If you live in Canada, you’re likely all too familiar with Vince Li because he committed one of the more memorably heinous homicides in the country’s recent history when he decapitated Tim McLean onboard a Greyhound bus. Li has schizophrenia and, as a result, was deemed not criminally responsible for his actions. Since then, he has been treated at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre in Manitoba. Now, seven years later, Li’s doctors are recommending he be transferred, first to a locked medical ward in Winnipeg and eventually to a high-security group home with access to short-term day passes.
In light of the news about Li, Manitoba MP and Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages Shelly Glover gave an interview yesterday with Carol Off on CBC Radio’s As It Happens. You can and should listen to the full interview.
Be warned: Like a lot of interviews with politicians, the back-and-forth is what I imagine cognitive dissonance feels like.
Glover’s remarks are the latest rage-inducing example of a Conservative Member of Parliament eschewing scientific evidence in favour of anecdotes and personal opinions when defending government policy. (In this instance, I believe Glover refers to Bill C-14, the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act, which came into force in July 2014). This is not new, nor are the issues of fear-mongering and stigmatizing mental illness.
However, in her conversation with Off, Glover takes the matter (down) to a whole other level by seemingly not even knowing the definition of the word “anecdotal.”
Off asks Glover to explain why she believes individuals like Li — those who have committed acts of extreme violence, been judged not criminally responsible and, following treatment, deemed a low risk to reoffend — should be regarded as a risk to the public regardless of the opinions of medical professionals and criminal review boards.
“We’ve had this before,” Glover responds, citing the case of Robert Chaulk and Francis Morissette, two teenagers who were deemed not criminally responsible for a murder they committed together in 1985. Chaulk was released after treatment and later, in 1999, killed two people.
Off points out that this case is anecdotal and presents Glover with statistics about the remarkably low (almost 0%) rate of recidivism among those who have been hospitalized for violent crimes for which they were deemed not criminally responsible:
Off: Those are the statistics. I know that as a police officer, you have some stories, some observations, but does it not matter that there are actually some statistics here?
Glover: Well, first and foremost, nothing I said about that case is anecdotal at all. It is fact. You can look it up.
Lisa (yelling at the radio): Everything you just said about that case is anecdotal! Help me out here, Carol.
Off: No, I just mean that’s an anecdote. I’m not saying it’s not true. I’m just saying it’s one particular incident.
Lisa: Thanks, Carol. You handled that much more calmly than I would have done.
Glover: But there are several of those, just to be very clear. And I think you may have the stats that the doctor’s presented maybe a little bit off because most people who actually go to prison are not recidivists. […] I’ve seen the cases where they get out with that designation and they kill again.
Lisa: This Cabinet Minister doesn’t understand what an anecdote is! How can we possibly expect her to analyze statistics?!
The answer is, we can’t, and that is a sad state of affairs. The next federal election can’t come soon enough. Let’s not screw this up, Canada.