House of Commons Hansard #4 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was speech.

Topics

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

5 p.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore
Ontario

Liberal

Jean Augustine Minister of State (Multiculturalism and Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have this opportunity to respond to the Speech from the Throne.

I am particularly proud to be Minister of State for Multiculturalism and Status of Women. I cannot think of a position that I would rather be in as I look at the words in the Speech from the Throne.

I have always been passionate about multiculturalism, equality and human rights. I have devoted my life to creating a better world where women and men from all backgrounds feel they are accepted and valued.

It is a great moment to be the minister responsible for Canadian multiculturalism and belong to a government that continues to cherish and value diversity as a fundamental ethic of Canadian society. I am pleased to underscore that February is Black History Month, a time when we recognize the many achievements and contributions of black Canadians who have done so much to make this nation what it is today.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa in 1604, who is believed to be the first person of African heritage to have set foot on our shores. More than 1,000 young people participated in the Mathieu Da Costa challenge this year demonstrating that our youth certainly value diversity.

As the Speech from the Throne states, we want a Canada with strong social foundations where people are treated with dignity, where they are given a hand when needed and where no one is left behind.

I think everyone of us in this chamber wants to ensure that no one is left behind in our society. Moreover, the Speech from the Throne goes on to say that changing the way things work in government will help all Canadians to achieve their goals, starting with strengthening Canada's social foundations.

It means removing barriers to opportunity. This philosophy is given concrete expression in our openness to immigrants and refugees, and as clearly stated in the throne speech, abhorrence of racism. These powerful statements are possible because we, as a society, have held these values for decades.

Our commitment deepened in 1971, when Parliament adopted the multiculturalism policy. Tomorrow, I will have the privilege of tabling the annual report on the operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act for 2002-03. It will outline how federal departments and agencies are advancing the values and principles of multiculturalism. It is a document that is full of extraordinary facts, and indeed there is much about multiculturalism that is extraordinary.

I wonder if members are aware that Transport Canada has adopted a diversity strategy and that the Canada Council for the Arts increased its grants to culturally diverse artists and arts organizations by almost 7% in 2002-03.

I want to share with the House the results of two recent groundbreaking surveys. One of these surveys revealed that 80% of Canadians believe that multiculturalism enhances the value of Canadian citizenship. The other study revealed that the vast majority of the population, 86%, say to us that it has not been discriminated against or unfairly treated. What an achievement. At the same time, we know that some people registered that they have been treated unfairly.

All of this incredible progress has occurred because Canada has laws, like the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, to ensure that the multicultural heritage of all Canadians is valued.

I am living proof that we live in an open and inclusive society. But as long as people express that they have experienced racism and discrimination, we still have work to do. I am confident that the action we have already taken will benefit many generations after us. We must continue to act.

The action plan against racism that we are working on right now will be a powerful way to address the challenges we still face. This plan is a direct result of our international engagement following the world conference against racism held Durban, South Africa in September 2001.

Canada's multiculturalism policy of encouraging people to retain their cultural identity as Canadians is recognized as a model for the world. The action plan against racism is a continuation of this openness and philosophy of diversity.

Thirty 30 years ago Prime Minister Trudeau adopted the multiculturalism policy that led to the adoption of the act in 1988. Today we are celebrating its 15th anniversary.

As one of my predecessors, the former minister of state for multiculturalism and citizenship, the hon. Gerry Weiner, once said about this law:

Gone are the days when multiculturalism was a side show for new Canadians or those labelled as “ethnics”. Today's multiculturalism is about removing the barriers of discrimination and ignorance which stand in the way of acceptance and respect.

Gerry Weiner was right. The multiculturalism policy is an all-embracing and adaptable vision for Canada, one that gives us the openness and freedom to take our place on the global stage, while creating the kind of society we want for our children.

We now live in a country where more than 18% of us were born outside of Canada and where more than 13% of us are visible minorities. In urban centres, this figure is much higher.

The new deal for cities outlined in the Speech from the Throne is designed to help our communities become more dynamic, and more culturally rich and cohesive. This in turn will make them stronger partners in building Canada's social foundations.

I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that the cities' agenda includes all the urban multicultural strategy that supports inclusive institutions, and dynamic and cohesive communities.

With the increasing diversity of our population, Canadians understand more than ever that the task of nation building is not dependent solely upon political and economic structures. It is profoundly influenced by the social and the cultural relationships between communities within our society and by their participation in that society.

It is important to say that government is committed to gender equality, as affirmed strongly in the Speech from the Throne.

It reflects the priorities of women in Canada in all their diversity, priorities fundamental to equality, ensuring we can contribute to every aspect of the life of our country.

The commitment to gender equality is essential to strengthening Canada's social foundations. Canadians want a government that fully and truly engages them, reflecting their unique perspectives and shared strengths, as women and men. Gender equality is a goal we all share. Gender equality is key to economic and social success. And gender equality is central to effective government.

This is why we have been working on an agenda for gender equality, a framework that helps the Government of Canada to incorporate a gender perspective in its policy development, promoting understanding of the benefits of equality and engaging citizens.

The Speech from the Throne reinforces the government's commitment to gender equality. We were pleased by the clear statement that was made in the Speech from the Throne on the issue of gender equality because it is a commitment that the agenda for gender equality facilitates.

The future of our children is Canada's future. This has an impact on women as both parents and caregivers. The Government of Canada is committed to investing in the future of our children, particularly aboriginal children, ensuring that they get the best start in life, protecting them from exploitation and abuse, and supporting them in lifelong learning.

The government will improve access to quality health care, and build stronger and safer communities. These are concerns close to the hearts of many women for whom violence can be a daily reality.

The Speech from the Throne highlights the new recognition that our social and economic goals are inseparable. A stronger economy requires stronger social foundations, and economic strength and a more equitable society are clearly linked.

The government has committed to supporting new approaches to community development, known as “social economy”. That support further recognizes the contributions of women in improving the social conditions of their communities and in building a strong and vibrant social economy that meets people's diverse needs.

I will close with two thoughts. When the multiculturalism policy was adopted 33 years ago by the Right Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, he stated:

A policy of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework is basically the conscious support of individual freedom of choice. We are free to be ourselves.

But this cannot be left to chance. It must be fostered and pursued actively. If freedom of choice is in danger for some ethnic groups, it is in danger for all.

The Right Hon. Pierre Trudeau's words ring true today as they did 33 years ago.

Whether one is talking about strengthening Canada's cities, strengthening our social foundations, strengthening our economy or our standing in the world, multiculturalism and gender equality will continue to play an important role in our government's plans for the future.

This week the government pledged to ensure that every citizen has a strong voice and can contribute to building our nation. More than half of those voices belong to women. They must have every opportunity to improve their lives and participate in securing Canada's future.

I call on all of my colleagues to support the Speech from the Throne, the ideas expressed therein and let us work for quality of life for all of our citizens, men and women.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must admit that when I read the throne speech--although there were some platitudes and clichés about the history of multiculturalism, the role that multiculturalism plays and the importance that we place on multiculturalism--it belied the reality of the role of government.

As the critic for multiculturalism for my party, over the last year I had the opportunity to repeatedly hear complaints from the visible minority community in particular in this country that the government had not moved on the protocols that we signed onto at Durban. In fact, the plan of action that was required both in terms of legislation and policy that needed to be implemented in this country had not been followed.

I would like to ask the minister, is there a plan of action that will implement the recommendations coming out of Durban?

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jean Augustine Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by complimenting the member for the work he does and for the attention he pays to the visible minority communities. I know that his neck of the woods is a very crucial and important part of our history.

At the same time it is important for him to know that we are in the process of getting an action plan ready for the House and for Canadians. Before we went to Durban, we went around the country and consulted with Canadians. We consulted with civil society. We consulted with groups and organizations. They have given us a plan and their commitment on what they think would be the best way for Canadians to interact and to ensure that racism, hate, discrimination, xenophobia and all those things that happen and create havoc in society will not exist.

Having heard from Canadians, we are in the process of getting our plan ready. We are doing what is important, which is the consultation before we set out a plan of action. At this point in time my departmental officials and I are working very diligently to ensure that we have a plan of action which we will bring to Canadians.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

David Kilgour Edmonton Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the minister on her speech about a half hour ago celebrating the start of Black History Month.

Could she perhaps add something to what she has already said about her hopes and dreams for newcomers to Canada, not of origin in Europe, and particularly women?

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jean Augustine Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too want to extend the courtesies to my colleague. I know of the work he has done to reassure several groups, including the religious groups, especially after September 11. So many of those groups at that point in time felt that issues in Canadian society were very disturbing to them.

The people who joined us here in Canada traditionally we could say were descendant groups or the immigrant groups. I want to contrast that to the groups who are joining us today. The groups who are joining us today are coming from Asia, from Africa and from places where the individuals are people of colour, the visible minorities. We can refer to them as emerging groups in our society. In certain areas we have to pay special attention to language. We have to pay special attention to religious beliefs. We have to ensure that the multiculturalism policy responds to the needs and concerns as they join us in Canadian society.

We speak about social cohesion. We talk about cross-cultural communication. Those are the pillars and themes of the work we do in the multiculturalism program. It is very important for us to say to new people who are joining us that they are now participating members of Canadian society and therefore share the values that we hold, the values of inclusiveness, of respect for diversity. Those are the values we hold.

We welcome them. At the same time we recognize with the statistics before us that by the year 2011 we will be completely dependent on immigration for our labour force. When we welcome them we have to ensure that everyone joining us in Canadian society is included and is given that equal opportunity to participate.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the minister responsible for the status of women for holding on to her position in the new cabinet at a time when many other women lost their places. I wish her well in the challenging days ahead.

I particularly wish her well given the challenges posed to her by the absence of any concrete reference to status of women issues in the Speech from the Throne. It is interesting to note how invisible women are in that road map. Women just do not seem to have a place in the future direction as envisaged by the government. In fact, it is interesting that the word “woman” was only mentioned twice just in passing.

We have some big challenges ahead of us, especially in terms of Canada's failure to comply with the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women.

As a starting place I would like to ask the minister if she would support the notion of having a parliamentary standing committee on the status of women. It is something that more and more women from all sides of the House are talking about and proposing. We would like to advance that idea with the hope that the House leaders would agree and that all parties would come together with the formation of such a standing committee, so that we would have a permanent place for discussing women's issues and a forum for dealing with many of our failures to live up to UN obligations.

Would the minister responsible for the status of women support that idea? Could she give us her commitment to help us ensure that it comes to pass?

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Jean Augustine Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has such concern for the status of women and works diligently in that area.

I want to say to her that it is important that we work together. It is important for us to recognize that this is not an ideological question but it is a way in which all of us as women and all of us as members in the House should be working together to improve the status of women. Any avenue that would give us that opportunity for exchange is one that should be encouraged.

The Speech from the Throne gave us clear indications as to the government's commitments to women. I could cite instances of aboriginal women. I could cite instances where we spoke about caregivers. The social and economic agenda definitely will include women. There is also the issue of education. There are so many citations, but were we to extrapolate the word “woman” and other “women”, “women”, “women”, at the same time we must recognize that all of those issues include women. We cannot talk about cities without talking about women. We cannot talk about education without including women. We cannot deal with any of those issues without thinking of who those issues represent.

I want us to continue to work together to ensure that we improve gender equality in this country. I want all of us to work for the improvement and for the status of women.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

5:25 p.m.

Scarborough—Agincourt
Ontario

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague for an excellent and eloquent speech.

I probably represent one of the most ethnically diverse ridings in Canada. It depends on how we interpret the Statistics Canada data. When I look at the diversity not only of my constituency but of the greater Toronto area and indeed all of Canada, there is such a wonderful variety of people. We have to reach out and make sure they are all part of our society.

I would like to offer an idea to the Minister of State for Multiculturalism, which is to use four simple words as a motto. Their starting letters are “R-A-C-E”. The “R” stands for respect. We have to respect all Canadians as equal. The “A” stands for accept. We accept everybody as an equal partner and an equal stakeholder in this country. The “C” is for celebrate. We celebrate what is Canadian and the diversity we have. The “E” is for embrace. We embrace what is uniquely Canadian.

I am asking the minister for multiculturalism if she would undertake that, or perhaps I could ask the unanimous consent of the House, that this would be the motto for everything that goes out from the ministry of multiculturalism. The four letters together spell the word “race” and we are all part of the human race.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jean Augustine Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have not spelled it out in that fashion, “R-A-C-E”, but at the same time I think everything we do in the multiculturalism program speaks to respect, speaks to diversity and speaks to the fact that we celebrate each other. When we talk about social cohesion, that is what we are talking about. We are talking about all of those issues that take our diversity into consideration.

I like the terms as my colleague put them, respect, accept, celebrate and embrace. As the Minister of State for Multiculturalism I will make sure that I include those words in my vocabulary in that fashion.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Older Adult Justice Act
Private Members' Business

February 5th, 2004 / 5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Diane Marleau Sudbury, ON

moved that Bill C-439, An Act to establish the office of the Ombudsman for Older Adult Justice and the Canadian Older Adult Justice Agency and to amend the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker,let me start by thanking the member for Prince Edward--Hastings, the member for Huron--Bruce, the member for Lambton--Kent--Middlesex and the member for Calgary East who agreed to be recognized as co-sponsors of the bill.

In October 2002 I was approached by civic leaders in my constituency of Sudbury as well as older adult advocates asking what the federal government was doing at the national level to deal with the problems of older adult abuse, neglect and exploitation. I was saddened to say that not enough was being done to deal with this issue. It is an issue that is hidden from the public. Its victims are often cloaked in secrecy and shame.

It is in order to deal directly with the problem that I have decided to put this bill together. I have no illusions. In its present format, the bill will not be passed in its entirety. In fact, members of the seniors community are opposed to some aspects of the proposed measures, but there are other aspects that they would like to see added or clarified.

That is certainly fair. I think that the bill has to be based on a co-ordinated approach arrived at through consensus. It must be non-partisan and there must be serious and dynamic consultations with seniors in all regions of Canada.

I know that the Prime Minister's task force on active living and seniors, being chaired by my colleague, the member for Trinity--Spadina, will be extremely productive and forthright in its deliberations. I hope they take note of my bill and join with me in putting together a plan of action to combat this issue. It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to take action. Older adults are a growing population in Canada, who will by the year 2041 number at least 23% of our total population. That is one out of every four.

What does this mean for the federal government? It means we have to look at ways to ensure we have the necessary national institutions in place to deal with an older population, an older population that despite its age has the abilities and strengths to continue to contribute to this country's future. We must do our part to foster and promote this contribution.

However, we must be cognizant of the fact that within our population there are those in the older adult community who are unfortunately targeted as victims of crime, based solely on their age or their perceived infirmities. This stigma is shameful and yet it is a stigma that some in this country have been willing to attach to this sector of Canada for far too long.

However, stigmas are, after all, just that: false perceptions, false ideas, and false truths. They must be confronted, combatted and slapped down. I am seeking to do just that with this bill.

Research and awareness of the issue of older adult abuse is relatively recent, as it was only raised in the House in the early 1980s. In fact, 21 years ago this March, a member of this chamber by the name of J.R. Howie brought this issue to the fore through a bill entitled “An Act respecting Senior Citizens”. Like me, Mr. Howie saw a need for intervention by the federal government to address the inadequate attention to the needs of the elderly.

As all members are aware, abuse comes in a variety of forms, including physical, emotional, financial and sexual abuse as well as psychological abuse, and is carried out at times by those that older adults trust the most. It can be categorized under three main themes: abuse and neglect in domestic settings, abuse and neglect in institutional settings, and self-abuse and neglect, which occurs when adults live in ways that disregard their health or safety needs.

Studies recognize that older adult abuse is a significant problem that impacts on the quality of life of many seniors across Canada. Indeed, going as far back as 1989 to the national survey on abuse of the elderly in Canada, it was shown that at least 4% of Canadians over the age of 65 suffer some sort of abuse, whether it is at the hands of family members or others. The study found that financial abuse accounted for more than 50% of the cases, while 30% were cases of verbal aggression. Physical abuse ranked third.

The Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey for the year 1999 found that older adults aged 65 or older represent 2% of all victims of violent offences and were 67% more likely to be victimized by non-family members. Additionally it was found that common assault was the most reported violent offence against older adults, followed by uttering threats and assault with a weapon. It was also found that older adults were the victims of 9.5% of all homicides, 8.3% of all extortion cases, and 6.1% of all reported cases of robbery in the year 2000.

Let me stress that these statistics represent only reported cases. I have been told by law enforcement officials as well as advocates that there are countless other cases that go unreported because victims are too ashamed to come forward.

I could go on, but in the interest of time, I want to get to the proposals in the bill.

As proposed in part 1 of the bill, I believe we need to seek the establishment of Canada's first ever ombudsman for older adult justice. The mandate of this individual would be to act as a neutral and objective sounding board, mediator and investigator in all matters relating to older adult abuse, neglect and exploitation.

One of the prime reasons for such a position at the federal level would be to collect and disseminate on an annual basis the data relating to older adult abuse and exploitation. Further, with such a range of federal programs, such as the family violence prevention program, I am certain that there exist gaps that need to be addressed in order to develop a coherent older adult abuse prevention policy. An ombudsman could identify and suggest strategies to address these gaps to maximize program effectiveness.

In addition, by having a federal ombudsman who is an expert in older adult advocacy, we as a government could work cooperatively with him or her to develop a long term strategic plan for dealing with the prevention, detection, evaluation and improvement of the older adult justice system.

In conversations with the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, it has been suggested that an expanded ombudsman's mandate could include the areas of old age pension, affordable housing, age discrimination, and other areas of federal involvement in the lives of Canada's older adults. I am open to this suggestion and believe examining this through hearings and at committee would be a worthwhile project.

The second proposal in the bill is the development of the Canadian older adult justice agency. The goal of this agency would be to develop and implement, in cooperation with the provinces and stakeholders, older adult justice policies and programs. It would serve as a depository and institute of specialized information on the issue of older adult abuse, neglect and exploitation. By putting in place such an agency, we would over time be developing the government's capacity to learn more about this serious problem and to develop long term and viable strategies to combat it.

That said, I want the agency to go even further. I have consistently heard two main points made by those in favour of my legislation as well as from some who are opposed. One is the need for proper and sustained funding to older adult programs and advocacy groups across the country. The second is the need to develop a training program, or at least an enhanced training program, for law enforcement officials, counsellors, long term care workers and others in how to recognize, deal with and be sensitive to incidents of older adult abuse.

These two things have consistently emerged as necessary for one simple reason: if we do not fund programs that are put in place, then they prove to be ineffective and a waste of taxpayer money. Frankly, advocacy groups deserve more, as do Canada's older adults. The message is clear: proper and sustained funding is imperative to the success of programs and the work of national advocacy groups.

Under the umbrella of the agency, I am also proposing that we develop a long term care consumer database to provide Canadians with information and data on older adult homes across Canada. Individuals, whether they are an older adult or the adult child or a relative or friend or guardian, deserve to know the type of care and the level of service that can be expected at any given rest home.

I think all of us have read the recent horror stories in The Toronto Star about a 94 year old woman who, due to poor care and neglect, wound up with serious bed sores, covered in her own filth, and was left to die with gangrene eating away at her. It is graphic, I know that, but let me tell members that there are many other instances as well.

As colleagues will recall, CTV reported in January the case of 90 year old Jennie Nelson, a resident of the Jubilee Lodge in Edmonton, who died as a result of second degree burns to body. How did she get these? By being immersed in a scalding hot bath.

This is not simply outrageous. It is insulting and demeaning in a country that prides itself on compassion.

I myself one day may need to use the services of such a home, as perhaps will many others in this chamber as well. Do we want the same level of care that Ms. Nelson received? No. She deserved better and so do all Canadians.

By putting in place this agency with a long term care database as part of its core responsibility, Canadians can have a focal point of information on what to expect in our long term care homes.

I know we will hear the usual provincial grumbling that it is a jurisdictional issue. Excuse me, but where the health and safety of Canadians is affected, then the federal government has every right to play a role. It is time for us as a federal government to put a little steel in our spine and show some leadership on this issue.

The third part of the bill deals with changes to the Criminal Code. I have worked in close consultation with seniors' advocates, attorneys and the chief of the city of greater Sudbury's police services to draft these changes, changes that all agreed were necessary. I take them at their word. They are, after all, the ones on the ground dealing with these issues as they arise.

At present, section 718.2(a)(ii) makes reference to a spouse, a common law partner and a child. I want to expand the category of victims to include those that may require care of any sort due to age or infirmity. This would ensure that these individuals are officially protected under the Criminal Code and sends a clear message to those who would seek to abuse their position of trust. If they are providing care to a person, old or young, vibrant or infirm,they have a duty and an obligation to set for themselves higher standards of responsibility. Shouldthey choose to breach that trust, they will be held fully accountable.

The other change to the Criminal Code would ensure that, in sentencing, the courts consider whether or not an individual has been targeted specifically due to their age or due to their physical or mental vulnerability. While it is true that this is mentioned already to some degree in section 718.2(a)(i), I believe that making clear reference to older adults in the code would enhance their rights and would ensure parity across the country when it comes to the sentencing of those that target the elderly or the vulnerable.

In closing, let me say that I believe this bill represents a discussion point on an effective national strategy for Canada's older adults and combatting older adult abuse.

I would like everybody in this House to know that I recognize that the bill could be rejected in its present format, that parts of the bill are not perfect and should be reviewed. I see no problem with that. However, I would like to see my colleagues from all sides participate in good faith in the process and ensure that the bill makes it to committee stage, where it can be reviewed, where hearings can be held and where representatives of the seniors community and their advocates can tell us parliamentarians what they would like to see in a bill to protect seniors' rights.

Our task as parliamentarians is to seek consensus as we move forward, to stand together to confront the scourge of older adult abuse, and to put the rights of our oldest citizens at the top of the national priority list.

Older Adult Justice Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to express my appreciation to the member for Sudbury for bringing forth this issue.

Reams and reams of paper come across my desk every week, but when I saw this bill, it tweaked my interest, so I requested to have a few minutes to speak on this. However, I have some questions.

Maybe I will date myself by some of my questions and some of my thoughts as I go into this, but this is private members' business. We talk about things in private members' business and we raise issues that normally do not come across in Parliament. That is one of the reasons I appreciate this, and what we say does not reflect necessarily on our political party.

When we were growing up, I remember that abuse of aging parents was virtually unheard. Grandparents and aging parents were very seldom sent off to homes pass away. Families, churches and charities looked after aging parents for as long as they were physically able to do so.

The question I have is this. Because we are discussing the whole issue of abuse and taking care of elderly people, how can we maybe step back again and encourage families, churches and charities to once again assume a little more responsibility for this?

I reflect on this and I wonder--and I do not know how to say this in a different way--if Liberal social engineering has diluted everyone in society into thinking government can solve all our problems. Does big government have to look after all this? Maybe this is not what the member is getting at, but we have a problem here. I know we have been taxed and we have a debt of half a trillion dollars now. Maybe we have removed the financial wherewithal from families, charities and other organizations in the community to do something about it.

Would the member like to broaden the discussion in this way? I really appreciate the fact she has brought this forward, and these are some of my thoughts and questions as to whether another big government program would get at some of the root causes of this.

Older Adult Justice Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Diane Marleau Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is right. Years ago we did not hear about abuse of older adults, but I believe that it occurred back then, as well.

I remember living near a family where the grandmother was kept. I remember the children, who were my age, going up and slapping the grandmother. I was horrified at the way she was treated in this home. Therefore, I know from personal contact that it did occur, but nobody ever spoke of it.

I want to encourage families to look after themselves. However, it is very important that one of the points of having a project such as this one is to bring out into the open the issue of abuse of seniors. It is family violence. If members remember way back when, we did not hear too much about family violence. It certainly was occurring, but it was hidden, and it was shameful. We need to bring it out in the open.

Nowadays families are more broken up. There are not such large families any more. The children move away. They do not necessarily live in the same community as their parents do. Many people do not have children. These people end up alone, very vulnerable and often are taken advantage of.

This bill came in response to a number of incidents in my own riding and discussions that I had with law enforcement officers and others.

What I really want to stress is, yes, there needs to be more work done and there probably needs to be some more spending. However, it does not necessarily have to be a great big, expensive program. It is a question of better spending what we are spending now and having an ombudsman or a point person to whom the seniors community can turn when it does not know where else to turn.

Older Adult Justice Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her answer to my question and I really would like to sincerely work on this issue. If this goes to committee, I hope I can be part of it, and I appreciate the opportunity she has given us to discuss this whole thing.

Bill C-439 recognizes the fact that older adults are often vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and neglect. The principles of the bill include the prevention and treatment of this problem. It also includes, for the purpose of sentencing, the vulnerability of the older adult victim as an aggravating circumstance under the Criminal Code. These principles, I believe, are generally sound and worthy of support.

Members of the official opposition have been very vocal on the protection of children under the law. It follows that we should be also protective of elderly people. We should invest in the just treatment of the elderly and in some cases an equally vulnerable group of people.

However, the creation of a new government agency raises issues of cost and encroachment on provincial jurisdiction. I realize the member has talked about this and does not want to see this happen, but the overall objective of the bill is worth supporting. I want to underline that I am supporting the overall objective of the bill.

However, I believe it may not be necessary for a new government agency to be established in order to achieve this objective. Before we could support legislation creating a brand new bureaucracy, members of Parliament would have to know exactly how the ombudsman proposed in the bill and the older adult justice agency would fit in with all of the other services provided for the elderly.

For example, the federal government and the provinces have been working on this issue for a number of years. I would like to quote from a news release issued by Health Canada on June 27, 2002, following a meeting of federal-provincial-territorial ministers responsible for seniors. Item 4 in the release was specifically “Addressing Elder Abuse”. The minister stated:

Research indicates that the abuse of older adults is a hidden problem as reported cases only represent the "tip of the iceberg". Older adults are often reluctant to report abuse due to fears of retaliation, shame, family loyalty, abandonment and institutionalization. Therefore, continuing attention to public education is important. Ministers have requested further analysis on existing elder abuse strategies and legislation across jurisdictions in Canada. The analysis will continue their collaborative efforts to address the safety and security needs of seniors by identifying priority strategic initiatives for potential action, for governments who so desire.

I put that into the record because it appears that much of what is proposed in the private member's bill may already be being done. That does not mean that we should not discuss that here, but I think that we have to make sure that we are not duplicating things.

Health Canada's division of aging and seniors provides federal leadership in areas pertaining to aging and seniors. The division serves as a focal point for information and the centre of expertise and some of its activities include:

--providing advice and supporting policy development; conducting and supporting research and education activities; encouraging innovative means of improving the health of seniors in situations of risk and in preventing situations of risk from developing; working and consulting with partners, including the provinces, territories, seniors organizations and other sectors; and encouraging communication and disseminating information; and providing operational support to the National Advisory Council on Aging.

In executing all of its roles and responsibilities, the Division promotes the meaningful participation of seniors in federal decisions and activities that affect them.

I would also like to quote again, this time from Health Canada's National Advisory Council on Aging. It has been operating for the last 24 years. Its stated purpose is to:

--to assist and advise the Minister of Health on all matters related to the aging of the Canadian population and the quality of life of seniors. These may be matters that the Minister refers to the Council or that the Council considers appropriate.

The Council consists of up to 18 members from all parts of Canada and all walks of life. The members bring to Council a variety of concerns, experiences and abilities. Members are appointed by Order-in-Council for two to three-year terms, renewable once.

Support for the Council's operations is provided by a team of federal public service employees located in Ottawa.

I have some questions for the minister and I do not know when she will have an opportunity to answer them. Would the National Advisory Council on Aging be replaced by the agency and ombudsman proposed in this older adult justice act?

The National Advisory Council on Aging recently published an excellent eight page bulletin entitled “Hidden Harm: the abuse of seniors”. On page 8, it provides a list of toll free numbers in every province and territory advising where to get help for seniors experiencing abuse.

Anyone listening to this debate today should be aware that there is some of this already. Hopefully the message will get out that if these abusive situations are taking place, people should already be seeking these numbers and they should be looking for assistance because there is some assistance already available.

I checked out one of these, the province of Manitoba senior's directorate. It provides a senior's abuse line, a senior's information line and it also has a Manitoba Council on Aging. Many provinces have this. It is not clear to me how the ombudsman and the agency proposed in the bill would work with the existing provincial governments and agencies. Do the provinces support the creation of this agency? Will they help finance it? Will the new federal ombudsman and the agency fill a gap in services or will it duplicate existing services? I ask these questions because we all have to answer questions before we vote on a bill.

I do not want to give the minister the impression that because I am asking these tough questions I am not concerned about elder abuse. The exact opposite is true. I realize that it is a severe problem and we need to deal with it. The statistics I have seen show the horror stories in the media and we all should be very concerned about it. However being concerned does not mean that we should automatically create another government agency or bureaucracy, unless we can show that bureaucracy will actually solve the problem. That is what I want to get at. We have to solve this very serious problem.

We have all seen the problems we have got into by passing ill-considered legislation. You know, Mr. Speaker, the legislation we have passed since 1995. I have tracked it since then. We have spent a lot of money. It resulted in the creation of a huge bureaucratic boondoggle and we did not solve the problem of violence in our society. I want to make sure if we are to create some kind of agency, we do not go down that path again.

We all want an agency that will actually result in a reduction in the number of incidents of elder abuse and see that this objective is accomplished in a cost effective manner. I am not convinced that what is being proposed here will produce the results. It will have to go to committee if we approve this.

Again, I thank the member for raising this issue, one of the most important issues in the country. I look forward to working together with her on it. I think many members in our party will support this because it is something that needs to be investigated and it may need to go to committee to ensure that we get it right.

Older Adult Justice Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the speech from the member and that of my colleague on this very important issue. Everyone knows how concerned I am about the situation of older adults. My role within my party is to defend older adults and to question the government about their situation.

The bill being introduced is full of good intentions, but we cannot support it because, as the member says, it interferes directly with provincial jurisdictions.

I am against having to take multiple steps to complete one task. This is not legislation that is going to protect older adults. In Quebec, we already have a Public Curator, the Conseil des aînés, and the CLSCs, that do roughly what this legislation is asking be done.

When I was an MLA in Quebec, I made it my duty to visit all the retirement homes at least twice a year. I did that for 9 years, which means I did it at least 18 times. I saw the abuse that goes on and I had the opportunity to make changes. However, it is not by implementing another council or another level of protection, legislation or officials that we are going to improve the situation.

Older adults have the right to be informed. It is by giving them information that we will help them, since they already have the Public Curator, the Conseil des aînés and the CLSCs. These agencies already exist in Quebec.

The legislation could be helpful if it made changes to the Criminal Code. That is an area that might need some work. We could rewrite the legislation in order to amend the Criminal Code because it could be flawed with respect to this issue.

This bill explains what constitutes abuse of older adults. The following is the definition provided for abuse:

The knowing infliction of physical, psychological or financial harm on an older adult.

I am scandalized by the introduction of this bill. Yes, there is financial harm. The one most responsible for financial harm is the federal government. It has kept money from at least 270,000 older Canadians. I have travelled across Quebec and in some parts of Canada, including Vancouver. I have met people who are the victims of the government. This does not mean that there are not people as well who financially abuse older people. I know this goes on.

However, when the government itself does not provide the information to ensure that people receive the guaranteed income supplement, when the government itself does not take measures to find these people, even by going door to door to meet the people who are entitled to their money because it is owed to them, when the government does not do so, I think that introducing a bill such as this one will not improve anything.

This is quite simple. There are 270,000 Canadians, including 68,000 Quebecers, who did not receive the guaranteed income supplement. I took part in 37 meetings across Quebec. I met almost all the news media there are and we managed to find people who were entitled to it. The department told me it may have found about 75,000 people that it was looking for, and about 30,000 in Quebec alone. This means that, in Quebec alone, about $100 million are now in the pockets of the poorest, who need it and who were deprived of it because of the inaction of the federal government.

Let them pass legislation, at any time, to require the federal government to reimburse seniors for the money stolen from them because they were not informed. This is money of which seniors were deprived, and it was used to the government's profit. These seniors were unable to cope, had little education, were alone, sick, abandoned to their own devices, and could not obtain the necessary information. Nothing was done to get it to them. In order to get what was coming to them, these seniors had to make a phone call, talk to a machine, and dial 22 numbers, only to hear that all the lines were busy.

That is how the information was given out. If someone did manage to get hold of an application form, it took an accountant or a lawyer to fill it out. Today I say this: enact legislation that will require the government to do the same for seniors to whom money is owing, as the former finance minister did, for example, for his shipping companies, which have come up again today. A way was found, retroactively, to put money into the pockets of certain individuals.

It is true that the seniors I speak for have been abused by this government. That does not mean that the government is alone in doing so. Still, they have been abused by the government and I think that it is criminal that, in their twilight years, because they are ill or do not have much money, or because they simply have no fighting spirit left, they are not given what they deserve, and no one takes care of them, although there are many organizations that could help them.

In Quebec there are the CLSCs and there are golden age clubs. There are many organizations whose sole purpose is to help people. I have dealt with these organizations on my travels around Quebec and I have found some incredible things. For example, I met a woman in Sherbrooke, who has since died, who lived out her senior years on $6,000 a year: just the old age pension. I calculated that the government saved $90,000, because of that woman.

In my opinion, legislation is not what we need to correct this. What we need is a little honesty in the system. We must use what we already have. We must use the information that can get to the people who need it. We must make use of the people working in the field who are only too glad to provide assistance. There are service clubs of all kinds and these people are ready to help us.

The Criminal Code needs some amendment, it is true. I said so a moment ago. Still, if it means that the services provided in Quebec are duplicated, I do not agree. Calculations show it is wasted time. Having more discussions at various times is fine; I,too, would like to be called as a witness to talk about it before a commission. I would work until I got back the money owed to those very deserving people. The older generation was here ahead of me; they built this country and they are entitled to our utmost respect.