The #FreeBritney movement is a social media movement driven by the fans of Britney Spears, and it has been trending recently this month according to Global News. Britney’s fans are concerned that Britney is being mistreated by her legal conservators. Britney Spears has been under a court-ordered conservatorship since 2008.
In the years leading up to Britney’s conservatorship, there were a multitude of public incidents that called Britney’s wellbeing into question, the most iconic of which was perhaps the viral, tabloid photograph of Britney shaving her head in 2007. In 2008, Britney was involuntarily hospitalized after police were called to her home. Thereafter, Britney was placed under an interim conservatory order, which was ultimately made permanent. Britney’s conservatorship meant that her father, James Spears, and lawyer, Andrew Wallet, had complete control of Britney’s assets, which is similar to a guardianship of property under the Ontario Substitute Decisions Act, 1992. James Spears was given control of Britney’s health like a guardianship of person.
Despite being stripped of the right to control her own property and personal care, Britney’s career has flourished in the twelve years after 2008. During the first year of her conservatorship alone, Britney appeared on television shows and even released a new album (Circus). Britney went on to release 3 more albums after that, and she was the star of a four-year concert residency in Las Vegas (which was excellent in my humble opinion). Britney was also a judge on the television competition show, X Factor, where the judges of the show mentor and critique contestants on their performances. For a list of her accomplishments, check out Britney’s extensive Wikipedia page.
In Ontario, a person is incapable of managing property if “the person is not able to understand information that is relevant to making a decision in the management of his or her property, or is not able to appreciate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of a decision or lack of decision” (section 6 of the SDA).
With that in mind, Britney’s role as a judge on X Factor and her reactions on the show seem to show that she was appropriately reacting to the performances of the contestants and that she understood what was at stake in the competition. However, the lay opinion of her fans (myself included) alone would be insufficient to satisfy the statutory requirements of a motion to terminate guardianship of property and person under Part III of the SDA. If the motion is brought on a summary basis under section 73 of the Act, the moving party must include one statement from a capacity assessor and one statement by a second assessor or someone who knows the person, which indicate the following:
(a) that the maker of the statement is of the opinion that the person is capable of managing property, and set out the facts on which the opinion is based; and
(b) that the maker of the statement expects no direct or indirect pecuniary benefit as the result of the termination of the guardianship.
Similar statements are required to terminate a guardianship of person.
Earlier this year, Britney’s conservatorship was extended until at least August 22, 2020.
#FreeBritney and thanks for reading,
Many people will remember the issues which played out very publicly for Britney Spears in 2007. Nine years have passed since these incidents, and, to the outside world, it appears that Britney has turned things around, recently extending her residence in Las Vegas for an additional two years and $35 million. While Britney may have put the worst of these issues behind her, one legal consequence of such a time still has a daily impact upon her life.
In the midst of Britney’s issues playing out in the tabloids, Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, applied for court-appointed conservatorship over Britney’s affairs. Such a conservatorship was ultimately granted, giving Britney’s father complete control over Britney’s financial decision making. As reported in the National Post this week, even though nine years have passed since the initial court Order, such a conservatorship is still in effect. As a result, every aspect of Britney’s financial affairs are governed through her conservatorship, with as mundane of purchases as coffees from Starbucks, and songs from iTunes, being tracked by the court.
In Ontario, the closest equivalent we have to court-appointed conservatorship is court-appointed guardianship, which is governed by Part I of the Substitute Decisions Act. Such an Application may be brought on behalf of a person who “is incapable of managing property”, allowing for an alternate individual to be appointed as their guardian of property, administering their assets in accordance with a court approved “management plan”. As granting guardianship has a major impact upon an individual’s life, removing much of their autonomy, the court only does so when absolutely necessary. Indeed, in accordance with section 22(3) of the Substitute Decisions Act, the court shall not appoint a guardian if it is satisfied that there is an alternative course of action that does not require the court to find the person to be incapable of managing their property, and is less restrictive of the person’s decision-making rights.
In light of Britney’s apparent recovery, a natural question which would follow is whether the conservatorship is still necessary. In Ontario, if it is believed that a guardianship is no longer necessary, a Motion may be brought under section 28 of the Substitute Decisions Act to terminate the guardianship. 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.