B.C. needs a Consent and Capacity Board to prevent seniors’ loss of liberty

Unlike Ontario, B.C. doesn’t have a Consent and Capacity Board. That means seniors, or in fact anyone, can be deemed unfit and their lives handed over to the state.

And while there are good reasons why some persons should be deemed unfit in the management of their affairs, there is little recourse once it’s done.

Once a person is declared unfit, a “certificate of incapability” is issued and their assets seized.

The prospect that I could lose my autonomy, and be institutionalized with little recourse, is not what I imagine my “golden years” to be like.

But that’s what happened to Muriel Shaw, in her eighties, of Coquitlam, B.C. It began when her son Jarvis was concerned for her health and took her to the hospital. Jarvis thought his mom didn’t seem herself: she was anxious and confused—“just acting strange (Walrus, March, 2020).”

Hospital staff decided to give her a “capacity assessment”: a common evaluation administered to people who seem disoriented. The assessment consists of questions like, “What is today’s date?” and “What problems are you having right now?”

Muriel failed the assessment. She was deemed to be incapable of making her own decisions and a certificate of incapability was issued.  From that moment on, Muriel Shaw’s autonomy was taken away for good.

A capacity assessment is an imprecise instrument considering the consequences -robbing someone of their liberty. You can take my temperature to see if I have a fever but no capacity assessment can accurately measure my ability to manage my own affairs.

And even if my ability could be accurately measured, it would be essentially a medical evaluation. A medical evaluation should not have legal consequences in the seizure of my property and assets.

A condition of anxiety and confusion can be temporary. Muriel, living alone and survivor of breast cancer, could have had some treatable medical condition.

Things just continued to get worse for Muriel. She wanted to go back home but wasn’t allowed. Her care workers looked to family to see if they could take her. When no suitable place was found within her family, she was placed in a long-term care facility.

When her family couldn’t agree on the management of her finances, the B.C. Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT) took over.

The PGT took control of Muriel’s finances and charged her four per cent of her income for doing so. If the PGT decides to sell one’s home, they will collect four percent of the sale price, as well. She was angry at the loss of autonomy.

B.C. needs a Consent and Capacity Board like Ontario’s. If we had one, Muriel could have taken her objections to the board and they would have convened within seven days, and met at a place convenient for her.

Bob’s case is an example of what Ontario’s board can do. “Bob” was assessed by someone who had little knowledge of his medical, financial, or personal history. The assessor met Bob in a Tim Hortons and noted that he was “vague” in his responses to questions. Bob was asked to count coins she gave him under the table. When he failed to accurately to do, the assessor unilaterally decided that Bob was incapable of handling his finances.

The board found that the assessor, while well-intentioned, made “made a number of assumptions that were proven erroneous.” Bob regained control over his bank account and his life.

Seniors in B.C. need a Consent and Capacity Board that could prevent incorrect assessments and capable seniors being made wards of the state.