When a person is a danger to themselves or others, the law can force that person to stay in a hospital against their will. This is known as involuntary commitment, or forced hospitalization.

Our forensic psychiatry lawyers give you information on involuntary commitment and an overview of how to contest an involuntary commitment order.

What is involuntary commitment?

Involuntary commitment is the act of keeping a person in a health and social services institution against their will. It occurs when a person’s mental health condition presents a danger to themselves or others.

A judge will authorize an application for institutional commitment, unless the person in question presents a serious and imminent danger and preventive custody is necessary for his or her protection or the protection of others.

Note that even if a person is hospitalized against their will, they can still refuse medical treatment.

Types of involuntary commitment

There are three types of involuntary commitment. Here is a brief overview.

Preventive commitment

Preventive commitment involves keeping a person in an institution without the authorization of a judge when the person presents a serious and imminent danger to themselves or others. Preventive commitment cannot exceed 72 hours.

Temporary commitment

Temporary commitment involves keeping a person in an institution while they receive psychiatric assessment. This is why it is called “temporary”. The maximum length of temporary commitment is 144 hours (6 days), or 96 hours (4 days) if the person was originally in preventive commitment. It must be ordered by a judge.

Court-authorized commitment

Authorized commitment occurs when 2 independent psychiatric reports recommend that a person be kept in an institution when they pose a danger to themselves or others. Although the length of this involuntary commitment varies, it will normally be requested for a period ranging from 14 to 30 days. It must be ordered by a judge.

Situations that may require involuntary commitment

Involuntary commitment is requested when someone presents a risk to themselves or other. The risk must result from the person’s general behaviour.

The risk must meet the following criteria:

  • Be directly related to the person’s mental state
  • Be based on motives, gestures, words or other actual facts
  • Be serious enough to warrant institutional care

Who can contest an involuntary commitment order?

The person directly affected by involuntary commitment can challenge the continuation of custody.

Any other individual who demonstrates a special interest in the person may also challenge the involuntary commitment order. This could be a family member, relative, friend, etc.

How to contest an involuntary commitment order

Before an initial judgment is rendered, a person who wishes to contest an application for involuntary commitment must appear in the Court of Québec following the notice attached to the application. Although dangerousness can never be presumed and it is up to the party seeking custody to convince the court of the necessity of this measure, arguments must be made to explain how this burden of proof is not met.

In the event that a judgment authorizes institutional custody, an application for review of that decision may be made. This is a fairly straightforward process, but the review process can take a long time.

To review an involuntary commitment order, the person, their representative or any individual who shows a particular interest in them must send a letter addressed to the Tribunal administratif du Québec (TAQ) explaining the reasons for the dispute.

A date will be set for a hearing before the TAQ, at which the person will be asked to explain why they believe they are no longer a danger to themselves or others.

The importance of having strong support when contesting involuntary commitment

When the time comes to contest an involuntary commitment order, it is best to be represented by a health law firm.

Contact us if you are currently involved in an involuntary commitment order.

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