Supreme Court of Canada Rules Charter Challenge to Forced Psychiatric Treatment Laws Can Continue

June 23, 2022, (Vancouver, BC)

Today the Supreme Court of Canada rejected the BC government’s five-year legal campaign aimed at stopping the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) – a nationally respected disability rights organization – from challenging BC’s outdated and unconstitutional forced psychiatric treatment laws. The court not only rejected the government’s appeal, but also confirmed that CCD has the legal right to bring the case forward. In an extraordinary move, the Court also ordered that the government pay for all legal costs associated with this unnecessary delay.

Instead of fixing BC’s outdated Mental Health Act or even addressing the merits of CCD’s legal challenge, the BC Government has fought tooth and nail for five years to stop CCD from ever getting to court. The government argued that CCD does not have the legal right to bring these important issues forward despite the numerous challenges that people detained in hospital face accessing the court system. The government’s actions raise serious questions about its commitment to access to justice and its commitment to respecting the rights of the 25,000+ people detained every year under BC’s Mental Health Act. Unless community groups and organizations take important issues forward, unconstitutional laws may never get reviewed.

The Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) and the law firm McCarthy Tétrault are representing the CCD in this Charter challenge to the deemed consent provisions contained in the Mental Health Act, the Representation Agreement Act, and the Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act.
“The Supreme Court unanimously and decisively resolved the standing question in CCD’s favour,” says Michael Feder, a lawyer with the law firm McCarthy Tétrault who argued the case on behalf of CCD. “This ruling has broad importance for access to justice and for ensuring discriminatory and other unconstitutional laws can be challenged in court.”

CLAS is calling on the government to stop fighting community groups and instead get to work fixing BC’s Mental Health Act. “We hope the government will now stop its campaign to preserve BC’s outdated and unconstitutional forced psychiatric treatment laws and instead get to work building a mental health system that provides access to top-notch health care without trampling on people’s rights,” says Kevin Love, a lawyer with CLAS. “BC is the only jurisdiction in Canada that still uses a ‘deemed consent’ model, which violates the Canadian Charter and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”
People who are involuntarily detained under BC’s Mental Health Act – or released from hospital on leave – currently have no right to give or refuse consent to any psychiatric treatment. They are legally ‘deemed’ to consent to all psychiatric treatment and can be forcibly administered medications and electroconvulsive therapy, even when they are mentally capable of making their own treatment decisions. The law also deprives detained individuals of the right to a substitute decision maker, like a representative or family member, to give or refuse consent on their behalf.

“This decision is a victory for all grassroots and community organizations standing up for the legal rights of people who face barriers accessing justice,” says Heather Walkus, Chair of CCD. “This would not have been possible without the support of all the community organizations who showed up to intervene in the Supreme Court of Canada on this critical issue.”

Media Contact: Kevin Love, CLAS staff lawyer: 604-673-3104;


The Community Legal Assistance Society has been providing free legal services to marginalized British Columbians since 1971 in the areas of mental health, human rights, housing, income security, and workers’ rights. We have assisted tens of thousands of British Columbians over the years through law reform, test case litigation, systemic advocacy, delivery of public legal education, summary advice, workshops and representation of clients before administrative tribunals and the courts.

McCarthy Tétrault is an internationally respected law firm delivering strategic and innovative legal and business solutions to clients, wherever their business takes them. McCarthy Tétrault provided representation in this case on a pro bono basis.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities is a national human rights organization of people with disabilities working for an inclusive and accessible Canada. Founded in 1976, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities consists of nine provincial member groups, seven national disability organizations and one affiliate member. Its mandate includes law reform, policy development, and test case litigation in support of persons with disabilities.