I’m not sure how it came about anymore, but as I lay in bed, I found myself thinking about Vince Li. In 2008, while hallucinating, this young man murdered the passenger next to him on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba. He was later found not guilty by reason of insanity, which means that his mental illness prevented him from understanding the consequences of his actions, and he did not intend to kill his neighbour. Mr. Li was released in 2015 after spending six years in a psychiatric institution for the criminally insane. He had schizophrenia and had not been taking his medication at the time of the crime.
I remember reading that the victim’s mother had said at some point that she could forgive the illness but not the man who killed her son, and I thought—and still think—that she was splitting hairs. Li killed the guy next to him because he was hearing voices. He probably wouldn’t have done it otherwise, although, of course, we don’t know that for sure.
I remember a time when I also had stopped taking my medication because it was ineffective at controlling my “positive” symptoms, such as auditory hallucinations and delusional ideas. Those symptoms, especially the delusions, convinced me that I should stop taking the pills because God wanted me to. I now understand that God did not want that, but I was prey to religious delusions, and as long as I was kept on Haldol, an old antipsychotic, I continued to have those delusions.
If you don’t have schizophrenia, it’s difficult to understand how this could happen. But given my own experience I believe that Mr. Li very likely had the same problem. His medication was not controlling his symptoms, and under the effect of those symptoms he had stopped taking the medication. Without the medication, his hallucinations took over. He heard voices screaming in his ears that if he didn’t murder Mr. MacLean, his neighbour would murder him. I know from experience that when you hear voices screaming in your ear, you will do ANYTHING to silence them, however briefly.
There is another possibility too. Like a lot of people, Mr. Li didn’t realize that he needed the medication to function properly. I don’t know enough about him to state that as a fact. But I do know that that you can’t separate people from their illnesses as if having schizophrenia is an option that one can set aside to decide whether one will kill someone else or not. Nobody chooses to have a mental illness, nor when it’s convenient to have it or not.
We who have schizophrenia are born with the predisposition long before the onset of the illness, and people wonder why we do the bizarre things we do. For example, I could not see well in three dimensions and I still can’t. My late mom used to say that as a toddler I would raise my legs to cross a threshold that was level with the floor, and that puzzled her for many years.
After the verdict that led to his being confined to that institution, Mr. Li was put back on antipsychotics—presumably a different, more effective formula than the one he had been taking when he went off his medication. Proper medication allowed him to realize the horrible crime he had committed and he was filled with remorse.
It seems he has since realized that he needs to take his medication for the rest of his life in order to avoid doing anything so awful ever again, and authorities felt in 2015 that he was safe enough to be released in the community. Unlike in the USA, the Canadian judicial system prioritizes rehabilitation although people do have problems with that when the crime committed hits too close to home for comfort.
To get back to the reason I chose this title, although I hurt for the victim’s mother, her statement doesn’t square with the reality of serious mental illness. She is the one allowing resentment to poison her life. Even if she can never forgive Mr. Li, I hope she comes to realize that Mr. Li did not intend to murder her son on that terrible day.