A.    Preventing, Identifying and Addressing Abuse and Misuse of Powers by Substitutes



Substitute decision-makers, whether appointed through POAs, guardianship, or the hierarchical list in the HCCA, have significant statutory obligations, although the exact nature of these obligations differs depending on the decision-making domain (e.g., property, personal care, treatment decisions). For example, substitute decision-makers for property management are fiduciaries, and must carry out their duties diligently, in good faith, with honesty and integrity, for the benefit of the individual. The legislation sets out standards for decisions, as well as procedural duties that include explaining the substitute’s powers and duties to the individual; encouraging the individual’s participation in decision-making; and fostering regular personal contact between the individual and her or his supportive family members and friends. As well, guardians and persons acting under a power of attorney must maintain records of their decisions.

The LCO has heard widespread concerns that in practice, substitute decision-makers often have a poor understanding of their roles and responsibilities, so that the practice of substitute decision-making may fall far short of the intent of the legislation. As well, some substitutes may use the powers allocated to them under the law to abuse, exploit or neglect the individual whom they are supposed to serve in good faith.



Problems of misuse and abuse may be the result of a number of short-comings in the legislation itself, as well as in policy and practice.

  • Education and information: The legislation does not provide any formal mechanisms for ensuring that substitutes are aware of the statutory requirements and understand their roles and responsibilities. While substitute decision-makers are obliged to explain their powers and duties to the individual, there are no mechanisms for ensuring this takes place.
  • Individual monitoring: while guardians and persons acting under powers of attorney must keep records of their decisions, there is no proactive mechanism for regularly reviewing these accounts, and identifying and addressing potential issues.
  • Investigation of abuse: The PGT has an obligation to investigate allegations that an individual is lacking legal capacity and that serious adverse effects are occurring as a result. Such investigations may result in the appointment of the PGT as a temporary guardian. While stakeholders support these investigative powers, concerns have been raised that greater resources and scope for investigation may be required for these powers to have their intended effect.
  • Seeking redress: Available mechanisms for challenging the exercise of powers by a substitute decision-maker and holding substitutes accountable are not practically accessible for many individuals, due to the costs of taking action, the confusing nature of rights enforcement mechanisms, and power imbalances between individuals and their substitutes.
  • Remedies: Even successful proceedings regarding abuse by substitute decision-makers may be able to provide only limited remedies to the victims. For example, once an individual’s assets have been misappropriated and spent, there is little that can be done to restore the victim to their original financial status.

In developing mechanisms for accountability for substitutes, it must be kept in mind that this role is most often undertaken by family members and friends, who do not necessarily have access to many resources or supports in carrying out this role and are not compensated for it. A careful balance is required to ensure that measures to prevent, identify and address abuse and misuse do not make this role unnecessarily difficult for those who are acting in good faith and attempting to comply with the law. Options for reform include mandatory information and education programs for substitute decision-makers; regular reporting requirements for guardians; proactive “visitor” or auditing programs; the provision of supervisory powers to the PGT or some type of monitoring office; expanded complaint and investigation systems; or greater restrictions on financial transactions by substitute decision-makers. 

Please share your thoughts on any or all of these questions:

1.    Are there ways in which laws, policies or practices for addressing abuse through legal capacity, decision-making and guardianship laws could be better coordinated with general provisions for addressing abuse of those who tend to fall within this area of the law?

2.    Are there specific information, education or training initiatives that could be integrated into law, policy or practice to ensure that individuals and their substitute decision-makers better understand their rights, roles and responsibilities, and if so, how might these be implemented?

3.    Are there mechanisms that could be added to law, policy or practice to improve monitoring and oversight of substitutes, such as enhanced duties to report or account, “visitor” programs for persons under substitute decision-making, or other types of supervisory powers? If so, which mechanisms would be most desirable and how might these be practically implemented?

4.    Are there new mechanisms for complaints or enhancements to the PGT’s existing investigatory powers that would be effective and appropriate for addressing concerns regarding abuse or misuse of the powers of substitute decision-makers?  If so, which mechanisms would be most desirable and how might these be practically implemented?

5.    Are there mechanisms that could be put in place to reduce loss or damage to individuals through abuse of substitute powers, such as limits on conflict transactions, provision of authority to financial institutions to freeze accounts where abuse is suspected, or expanded requirements to post bonds or security? If so, which mechanisms would be most desirable, and how might they be practically implemented?

6.    Are there other reforms to law, policy or practice that should be considered to prevent, identify and address abuse or misuse of the powers of substitute decision-makers?

B.    Supports to Accessing the Law: Navigation, Problem-Solving and Voice



As was explored at length in the Framework projects, persons with disabilities and older persons often experience barriers in accessing their rights under the law. Challenges include attitudinal barriers on the part of service providers or embedded in service systems; the inherent difficulties in navigating large and complex bureaucracies, especially for individuals who are in any way vulnerable or marginalized; power imbalances between those who provide services and those who receive them; and the inevitably occurring imperatives within large institutions, including resource constraints and conflicting institutional goals. All of these barriers and challenges must be understood in the light of the broader context in which older persons and persons with disabilities are more likely to live in low-income and experience social isolation and lack of opportunities for participation. 

The need for supports to ensure effective access to the law was identified during the development of the current legislative framework, and was initially addressed through the Advocacy Act and accompanying provisions in legal capacity and decision-making laws. This ambitious scheme was repealed prior to any extensive implementation, as being too costly and bureaucratic, and potential intruding on families and private rights. 

Currently, there are a number of formal, professional mechanisms for providing supports and advocacy for those directly affected by this area of the law. This includes the designated rights advisers under the MHA and the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office; “section 3 counsel” who may be appointed to represent persons whose legal capacity is at issue in a proceeding under the SDA and who does not have legal representation; legal aid services, particularly those provided to individuals in proceedings before the CCB; and specialty legal clinics like the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly and ARCH Disability Law Centre. 



While the current system is not without advocacy and support mechanisms, it is also true to say that many individuals who are vulnerable due to disability, isolation, power imbalances or other factors are navigating a complex legal and service delivery system without access to formal supports. The services and supports that exist are fragmented and limited in scope. Two of the major concerns identified during the LCO’s preliminary consultations were the difficulties individuals face in navigating systems and the challenges that service providers face in assisting them in doing so, together with concerns that the system lacks effective mechanisms for ensuring that the rights set out in the legislation are respected. These concerns may be considered as directly linked to the lack of access to independent, knowledgeable information, advice and navigational assistance targeted to those who are directly affected by the law and their supporters.

A review of some of the legal capacity decision-making systems of other jurisdictions, and of supports and advocacy provided to other vulnerable populations in Ontario reveals a wide array of approaches to the provision of supports. These include holistic, independent, institutional public advocacy programs, such as Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth; embedded institutional supports such as the Independent Mental Capacity Advocates that England and Wales employ to assist individuals who lack capacity to make important decisions about serious medical treatment or transition to long-term care and who do not have family or friends to assist them; or agency-provided supports, such as Ontario’s Adult Protective Services Workers.  

Please share your thoughts on any or all of these questions:

1.      What types of supports are most important for assisting persons falling within this area of the law to understand and assert their rights? Should the focus of supports be on provision of accessible, timely and appropriate information; assistance in navigating complex systems; supporting affected individuals to articulate their values and wishes; support to advocate for their rights; or some other needs?

2.      What can be learned from the history of the Advocacy Act to guide reforms to the provision of supports for persons falling within this area of the law?

3.      Are there ways to strengthen existing supports for accessing rights under legal capacity, decision-making and guardianship laws, including rights advice, section 3 counsel and legal aid services for persons falling within this area of the law? Are there ways in which these supports could be expanded to reach a broader range of needs?