B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner has launched a new inquiry into involuntary detentions under the Adult Guardianship Act (AGA). The inquiry aims to uncover how emergency powers granted by the AGA are used and to determine whether detention practices align with human rights laws and standards. 

What is the Adult Guardianship Act?

The AGA is legislation that permits designated agencies such as health authorities to provide emergency assistance to adults who appear to be abused or neglected and seem incapable of giving or refusing consent to receive care. The practice of providing emergency assistance potentially includes detaining people involuntarily in care facilities for extended periods. 

Emergency assistance can be provided where needed to preserve a person’s life, prevent serious physical or mental harm to them or protect their property from significant damage or loss. 

Why are we looking into this?

Adults who are abused or neglected are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. When an agency determines one of those adults is unable to give or refuse consent to treatment, there is a risk that adult’s right to autonomy will not be properly balanced with the need to ensure their safety. 

Despite this risk, there are a lot of unknowns about how the AGA is used. Currently, it is unclear or unknown: 

  • whether the AGA allows designated agencies to detain adults in a care facility without consent 
  • whether such detentions are always proportionate to the circumstances 
  • how many adults are detained under the AGA each year or for how long 
  • what the demographic characteristics of detainees have been 

While the intent of protecting vulnerable adults is laudable and important, transparency about how agencies are exercising these powersis vital for upholding the rule of law and ensuring accountability to human rights standards.

— Commissioner Kasari Govender

The inquiry’s process

The inquiry process includes production orders issued to seven agencies to provide data on involuntary detentions of vulnerable adults, including Fraser Health Authority, Interior Health Authority, Island Health Authority, Northern Health Authority, Vancouver Coastal Health, Community Living BC and Providence Health Care.  

The inquiry will also review information from the Ministry of Attorney General, the Ministry of Health and the Public Guardian and Trustee. 

In addition, a Community Roundtable will seek perspectives from community organizations that work with people who have been subjected to the exercise of powers under the AGA. 

For more information, see our Nov. 30 news release.

About inquiries

The Commissioner can use an inquiry to help promote or protect human rights in B.C.

An inquiry is an opportunity to delve deeply into the human rights implications of a specific incident or issue. Inquiries can include gathering factual and expert evidence, hearing directly from those impacted and making recommendations to address the human rights issues raised. Findings can be reported publicly and to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. 

An inquiry is not a court of law and cannot make legal findings regarding specific incidents.

Rules for inquiries are found in the Human Rights Code and in the Human Rights Commissioner’s Inquiry Regulation.

If you are a member of the public with questions about this inquiry, please email inquiry@bchumanrights.ca.

For media requests, including interviews with Commissioner Kasari Govender, please contact media@bchumanrights.ca.