Evidence of meeting #11 for Status of Women in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was seniors.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Patricia Fleischmann  Police Constable, Community Mobilization Unit, Toronto Police Service
  • Jared Buhler  Elder Abuse Intervention Team, Edmonton Police Service
  • Isobel Fitzpatrick  Detective Sergeant, Coordinator, Eastern Regional Abuse Issues, Ontario Provincial Police
  • Isabelle Coady  Detective, Elder Abuse Unit, Ottawa Police Service
  • Leslie Craig  Inspector, Manager, Crime Prevention Section, Ontario Provincial Police

5 p.m.

Detective Isabelle Coady Detective, Elder Abuse Unit, Ottawa Police Service

Good afternoon. My partner was supposed to be with me, but she had an emergency is not here.

I'm Isabelle Coady. I'm an elder abuse investigator. I'm part of the Ottawa Police Service's elder abuse unit. It's really a misnomer, as it should be called the vulnerable sector investigative unit, because we also investigate cases of abuse against people who are vulnerable, meaning they're either physically or mentally handicapped, or suffering from mental health problems.

Specifically what we investigate are crimes against people over 65 committed by people who have a relationship of force; or when there's a relationship of care, dependency; or where there's a struggle about power.

I want to talk to you about the problems I face when I investigate. The bulk of my investigations are of financial abuse and physical abuse. I'm talking about aggression, sexual aggression, physical confinement, fraud, theft, theft by power of attorney, intimidation by threatening conduct, harassment, or all those offences you find in the world generally but that are committed here against senior citizens who are in a difficult position.

I would group my complaints into two categories: institutional versus individual. What I mean by institutional is when something happens in a home or long-term care facility or a group home, versus individual complaints that refer to something committed within the general population by somebody who has a relationship with the victim. You find the same kind of problems, the same kind of financial abuse and physical abuse.

A common problems that I find in these investigations is that most of the time my victim is very reluctant to come forward and be involved in a court proceeding. They want the problem to stop, and they really need the problem to stop. They're suffering immensely, but they don't want to go to court. They're intimidated. They don't have the energy. They are scared, and what they want is peace. A lot of the time laying charges is simply not feasible.

There are capacity issues with my victims as witnesses. A lot of people over a certain age do suffer from mental health problems or decreased capacity, and whether this factor is real or not, if charges are laid, their capacity will be challenged in court by the lawyers. So it doesn't have to be real: it happens.

Finally, another common problem is that the age of the victim impacts the court proceedings, because as Jared was saying, the investigations are sometimes lengthy and the court proceedings are even lengthier, and sometimes we run out of time.

When it comes to crimes committed in institutions, there is a real wall of silence by the employees. It is extremely difficult to get them to give an account of what happened. They cover each other and they almost have to be forced to give an account—although in Ontario if something happens in an institution, such as a long-term care facility, it has to be reported. It's mandated. Still, I have people who lie, refuse to answer my question, don't call me back, and I have to track them down to get them to answer my questions.

When it comes to individual investigations, the relationship of dependency with the suspect is a big problem, because sometimes the abuser is also the person who gives the care. If you remove that caregiver, what happens? Very few people look forward to going into a long-term care facility; they would rather stay home with support. If there is not enough support in the community, then they rely on the abuser. There's a really unhealthy relationship that exists. But I can't replace a daughter or a son or a caregiver or a niece, or whoever is the abuser.

I shouldn't complain about limited resources, because I know that in a smaller community it's even more difficult. But even in Ottawa, it's sometimes difficult to find appropriate resources to be able to give the freedom to my victims to say to me, "Okay, that's enough, you're out of my life", or "I'm going to control access", or "this is not how it's going to take place".

When it comes to the case being prosecuted, a very small percentage of cases end up in front of the courts. I think in general there's an iceberg model, but when it comes to elder abuse it's very true. The reason is that most of the time my victims want to go to court only if there's absolutely no other option. I have cases in mind. I remember this 85-year-old woman who was being assaulted on a weekly basis by her son, who really needed mental health treatment. We had to charge him in order to protect her, and she would not proceed. We couldn't track her down; she hid from us after. It's very common; it's extremely common.

We end up warning a lot of people. After I conduct an investigation and realize that a crime has been committed and that I have the grounds to lay a charge, I interview my suspect. At that point, if I am convinced that this person has committed a crime, I can give him or her a warning, meaning that I inform them that I believe they have has committed a crime and that I have grounds to lay charges, but that, for other reasons, I will not lay charges. That has an impact on people who work in long-term care facilities or with the vulnerable sector. To work with vulnerable persons, you need a criminal check, a police records check. If you've been involved as a suspect or you are a person who has been warned, you cannot get one for five years. So that's one way I can control the impact on people who get involved in those kinds of activities.

When it comes to the results in terms of sentencing, I think the sentences are light. We could change the wording about aggravating factors, the vulnerability factors, or age, but I think there's something to say about the relationships of dependence that the person has with the caregiver or the son or the daughter. It's important that the courts start recognizing that this is a problem and that a person who is in that situation, dependent on a caregiver, is in the same relationship as a five-year old child. I think it's important that the courts recognize this.

With regard to my wish list, one big hurdle we have when we investigate cases is that the exchange of information with certain potential victims is very difficult, especially professional witnesses, such as health care providers or bank employees. I understand the perspective of a nurse or a doctor. They're worried because they have big obligations to protect privacy, and a lot of the time privacy trumps safety. That is the reality. So it is very difficult for them to deal with this, because they're afraid of being punished by their licensing agency. I get that, but sometimes it's very difficult, because the abuse is there, and I think someone reporting that should be protected.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Irene Mathyssen

I wonder if you could wrap up, Detective Coady.

5:10 p.m.

Det Isabelle Coady

Yes.

One thing I would like to see is mandatory reporting of suspected elder abuse, like we do with children who are being abused—and I'm not saying mandatory charging, just reporting—so that at least it can be investigated. Then if the person is willing to receive help and not necessarily police intervention, something can be done.

Thank you very much.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Irene Mathyssen

Thank you.

Might I suggest that we have a five-minute round? There are only 20 minutes left, and that would allow each caucus to have some time.

The government caucus will start, please. Ms. Bateman.

November 22nd, 2011 / 5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you all, every one of you, for the work you do. I don't want any of you to have work to do, but sadly, you are very engaged, and I'm grateful for it.

I'm fascinated, because we actually had a witness who said something to the effect, “It's great to advertise, but when I call the police, they don't know anything about this.” Clearly that's not the case; that's not representative across the board. I recall a number of you saying that you share best practices with your colleagues throughout Canada, and perhaps even globally. It's very comforting to know that you share this information.

I have a number of specific questions. We keep hearing about the under-reporting piece, and I believe it was you, Constable Buhler, who spoke about the challenges of inter-agency sharing. Could you just elaborate on those for us, s'il vous plaît?

5:10 p.m.

Cst Jared Buhler

There are a couple of aspects to my answer.

First of all, in our situation, we have a memorandum of understanding to deal with the agencies we work with. I was once asked how that works, and I said it's actually harder but the results are better. It's complicated to bring people from different philosophical perspectives together to work on the same problem with competing policies, and sometimes even competing goals or mandates, who are all supposedly working toward the same goal.

But the big thorn in my side is health care, quite honestly. I think we heard this from a couple of the other people here. I can give you an example of a case involving a death that was potentially criminal. A lady was admitted to hospital with obvious signs of neglect, yet 24 hours passed before a report was made to police. We took a major case management approach to that investigation, but by the time we got there, critical evidence had already been lost about the victim's condition, because she'd been bathed and cleaned. We set about trying to get statements and information from the 20-odd staff members who had dealt with this lady. I went right from the top-down, that is through their legal department, and found out that hospital legal folks didn't know the law.

When I finally got the go-ahead to get statements from those people, we prepared a questionnaire to distribute to them. Of the 20-odd people who got the questionnaire, I'll give you a guess how many I got back to me: none.

That's the response—and that's not the exception, but the rule within health care. They don't want to become involved in any kind of criminal investigation. People shake their heads hearing that, and it doesn't made sense, but I'm telling you that it is the case. It is a battle over and over and over again with health care. Alberta, for example, has a health information act—and I'm sure every province has its own, too—that outlines stiff penalties for violating the provisions.

I'll tell you right now that this isn't about needing new legislation, but about professionals understanding their own legislation, which they don't. There are provisions within the current legislation for them to share and to disclose almost any form of criminal abuse. But they don't; they choose not to.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

So how do we solve this?

5:15 p.m.

Cst Jared Buhler

I don't work within a medical model. I just understand it a little bit because of my spouse's job. But I would say that there needs to be top-down change from the medical community.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Wow.

5:15 p.m.

Cst Jared Buhler

This is across the board, because homicide sections deal with the same problems. The staff do not want to get involved in a criminal prosecution.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

That fits with the comments of your colleague, Constable Coady, who said that privacy trumps safety. The exchange of information is difficult with health care employees, and mandatory reporting of suspected elder abuse would be helpful.

Could you just expand on how we could help elder people with that mandatory reporting, and what it would involve?

5:15 p.m.

Isabelle Coady

I think people feel they have no choice but to report; for example, in Ontario, you have no choice. Whoever you are, you have to report abuse against a child, and it's illegal not to. People feel protected in reporting. It doesn't matter what they do, what their relationship is to the victim, they feel that they are free to report—actually, the punishment for not reporting is greater than the potential punishment for doing it. I think that if you got that wide-ranging protection, it would help.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Irene Mathyssen

Thank you very much.

The NDP caucus, please, for five minutes.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you very much for being here.

I have a question that I think any of you could answer. A difficult reality that a lot of people need to come to terms with, I guess, is that seniors just don't necessarily report or want to prosecute.

Detective Sergeant Fitzpatrick, you mentioned that the Criminal Code and sentencing was sufficient, but that sometimes criminalizing this was not appropriate. I think all of you have shed some light on the fact that it is a very complex issue, and that, in terms of sentencing under the Criminal Code, it's not the whole picture.

How can we then address those situations where criminalizing this is not appropriate?

5:15 p.m.

Cst Jared Buhler

I think a good start is the model that a lot of cities do have, which is similar to ours, and that's collaboration. I certainly agree that it is not appropriate in all situations to proceed with criminal charges. But if you can offer other services and other supports, we'll always try to get eyes on the situation, whether via home care or just our nurses following up, and things like that. At least we can monitor the situation and follow it along to some extent. Certainly the industry standard is to go with a collaborative multidisciplinary team. It's how we put those teams together and how we support them that is the key issue, in my mind. I know that we can do good work within that type of model, but we're overwhelmed right now.