Amending conservatorship: Britney’s prerogative
Over the past few weeks, the #FreeBritney movement has been gaining traction on social media. My colleague, Doreen So, previously blogged on the movement, and discussed some of the similarities between conservatorship (in California) and guardianship in Ontario.
Recent headlines confirm that #FreeBritney is no longer merely a social media movement spearheaded by fans, but Britney herself no longer wishes for her father, Jamie Spears, to continue as her sole conservator.
According to a New York Times’ article, Britney’s father stepped down as her conservator last year, citing health problems, with a temporary conservator appointed in his place. Britney has now filed seeking to have her lawyer and a bank or financial institution permanently replace her father as conservator. Britney’s current conservatorship has been extended to at least February 2021, after which a hearing will be scheduled.
With #FreeBritney trending and ongoing media coverage, the ACLU has spoken up on the matter, recently tweeting that “People with disabilities have a right to lead self-directed lives and retain their civil rights, if Britney Spears wants to regain her civil liberties and get out of her conservatorship, we are here to help her.” The ACLU also released an article breaking down what conservatorship is, and its potential threats to civil liberties. As explained by the ACLU, Britney is subject to a court-imposed conservatorship, which means the court has determined she is unable to provide properly for her food, clothing or shelter. The court has granted the legal right to make such decisions, including financial decisions on Britney’s behalf, to her conservators.
In Ontario, the guardianship regime is governed by the Substitute Decisions Act, which sets out that a guardian of property can be either court appointed, or appointed by statute. Section 15 of the SDA sets out that if a certificate is issued under the Mental Health Act, certifying that a person who is a patient of a psychiatric facility is incapable of managing property, the Public Guardian and Trustee is the person’s statutory guardian of property. Section 16 further sets out that a person may request an assessor to perform an assessment of another person’s capacity (or of their own) to determine whether or not the PGT should become the statutory guardian of property.
Sections 22-30 of the SDA sets out the framework wherein a person or corporate guardian can apply to the court to be appointed as guardian of property. For more information on when a court will appoint a guardian, please see here.
From the current news cycle, it appears that Britney is not seeking to terminate her conservatorship, but amend it. In Ontario, a motion under section 26 of the SDA can be brought seeking to vary a guardianship order, including the substitution of another person as guardian. If one is seeking to terminate the guardianship order, a motion may be brought under section 28. If the court agrees, and the guardianship is terminated, the individual on whose behalf the guardian was appointed, would regain control over their financial affairs and decision making.
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