely."

Baker has been getting increasing freedoms over the years, eventually going from a locked facility at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre to independent living in his own Winnipeg apartment last November. He was described by Waldman as "active in the community," which includes regularly attending a gym and a local church. He is on a waiting list for a postsecondary training program in the city and has long-term plans to settle in Winnipeg. Baker is also hoping to travel to China with his ex-wife to visit his parents, whom he hasn't seen in nearly a decade.

Goska said Monday this is a case of Baker asking for too much, too soon and that a more "slowly and deliberately" tailored return to society is warranted.

"It's not been a period where one can adequately assess how he's going to perform over the long-term," she said.

Goska questioned why an absolute discharge is necessary if Baker truly plans to keep having his medication intake supervised. She noted the Crown is only asking that such an order continue so that there would be consequences should he fail to do so. If granted a discharge, Baker would ultimately have all the power.

"I'm submitting those conditions are necessary. That's what this situation demands," she said.

Goska questioned whether this was a case of the treatment team making decisions based on a "lack of resources."

"There's certainly a motivation to have people through our system," Waldman admitted. But he said their opinion is formed based on the facts before them.

Waldman tried to offer assurances that they would likely notice any significant changes to Baker's behavior and could still take action under the Mental Health Act if they felt it was warranted.

"If he were to develop symptoms we would be aware of that and be able to intervene appropriately," said Waldman. "I think it would be really easy to determine he was getting sick, if he was to get sick again."

But Goska suggested that would only be true if Baker decided to keep seeing the treatment team—and a discharge would no longer legally require him to do so.

Monday's hearing was briefly interrupted when a man sitting in the public gallery stood up and called Baker a "danger to the general public." He was ordered to sit down and remain quiet or face removal by sheriff's officers.

Some of McLean's family also attended but opted not to present a victim impact statement, saying they don't approve of the limits imposed on them, which forbids them from actually talking about the crime. Outside court, McLean's mother Carol de Delley read a brief statement summarizing their views.

"I don't believe for one second that Will Baker poses no threat. He will be a risk to public safety for the rest of his life. What if he chooses to stop his medication again? In a nutshell I don't believe that should be his choice to make anymore," said de Delley.

She would prefer Baker spend the rest of his life in a locked facility but said if he's going to be in the community there at least must be conditions imposed on him rather than simply trust him to self-medicate.

"Has everyone forgotten what he did to Timothy?" she said. "I don't want another person to ever go through what I've been through these past nine years. Shall we all just wait until it happens again? Shame on us all if we do. I hope that level heads prevail and that the public is kept safe in the future."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

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