Based on our experiences serving clients for 25 years and our research for this project, it is the opinion of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE) that Ontario’s current legal structure is inadequate to meet the needs of older adults residing in congregate settings and failing to have their complaints heard and resolved in a timely and satisfactory manner. ACE has used the phrase “congregate setting” to refer to those locations where older adults reside in a group setting – namely, hospitals, retirement homes and long-term care homes – which have a health care component, where resources are shared (e.g., meals, rooms, programming) and where there is an inability to easily move to a different location. Residents of congregate settings are particularly vulnerable as they are dependent on the very institutions that provide their care and shelter, in addition to the fact that they are “out of sight” from public scrutiny.[1]

In this paper, the application of a principled framework to the relevant laws, policies and practices impacting older adults living in congregate settings illustrates how this group is unable to effectively access justice. This framework refers to the principles adopted by the Law Commission of Ontario – independence, participation, security, dignity and respect for diversity – which should underscore any approach to the law as it affects older adults.[2]

In an effort to influence both law reform and best practices, ACE examined legal mechanisms available in different jurisdictions, both within and outside Canada, with respect to the enforcement of rights for older adults in institutions.

ACE also held a series of focus groups and consultations with stakeholders to guide and inform our work. Using the information obtained from our research and the feedback from our meetings, we have developed an “access to justice” model for Ontario that utilizes the principled framework of the Law Commission of Ontario.

Although the phrase “access to justice” is ubiquitous, there is little agreement about what it means. Common features of an accessible justice system include: just results; fair treatment; reasonable cost; reasonable speed; capacity to be understood by its users; responsiveness to needs; certainty; effectiveness; being adequately resourced; and being well-organized.[3] ACE interprets “access to justice” in its broadest sense and supports Professor Reem Bahdi’s description:

Access to Justice Scholars have moved from a uni-dimensional focus on the procedural and cost barriers that prevent individuals from bringing their claims to court to a more holistic assessment of all aspects of the legal system. Focus has widened from simply an emphasis on “access” to an examination of “justice” as well. The trend is towards thinking of access to justice as three distinct yet interdependent components: substantive justice which concerns itself with an assessment of the rights claims that are available to those who seek a remedy; procedural aspects which focus on the opportunities and barriers to getting ones claim into court (or other dispute resolution forum); and, the symbolic component of access to justice which steps outside of doctrinal law and asks to what extent a particular legal regime promotes citizens’ belonging and empowerment.[4]

It is important to note at the outset that we are writing this report in advance of two important developments in the long-term care sector which likely would have influenced our findings and recommendations. First, the Ombudsman of Ontario will be releasing a report in the late summer of 2009 scrutinizing the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s oversight of long-term care homes. Second, the Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007[5] is expected to be proclaimed into force before the end of the year. The stated purpose of the new legislation is to enhance the quality of life for residents of long-term care homes by strengthening enforcement, improving care and increasing accountability. Although one set of draft regulations was recently released to the public for comments, we are still awaiting the second set. As the regulations provide the “nuts and bolts” to support the law, we do not know how the law will be finally implemented. Moreover, we can only speculate as to how the legislation will be interpreted and applied.

After a brief introduction to ACE, we will outline the methodology we employed for this project. We will then examine the regulation of congregate settings in Ontario. The next section discusses, in detail, the legal protections currently available to residents and why they are ineffective. A legal review of congregate settings and legal protections for older adults in four provinces in Canada, as well as Wales, Australia and the United States of America follows. Finally, ACE will propose its model of access to justice for older adults residing in hospitals, retirement homes and long-term care homes.

Advocacy Centre for the Elderly

ACE is a specialty community legal clinic that was established to provide a range of legal services to low income seniors in Ontario. The legal services include individual and group client advice and representation, public legal education, community development, and law reform activities. ACE has been operating since 1984 and it is the first and oldest legal clinic in Canada with a specific mandate and expertise in legal issues pertaining to older adults.

ACE receives, on average, over 2,500 client intake inquiries a year. These calls are primarily from the Greater Toronto Area but approximately 20% are from outside this region, and may come from any part of the province, as well as from out of province.

The individual client services provided are in areas of law that have a particular impact on older adults. These include but are not limited to the law related to: capacity, substitute decision-making and health care consent; supportive housing and retirement home tenancies; long-term care homes; patients’ rights in hospitals; consumer protection law; elder abuse; home care; and income support.

A primary area of practice for ACE has been advocacy and representation of residents in the long-term care system. One of the lawyers at ACE is a full-time Institutional Advocate, who provides advice to seniors considering moving to or living in various forms health care facilities or congregate settings.

Public legal education programs are directed to seniors and their families, as well as health professionals and other service providers working with seniors. These presentations and workshops may be on any topic of law within ACE’s practice areas. ACE also produces easy-to-read educational materials, such as booklets and pamphlets on seniors’ legal issues.

ACE staff also write papers for continuing legal education programs and engage in other writing on elder law. For example, ACE has produced an extensive publication entitled Long-Term Care Facilities in Ontario: The Advocate’s Manual. Now in its third edition, this manual is over 600 pages and also includes chapters on retirement homes, home care, and other issues such as substitute decision-making, powers of attorney, and advocacy. It remains the only comprehensive text in this area of the law in Canada. ACE is planning to release the next edition in 2010 or 2011, once the Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007 has been enacted.

As part of its law reform mandate, ACE staff frequently participate in government consultations as stakeholder representatives for the seniors’ community. We also submit written briefs to policy makers and make oral submissions to legislative committees when new legislation or legislative amendments impacting our clients are proposed. For example, ACE has drafted submissions on various long-term care consultations, including a major brief on the new long-term care home legislation.


The methodology was comprised of two main parts: (1) a literature review; and (2) focus groups and meetings with stakeholders who are knowledgeable about the institutional sector.

Literature Review

We conducted a comprehensive literature review of the issues affecting older adults residing in congregate settings by examining the following:

· National and international legislation;

· Policies and practices;

· Case law;

· Academic articles; and

· Web-based materials.

In addition to reviewing the laws and policies of Ontario, ACE examined four Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Outside Canada, we examined the laws of Australia, Wales and the United States of America. We chose these jurisdictions for a variety of reasons, including: language (these countries speak and write in English); similar legal systems; varying size (in terms of both geography and population); and noteworthy laws and/or approaches to institutional environments.

The purpose of the comparative literature review was to analyze different legal models to inform an appropriate access to justice model for Ontario. In other words, we did not want to reinvent the wheel, but wished to learn what has worked and what has not worked in other jurisdictions. Due to the time constraints of the project, our analysis was not exhaustive. It is fair to say that there most likely is a gap between what is outlined on paper and what happens in practice in other jurisdictions, as is our experience in Ontario.

Meetings with Stak