Adult Protection

Abuse is the infliction of harm on a person. It involves any act, or failure to act, that jeopardizes the health or well-being of a person. Abuse can happen to anyone.

Special court applications can be made in certain situations as part of the Adult Protection Act if an incompetent adult is being abused. An incompetent adult is someone who cannot make decisions for themselves.

The Adult Protection Act is the law in Nova Scotia that deals with protecting adults over the age of 16 from significant risk of self-neglect and/or abuse when they are unable to protect themselves from that risk.

If you know of an adult in need of protection, call Adult Protection Services at the Department of Health and Wellness at 1-800-225-7225. Adult Protection workers may be able to assist and arrange services to help those in need of protection.

NOTE: several changes have been proposed to the Adult Protection Act. The changes received Royal Assent on May 10, 2013, but have not yet come into effect. This section will be updated if the changes become effective. Click here to view a summary of the proposed changes.

There are several types of abuse, including:

Physical abuse is the infliction of pain, injury, or discomfort.

Acts of physical abuse include:

  • hitting, punching, slapping, pushing, pinching, choking, or kicking

  • physical restraint

  • throwing the person around, or throwing things at them

  • medication abuse (over/under medicating)

  • medical maltreatment

  • any unwanted physical touching

Physical abuse is assault. Assault is when someone purposely uses or tries to use force against another person, without that person’s consent.

Verbal abuse is when someone threatens with words (‘do this or else’), calls a person names, insults them or their loved ones, raises their voice, or yells at the person.

Sexual abuse is any form of sexual activity with a person without the consent of that person. It can include unwanted sexual touching, sexual relations without voluntary consent, or the forcing or coercing of degrading, humiliating, or painful sexual acts. This kind of behaviour is a crime in Canada.

Emotional abuse is the infliction of anguish or emotional pain. Psychological or emotional abuse can be similar to verbal abuse, and can include purposely rejecting, degrading, terrorizing, isolating, or exploiting someone, or denying or not responding to someone’s emotions. Emotional abuse also includes threats or intimidation, constant criticism and put downs, controlling the adult’s activities, humiliating or isolating them, or treating them like a child.

Violation of human/civil rights is the unlawful or unreasonable denial of the fundamental rights and freedoms normally enjoyed by adults. It can involve denial of information, denial of visitors, denial of opportunity for religious worship, denial of the right to provide informed consent to medical treatment, interference with mail, or unwarranted confinement in a hospital or institution.                                        

Financial abuse is the unethical or illegal misuse of the money, property, or other assets of an adult, including placing inappropriate pressure on an older person in order to gain access to their money or assets. It can involve the improper withholding of finances, fraud, misuse of power of attorney, pressuring a person to change the terms of their will or hand over pension cheques.

Neglect is the failure to provide the necessities of life such as proper food, fluids, suitable clothing, a safe and sanitary place of shelter, proper medical attention, personal care, and necessary supervision. The intentional withholding of the necessities of life is referred to as active neglect, and the unintentional failure to provide proper care is referred to as passive neglect. Passive neglect is often a result of lack of knowledge, experience, or ability to provide care. Self-neglect occurs when an adult is not willing or able to perform essential self-care tasks and live in ways that disregard their health or safety needs.

Sometimes, we think of abuse against an adult only in terms of abuse against older adults. This is sometimes called ‘senior abuse.’ However, abuse can happen against any adult. Adult Protection services deals with any person over the age of 16 who is unable to make decisions for themselves (is ‘incompetent’) and is in need of protection.

Nova Scotia 211 provides information, referral, and support to seniors and others. As of January 15, 2015, 211 is the number to call if you have a concern about a situation of inappropriate or abusive behaviour affecting the well-being of an older person.

All information you may share will be kept confidential.

As of January 15, 2015, all calls that used to go to the Senior Abuse Line will now be taken by Nova Scotia 211. Simply call '211' for help.

For more information about senior abuse, click here.

If you know someone who is being abused, you need to know:

  • the person being abused is not to blame for the violence or the threats

  • the person being abused does not deserve to be abused

  • the person being abused has a right to live without fear

  • the person being abused has the right to safe and healthy relationships and to have their own life

  • the person being abused cannot control the abuser's behaviour

  • abuse often gets worse over time

For information on senior abuse services and resources available in your area, call the NS Department of Seniors at (902) 424-0770, or 1-844-277-0770 if you are outside of the Halifax Regional Municipality. You can also contact NS 211

Some abusive actions are considered criminal, but not all abuse is against the law. Physical and sexual abuse, for example, are crimes under the Criminal Code of Canada.  If you think a law has been broken, call your local police station.

Special court applications can also be made in certain situations as part of the Adult Protection Act if the adult being abused is not competent.

Situations involving incompetent people being abused may need to be dealt with differently from how a competent person’s situation would be handled.  Adults who are in need of protection are unable to help themselves and usually do not have a choice whether to do or not to do something about their situation.  They may need someone else to help them change their situation and assist them to get the help they need.

In these cases, an application might be made to a court for an order under the Adult Protection Act.  An order could include a number of things, including a ‘protective intervention order’ against the abuser. As part of the Adult Protection Act, a judge can make an order against any person whom the judge believes is a source of danger to an adult in need of protection. A protective intervention order can include conditions, such as requiring the abuser to stay away from the adult.

If you know of an adult whom you believe is in need of protection, call Adult Protection Services at the Department of Health at 1-800-225-7225. Adult Protection workers may be able to help and offer services to help adults in need of protection, or make an application to the court if needed.

Incompetent persons may or may not be in need of protection; depending on whether they are being abused and whether they have the support and care they need in their situation. 

However, to be an ‘adult in need of protection’, the adult cannot be competent (because of a physical disability or mental infirmity) and:

  • must either be a victim of abuse (not financial), cruelty or neglect and
  • be incapable of protecting himself or herself from these things and
  • be refusing, delaying or unable to make provision for their protection.

The Adult Protection Act is the law in Nova Scotia that deals with protecting adults over the age of 16 from significant risk of self-neglect and/or abuse when they are unable to protect themselves from that risk.

An adult in the Adult Protection Act can be anyone 16 years of age or older.

The Adult Protection Act protects those adults who are unable to protect themselves. The Act defines an ‘adult in need of protection’ as someone:

  • who is 16 years of age or older

  • who is abused or neglected and

  • who cannot physically or mentally protect or care for herself or himself.

The Act does not apply to adults who are mentally competent and does not deal with adults who are being abused financially.  It is important to remember that adults have the right to choose how they live if they are competent to make those choices.

Financial abuse, on its own, is not covered under the Adult Protection Act.  A report may need to be made to the police in these situations. 

There may be other options too, depending on the situation. You will need some legal advice to decide what is best to do in any situation.

If you know of an adult in need of protection, call Adult Protection Services at the Department of Health and Wellness at 1-800-225-7225. Adult Protection workers may be able to assist and arrange services to help those in need of protection.

An ‘adult in need of protection’ is defined by the Adult Protection Act.  Here are some important questions to think about if you are not sure if someone may be an adult ‘in need of protection’:

  • Is the adult not able to protect themselves from the abuse because of a disability, such as a physical disability or mental health condition?

  • Does the adult refuse help or delay in getting help?

  • Is the adult able to make arrangements to be protected from the harm or to get needed care and help?

In most cases, it is best to call Adult Protection and tell them about the situation because they have the professional training needed to assess the situation and provide help.

Yes. Anyone in Nova Scotia who has information indicating that an adult is in need of protection must report that information to Adult Protection authorities. It does not matter whether the information is confidential.

It is an offense under the Adult Protection Act if you knowingly and intentionally do not report a situation of an adult being in need of protection.

That will depend on whether the person making the report had reasonable or probable grounds to believe the information and whether the report was made maliciously.  It is an offense under the Adult Protection Act to make a report you know to be false or to make a malicious report. 

The Department of Health and Wellness has workers who are responsible to investigate reports made about an adult in need of protection.

These workers investigate reports about adults being abused or neglected or not being able to care for themselves.

The Adult Protection Workers for the Department of Health and Wellness must decide what to do about the situation whenever they investigate.  They will need to determine the level of risk involved to the adult in each case, based on what is in that person’s best interests.

The worker may intervene, recommend services or changes, and refer the adult for services. In serious cases, they will make an application to the court.

Some situations where an application to the court might be made could be:

  • if the client is consistently refusing to receive the services (if mentally incapacitated);

  • the client is experiencing serious harm due to abuse or serious neglect at the hands of others;

  • there are significant family problems that prevent a substitute decision maker from being appointed;

  • there is evidence to suggest that the substitute decision maker has not been acting in the best interests of the adult and there is no other substitute decision maker who is willing and able to act.

A judge can allow an Adult Protection Worker to go into an adult’s home without the adult’s consent in some special situations. There must be a court application and a court order to allow this to happen.  Adults are sometimes removed from their homes if necessary if there is immediate danger.

A judge of the Supreme Court (Family Division) will decide this issue after an application is made by the Minister of Health and Wellness. 

A court hearing will be held, with notice of the hearing being given to the adult and other interested persons.

The judge can decide whether an adult is need of protective services. The judge can also decide whether to require the Minister of Health and Wellness to provide services to the adult.

Orders, and any renewals of those orders, expire six months after they are made.  They can be reviewed, varied or renewed on application by the Minister of Health and Wellness or the adult or a person on behalf of the adult.

Yes. However, if the adult is not competent to instruct a lawyer, then a litigation guardian is normally appointed for the adult by the court. The litigation guardian must have a lawyer.

Nova Scotia Legal Aid may be able to provide a lawyer in these situations. For more information about getting a lawyer, click here.

If an adult is found to be in need of protection, then the court normally will require the Department to provide services for the adult, including placement in a facility. The services are put in place to improve the adult’s ability to care for and fend for themselves. These services are put in place to make sure that the adult is safe from abuse and is not being neglected.

The services offered are based on what is available in the community. The Department does not provide the services directly, but refers the adult to services that are available in the community. Sometimes, adults will need to be removed from their homes. Sometimes adults will have to be placed in special care homes that are not located in their own communities, depending on what is available.

The adult will pay for services if they have an ability to pay. The Department of Community Services or other resources may also be involved.  The Department of Health and Wellness does not pay for the services for the adult.

The court will usually ask the Public Trustee’s Office to be involved if an adult is found to be in need of protection and has property (including bank accounts), but no one else has been appointed to deal with the adult’s property.  

For more information about the role of the Public Trustee, please click here.

Adult Protection Act

Public Trustee's Office

Frequently asked questions about Trustee Services for adults who are considered to be mentally incompetent under the law

Adult Protection Services - NS Department of Health and Wellness

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