About the Office of the Vulnerable Persons' Commissioner

Our role:

In certain situations, adults with intellectual disabilities require someone who is legally empowered to make decisions on their behalf, known as a substitute decision maker. The Office of the Vulnerable Persons’ Commissioner is the body that receives applications to appoint a substitute decision maker. The Commissioner’s main function is to:

  • determine whether a substitute decision maker is necessary. This is always a last resort.
  • legally appoint substitute decision makers

The Vulnerable Persons’ Commissioner is appointed under Part 4 of The Vulnerable Persons Living with a Mental Disability Act (the act). The mandate of the Office of the Vulnerable Persons’ Commissioner is to implement the substitute decision making provisions of the act. In doing so, our goal is to protect the decision making rights of vulnerable persons through policies and procedures which:

  • are developed and implemented in keeping with the Five Guiding Principles contained in the act
  • ensures fair processes, and
  • are convenient and accessible, to the extent possible.

The specific activities of the Office of the Vulnerable Persons’ Commissioner are to:

  • conduct preliminary investigations of applications for substitute decision makers
  • appoint hearing panels as needed to review and make recommendations regarding the need for a substitute decision maker and the scope of the appointment
  • appoint substitute decision makers, where no other options are appropriate
  • maintain a register of appointments of substitute decision makers
  • monitor the actions of substitute decision makers
  • at set intervals, review the need for the substitute decision maker
  • receive and investigate complaints and mediate and seek to resolve disputes between substitute decision makers, which may include steps ranging from informal meetings to formal referral to mediation services; and
  • provide information to adults with intellectual disabilities, their families, substitute decision makers and the general public regarding the substitute decision making process.

In performing their statutory duties, the Vulnerable Persons' Commissioner operates independently from the Department of Families.


Key Definitions and Terminology

Who is considered to be a "vulnerable person"?

According to the act a vulnerable person is defined as "an adult living with a mental disability who is in need of assistance to meet his or her basic needs with regard to personal care and/or management of his or her property."
Please note that someone meeting the definition of “vulnerable person” does not automatically mean a substitute decision maker will be appointed. The decision to appoint a substitute decision maker may happen as a last resort, following a rigorous evaluation.

What is a Substitute Decision Maker? 

A substitute decision maker is one or more individuals appointed by the Vulnerable Persons’ Commissioner to make decisions for an adult with an intellectual disability who is unable to make certain decisions for themselves in the area of personal care or property or both. A substitute decision maker has the legal authority to make decisions for the vulnerable person in those specific areas in which they have been given power by the Commissioner.

What is the definition of mental disability?

For an individual to be assessed as having a mentally disability, the individual must have significantly impaired intellectual functioning existing concurrently with impaired adaptive behavior and manifested prior to the age of 18 years (this excludes a mental disability due exclusively to a mental disorder as defined in section 1 of The Mental Health Act).

Who is not covered?

The definition of “vulnerable persons” excludes individuals who have a mental disability due exclusively to a mental disorder as defined in section 1 of The Mental Health Act. It also excludes individuals whose mental disability occurred after the age of 18. 

What is a support network?

The act defines a support network “as one or more persons who provide advice, support or assistance to a vulnerable person and may include (a) the vulnerable person’s spouse or common-law partner, (b) other members of the person’s family and (c) others chosen by the vulnerable person”. An adult with an intellectual disability is able to choose who is in their support network. This can include friends and past or present service providers.

What does the term incapacity mean?

The act defines a person as being incapable when that person is not able to understand information that is important for making the decisions that are before them, or is not able to appreciate the expected consequences of either making or not making a the decision or lack of making a decision.

What is meant by "last resort"?

As noted in the principles of the act, substitute decision making should be invoked only as a last resort. This occurs when:

  •  A vulnerable person needs decisions to be made and
  • They are unable to make these decisions by themselves or with the involvement of members of their support network. 

The Vulnerable Person’s Commissioner will only give a substitute decision maker the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of the individual in areas where the individual is not capable of doing so on their own or with assistance.