Amazon Films has recently released a very dark new film called “I Care A Lot”, starring Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage. It’s the story of a crooked legal guardian who drains the savings of her elderly wards and meets her match when a woman she tries to swindle turns out to be more than she first appears.
It’s not an instant classic and it’s total fiction, but it got us thinking about real-life scenarios where a manipulative guardian may be taking advantage of someone and what can be done. We were instantly reminded of the saga of Beach Boys legend, and “Inventor of California,” Brian Wilson.
In May of this year, it will be 55 years since the release of the solid gold classic, Pet Sounds. A testament to the genius of Brian Wilson, Pet Sounds paved the way for other classic records like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But a grueling creative and recording process and an abundance of recreational drugs saw Wilson suffer a nervous breakdown in 1965 and he wouldn’t tour with the band again until 1983. Wilson began suffering auditory hallucinations in mid-1965 which persisted throughout his life; he also became increasingly paranoid and anti-social, leading to a disintegration of relations between him and his bandmates, culminating in the famous episode where he refused to get out of bed for two years.
In an effort to assist Wilson with his myriad of physical and psychological issues, Wilson’s family enlisted the services of California psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy – And a dark story took a darker turn. For the next nine or ten years, Landy exploited and manipulated Wilson – entering into business contracts worth 25% of future record earnings, while also administering psychotropic drugs, moving into Wilson’s Bel Air estate, supervising his every move, and limiting any contact with the outside world. According to this Diane Sawyer interview from October 10, 1991, Landy was billing Wilson up to one million dollars a year, including $25,000 a month for “vitamins.”
It took nine lawsuits and several years for Wilson to be released from Landy’s “care,” and Wilson has been doing much better over the last few decades, but we still wondered: What if Wilson lived in Ontario and didn’t have any family, or Diane Sawyers, trying to fight for his freedom? What if Landy or the unscrupulous guardian in I Care A Lot were operating in Ontario?
Enter the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (the “PGT”).
While any concerns of physical or mental abuse should immediately be brought to the attention of local authorities as soon as possible, the PGT also has significant investigative and enforcement powers under the Substitute Decisions Act. Where financial concerns are present, the PGT has investigative powers under section 27 and where the integrity of the person is at issue, section 62.
Both sections recognize that “serious illness or injury, or deprivation of liberty or personal security, are serious adverse effects” and the PGT shall investigate. The PGT is provided extensive powers that include entry without a warrant, assistance of the police, as well as bringing emergency applications before the court to intervene as a temporary guardian.
So while Brian Wilson (and more recently Britney Spears) made headlines, there are strong police and government mechanisms in place to protect vulnerable people from abuse and exploitation. But the one thing that Wilson (and Ms. Spears) had, was some kind of connection to people. Isolation from family, friends, or community, is one of the most dangerous risks to vulnerable people.
Thanks for reading,
Ian Hull and Daniel Enright
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,