Developments in Canadian Adult Guardianship and Co-Decision-Making Law

Sarah Burningham

Abstract


Guardianship was originally developed as a social and legal tool meant to protect vulnerable persons. It is now evolving as a mechanism to promote autonomy. This paper examines the Canadian law of guardianship, including its historical evolution, the social and legal catalysts for its reform and related constitutional issues.

Guardianship law has a long history in Western society, and has traditionally been paternalistic and property-focused. Early Canadian guardianship laws were largely based on English lunacy acts, and continued unchanged into the second half of the twentieth century. Reformation in Canadian guardianship law began in the 1970s and 80s, with criticism that the current law intruded unjustifiably into an individual’s personal sphere of autonomy. This criticism arose from an increased understanding of human capacity and the recognition of autonomy as a foundational human right.

In 2000, Saskatchewan introduced comprehensive guardianship legislation: The Adult Guardianship and Co-decision-making Act. This Act authorizes the appointment of co-decision-makers as an alternative to the traditional court- appointed guardian. This alternative provides Saskatchewan courts the ability to effectively address the need and capacity of the adult in question. The co-decision- making provisions of the Act are unique in Canadian guardianship law: the co- decision-maker shares legal authority with the adult, must acquiesce to an adult’s reasonable decision and is statutorily required to minimally interfere in the adult’s life and decision-making process. The co-decision-maker is further required to act in a manner that protects the adult’s civil and human rights.

The Saskatchewan Act represents an important attempt to rethink guardianship concepts in Canada, and should form the model for future guardianship legislation in this country.


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