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Mental Health Services

As is the case with other medical treatments, consent is generally required before psychiatric treatment or examination can take place. Sometimes an individual who is suffering from a mental illness is unable or unwilling to ask for help. In exceptional circumstances the law does allow for individuals to receive care and treatment without their consent. In these cases there are a number of safeguards in place to ensure that an individual's rights are protected while still protecting the individual's safety and wellbeing.

If you are required to have a psychiatric examination you must be immediately told the reason for the examination and that you have the right to contact a lawyer. You must also receive a copy of any certificate, warrant or order requiring the examination.

In some cases the law allows a person to be examined, against their will, by a psychiatrist. This can happen, for example, if...

  • a doctor has examined you and believes you have a mental disorder and need treatment
  • a police officer believes you have a mental disorder and are likely to harm yourself or others
  • you are charged with an offence or are being held under the Criminal Code and a judge orders an examination
  • someone believes that you have a mental disorder and requests that a judge make an order requiring a psychiatric examination

It is also possible to have an individual admitted to a special mental health unit and held there against their will. This can happen...

  • if you have been charged or convicted of a criminal offence and the court orders it
  • there is a long-term detention order and the court orders it
  • a medical certificate authorizes it

In emergency situations individuals may be held under a medical certificate for up to three days. Under some circumstances the individual can be held for up to 21 days.

There are official mental health representatives with special knowledge of the law who are available at any time to individuals who may be facing examination or treatment against their will. Review panels and other special protections are also in place. More information about this issue is available from Mental Health Services.

To obtain a medical certificate, at least one psychiatrist and one other doctor must certify that you have a mental disorder and require treatment and supervision that can only be provided in a hospital or mental health centre. The doctors must also certify that the mental disorder is preventing you from understanding the need for treatment and supervision and making an informed decision.

Finally, the doctors must certify that the mental disorder will probably cause you to harm yourself or others or get worse if left untreated.

If your mental illness keeps you from understanding that you require treatment, and you won’t give your consent, you may be treated without your consent. This can only be done if you...

  • are being held under a medical certificate in a mental health centre
  • being held under a court order for long-term detention
  • are placed under a community treatment order

Community treatment orders are used when someone needs treatment and will not consent but does not need to be hospitalized for the treatment.

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