Mental Health Law Reform

Mental Health Law Reform2019-09-04T11:52:15-07:00

Mental Health Law Reform

Everyone should be able to access dignified and effective treatment. Too often the laws in BC take an outdated approach that discriminates against people with mental disabilities and makes it difficult for people to access treatment and services safely. We work to improve the law to make sure that BC has a mental health and addiction system that provides evidence-based care that promotes equality, self-determination, and dignity.

Currently we are engaged in the following mental health law reform activities.

Mental Health Act Law Reform

The BC Mental Health Act is the law that governs detention in a mental health facility and involuntary psychiatric treatment. It takes an outdated approach that prioritizes detention, coercion, and discipline over voluntary and effective health care services. There are many ways that the BC Mental Health Act falls short of the rights guaranteed by the Charter, international human rights laws, and evidence-based best practices. For example, the BC Mental Health Act authorizes detaining facilities to “discipline” patients without any statutory limits or a review process. You can be detained indefinitely under the BC Mental Health Act without any mandatory, independent reviews. We advocate, raise awareness, and represent people and disability rights organizations in court to try to improve the BC Mental Health Act. This province needs a new Mental Health Act that promotes human rights principles and effective care.

Read Operating in Darkness: BC’s Mental Health Act Detention System.

Read Open Letter from Community Groups on BC Mental Health Act Law Reform.

Find out more about the Charter challenge to BC’s deemed consent laws to psychiatric treatment.

Legal Aid for Mental Health Detainees

The Charter guarantees everyone in Canada the right to independent legal advice when they are detained. But there is currently no legal aid funded service to provide legal advice to people when they are detained because of a mental disability, like under the Mental Health Act or the Adult Guardianship Act. The Ombudsperson recently reported that most mental health detainees weren’t properly notified about their rights by facility staff. BC is currently one of the few Canadian jurisdictions that does not have some form of independent rights advisor built into its mental health legislation. We advocate for the creation of a service to provide mental health detainees the independent legal advice they need when they are detained.

Read CLAS’s statement on Ombudsperson Report on Involuntary Admissions under the Mental Health Act.

Fair Hearings at the Mental Health Review Board

The Mental Health Review Board is an independent tribunal that holds review panel hearings to decide whether an involuntary patient should remain detained or should be discharged under the Mental Health Act. A review panel hearing is a chance for detainees to have their voices heard and is often the only accessible option to challenge their detention. It is important that these hearings are conducted with fairness and dignity. We work to ensure that these hearings are fair, consistent, and dignified and represent people in cases at the BC Supreme Court when there is a serious error in a decision of the Mental Health Review Board.

Council of Canadians with Disabilities v. Attorney General of British Columbia
CLAS and pro-bono counsel from McCarthy Tetrault are representing the Council of Canadians with Disabilities in a Charter challenge to the deemed consent provisions of the Mental Health Act and related laws.

A.H. v. Fraser Health Authority, 2019 BCSC 227
CLAS represented a woman who was wrongfully detained in mental health wards and facilities for nearly a year. The Court found that the detention was not authorized by the Adult Guardianship Act and issued five declarations that her rights under the Charter were violated during her detention.

Mazzei v. British Columbia (Director of Adult Forensic Psychiatric Services), 2006 SCC 7
CLAS intervened to argue that that Review Boards had jurisdiction to prescribe conditions to ensure the proper treatment of not criminally responsible accused.

R. v. Conway, 2010 SCC 22
CLAS intervened to argue that the Mental Health Review Board had jurisdiction to apply the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Reports & Submissions

Open Letter from Community Groups on BC Mental Health Act Law Reform

June 27, 2019

On June 26, 2019 the BC government announced – “A Pathway to Hope” – a 10-year provincial strategy to transform the BC mental health and addictions system. In an open letter the BC Civil Liberties Association, Community Legal Assistance Society, Pivot Legal Society, Together Against Poverty Society, and West Coast LEAF commend the government for its commitment to increased funding of voluntary, community-based mental health and addiction services, but express disappointment that the strategy does not include a plan to reform the BC Mental Health Act. The organizations urge the BC government to establish an independent review and law reform process to overhaul the BC Mental Health Act.

Read the Open Letter

Operating in Darkness: BC’s Mental Health Act Detention System


This comprehensive report documents research on the BC system for mental health detention and involuntary psychiatric treatment and makes recommendations for change to legislation, regulation, policy, and practice to address unfairness and Charter rights deprivations for individuals with mental disabilities.

Read the Report
Title of report with blue background

Submissions to the Privacy Commissioner on disclosure of mental health information through police information checks

February 2014

In response to a call for submissions on the practice of disclosing non-conviction information to employers through police information checks, CLAS argued that this practice unjustifiably infringed the privacy of people living with mental illnesses.

Read our Submissions

Mental Health Law News