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A Duty to Care: An Investigation into Municipal Licensing and Standards’ Treatment of a Resident with Dementia

The Issue

We received a complaint that the City had acted unfairly in cutting down a private tree on the property of a senior with dementia at the request of a neighbour. The initial complaint was made by the son of the affected individual and raised larger systemic issues about the manner in which the City treats people with diminished capacity.

Our Investigation

We conducted extensive preliminary enquiries with Municipal Licensing and Standards Division (MLS) staff. Once notice of a formal investigation was sent to the City on June 2, 2010, we interviewed a number of employees in MLS, Urban Forestry, and Toronto Building. We also interviewed the property owner’s caregivers, the private arborists retained by the property owner’s son, and relevant experts on the mental health aspects raised by this complaint. Additionally, we reviewed City documents, applicable legislation, policies, and related research. 

What We Found

Our investigation found systemic and individual fairness issues, including:

  • MLS failed to develop a policy and to put in place procedures to address the needs of residents with dementia or diminished capacity, which resulted in an adverse impact on this group and is improperly discriminatory.
  • The City’s Property Standard Officer (PSO) failed to contact the property owner’s son when capacity issues of the property owner were apparent, refused to provide basic information, and displayed cavalier and dismissive conduct. This was unreasonable and unjust.
  • MLS’s communication was difficult to understand, misleading, and failed to provide clear grounds for the removal of the tree, and was therefore unreasonable.

Our Recommendations

Based on our findings, we made 17 recommendations, including:

  • That MLS develop a Policy, in consultation with the Medical Officer of Health and other appropriate bodies, such as the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, that addresses the needs of residents with dementia or diminished capacity.
  • That in keeping with this Policy, MLS develop a procedure for providing full and proper notice to property owners and residents to accommodate the needs of residents with dementia or diminished capacity.
  • That, as applicable, MLS take steps to determine if there is someone responsible for the person’s affairs and make every reasonable effort to bring the matter to that person’s attention.
  • That MLS communicate clearly and ensure its notices, orders, and schedules provide sufficient and understandable information, and that it provides residents with clear, prompt, and complete answers to their questions.
  • That the City reverse the $4,820.00 levy for the removal of this tree compensate the property owner for the loss of their tree by planting a replacement on their property.