02/07/2013 09:34 EST | Updated 04/09/2013 05:12 EDT

B.C. Failing To Protect Adults Deemed Incapable

Officials in B.C. routinely fail to protect the rights of people declared unfit to make financial decisions for themselves, according to the province's ombudsperson.

In her report released Wednesday, Kim Carter found some British Columbians are certified as "incapable” by people with no formal training or even a common understanding of what it means.

Carter said she began to investigate after complaints about how the province's Public Guardian and Trustee has taken over the legal and financial affairs of thousands people.

“We would have expected a really well thought-out, legally enshrined process that protects people's rights. It wasn't what we found,” Carter said.

Carter said officials in the trustee’s office work the Patient's Property Act, a piece of legislation largely unchanged in 50 years, and with origins in the Lunacy Act of the 19th century.

It allows officials routinely to keep people in the dark, for example, about why a doctor is examining them or how to challenge the results.

Many social workers or nurses assessing someone's ability to make financial decisions had no training and there is no clear definition in the act of the term "incapable."

Carter has called for the establishment of an appeal tribunal like the one in Ontario, which has reversed nearly half of the incapability decisions in that province.

B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond said she'll study the suggestion and promised details in March on updating the act within the next 18 months.

In a written statement, public guardian and trustee Catherine Romanko also agreed the law lacks due process, adding her office is "taking steps to enhance its communication with vulnerable adults."

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