House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise here in the House today to speak to Bill C-36 as the seniors critic for the official opposition.

It is no secret that Canada is facing an aging population, which, I would like to point out, is not a problem in itself. Our society is enriched by its seniors, who still contribute a great deal to society by volunteering, sharing precious time with their families, helping their friends and neighbours, and investing directly in their communities and their surroundings. Our aging population is clearly not a problem in itself.

However, we need to ensure that the government and its programs adapt to the situation so that everyone can continue to live with dignity until they reach the end of their lives, without any problems. This is possible.

We have known about our aging population for some time now, since those who are 60 today were not born yesterday. We began taking measures a long time ago to prepare for this situation.

One question that keeps coming up right now about our aging population has to do with all kinds of abuse that our seniors are suffering. Since we have an aging population, it is especially important that we seriously ask ourselves how we can help our seniors. We must ensure that elder abuse diminishes and, ideally, that it disappears altogether.

Today, Bill C-36 is a good start and could become part of the solution to the problem of elder abuse.

I would like to begin by briefly talking about elder abuse. Clearly, all forms of abuse are unacceptable in our society, but there are certain distinctive characteristics of elder abuse.

The most prevalent kind of abuse that seniors tend to suffer is financial exploitation. Next, in order of prevalence, comes psychological abuse and, finally, physical abuse ranks third.

Another distinctive characteristic of elder abuse is that it is often people close to them who commit the abuse: members of their family, even their immediate family, neighbours, friends and caregivers.

Another thing about elder abuse is that it is largely under-reported. In fact, according to the Réseau québécois pour contrer les abus envers les aînés, nearly 80% of abuses are never reported. That is a huge percentage. Why? Because seniors are especially vulnerable. They are afraid of being isolated and uprooted from their lives. They are afraid that if they report a family member, that family member will reject them and they will end up even more isolated. They are afraid that if they report the person who cares for them, they will stop getting their regular care and will be sent to a nursing home. For abused seniors, reporting that abuse has specific and very significant consequences. As a result, seniors unfortunately often put up with abuse and keep mum in order to protect themselves from something that they believe could be worse.

Seniors need to know that someone will be there for them, that if they report abuse, they will get all the help they need to get through the situation.

Bill C-36 recognizes the seriousness of elder abuse. The Criminal Code currently recognizes a number of aggravating factors in cases of child abuse or abuse of persons with disabilities, but there is nothing in the legislation to make elder abuse an aggravating factor. The vulnerability of seniors in cases of abuse has not been recognized. Bill C-36 recognizes this factor.

The NDP is pleased to support this bill at second reading because we believe it is an important and necessary measure.

However, that is not all. A very interesting committee, the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care, studied the issue of elder abuse and made some recommendations to Parliament with a view to addressing this problem.

Bill C-36 tackles the criminal aspect of elder abuse. We must consider whether we want to punish people who carry out the abuse and whether we also want to prevent abuse. They do not necessarily go hand in hand. Giving a longer sentence to someone who commits elder abuse may not really reduce the number of cases of abuse or increase reporting of elder abuse. These two things do not necessarily go hand in hand. Yes, we have to punish the perpetrators, but we also have to prevent and reduce abuse and ensure that we make it easier for seniors to report it.

There were some very interesting things in the committee's report. First, it is important to launch an extensive awareness campaign. We have to make people aware of elder abuse and show them that this abuse is serious. People must know that society has a role to play in helping seniors report abuse.

Second—and I am still talking about targeted, effective measures—the report talks about prevention programs. Not only do people have to be made aware of the problem, but we have to go one step further and prevent elder abuse. For example, the committee mentions training people who care for the elderly and providing family members with information so that they can recognize the signs, determine whether an elderly relative is being abused or not, and support that person in reporting the abuse.

Third, there has to be an intervention service. It is all well and good to prevent abuse or detect it and help an elderly person report it, but once that happens, what then? Seniors need to know that they have access to people and a system that can help them through their ordeal. They do not have to be afraid of losing their freedom, their loved ones or their independence if they accuse an abuser. Intervention services should include offering seniors who have been mistreated psychosocial and other care. That is another very important aspect of what should be done to fight elder abuse.

Fourth, the report talks about a legal response, which Bill C-36 addresses. Yes, there is a “legal response” element to tackling elder abuse. However, there are three other elements that are just as important.

The NDP will support Bill C-36, but we must be clear about the fact that it is not enough. If we focus only on legal measures, we will be missing a very important point. We must not forget that we need to prevent crime, and not merely punish criminals. Unfortunately, punishing criminals is the Conservative way. We saw this with the mandatory minimum sentences proposed in Bill C-10. However, prevention and intervention are measures that can truly help people who suffer abuse, and we do not talk about that enough here in the House.

Here are some suggestions of concrete measures that could be taken in response to the suggestions made by the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care. Factors that cause seniors to be more vulnerable include poverty and dependence on family members or caregivers. This means that a senior who has limited resources is much more dependent on others and will therefore be much less likely to report any financial or other abuse. A senior who does not have a spot in an affordable, appropriate seniors' home and must therefore live with a friend, neighbour or family member will be unlikely to report that person, because the senior would have nowhere to go if he or she were forced to leave.

Thus, creating a national affordable, suitable housing strategy for seniors would be another way of tackling elder abuse. I could mention several other ways of doing so. In closing, I think my message is clear: some legal measures are needed, but that is not the only way to tackle the problem of elder abuse.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I agree with much of what the member said in her speech.

She talked about taking measures not only to change the Criminal Code, but also to educate and try to prevent elder abuse before it takes place. That is exactly what this government has been doing.

Ads to prevent elder abuse appear regularly on many television channels in Canada. The ad campaign is, “Elder Abuse -- It's Time to Face the Reality”. I think many Canadians, including many seniors, have seen those ads.

The department responsible for seniors in Canada has many resources in place. Its website provides information on how to deal with fraud, lottery fraud, telephone fraud. There is information on credit card fraud. There is information on how to deal with suspected physical abuse of seniors.

Our government has taken many of the steps which the member opposite spoke about in her speech, in terms of advertising, educating and providing resources for seniors.

Does the member support those measures that have already been taken by the Government of Canada?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for bringing this important information to our attention. Indeed, I support all the prevention measures to help address elder abuse. The measures that the hon. member listed are very important. However, the fact remains that there is still widespread abuse of seniors. We cannot say that the government's measures go far enough. They have to go farther. I am sure my colleague agrees with me on that. The prevention measures in place are indeed excellent, but unfortunately, they are not adequate and the numbers on every kind of abuse prove it.

I might have another solution that could help seniors. The committee finds that basic funding for non-governmental organizations is an effective way to build the necessary infrastructure for reducing elder abuse. I do not know whether this is the case in my colleague's riding, but in my riding I am faced every day with community organizations that contribute tangibly to prevention and helping seniors, that do not have enough funding to do their work. And I am talking about organizations that operate with a lot of help from volunteers and donations from the community. A little more help from the government would be welcome.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, we all recall the current government bragging recently with great fanfare about having increased the guaranteed income supplement. However, on closer inspection, that increase amounted to roughly $1.25 per person, or a little less than a coffee and a doughnut.

Failing to prevent a real decline in the financial vulnerability of seniors is consistent with what my colleague was saying when she said that the more that not-for-profit organizations that provide financial assistance to seniors are stretched in the social fabric, the less they will be able to help seniors, no matter how many tough laws we adopt.

If we do not provide basic help, if seniors become too fragile, then crime bills are not going to solve their problems. I would like to know if that is what my colleague was getting at.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have no trouble giving credit where credit is due, but when things are not done properly, they need to be criticized. First of all, not all seniors in need are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, and secondly, it is not enough to keep seniors who receive it above the poverty line.

The objective is therefore not achieved. Many seniors who depend on federal government allowances live below the poverty line. Moreover, what is given with one hand this taken back twice over with the other. While it is true that this measure is an attempt to combat elder abuse, it is also true that old age security is being attacked. That is something that will keep many seniors in poverty and hit middle-class seniors and those who are most vulnerable financially. It is just one more example of what this government is doing to promote elder abuse.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak today about Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (elder abuse), with a view to ensuring that sentences factor in the vulnerability of seniors.

It is easy for us to support this measure, particularly as we put forward a similar measure during the last election campaign. Basically, the bill provides that sentencing for a crime against a senior shall take into consideration the significant impact that the offence has on the victim because of the victim's age, health and financial situation. Such factors are considered aggravating circumstances that require a stiffer sentence.

The Criminal Code already provides similar measures for the abuse of vulnerable people. For example, abuse of a person under 18 years of age constitutes an aggravating factor in sentencing.

Many extreme cases of negligence and abuse of Canadian seniors have been given a great deal of media coverage in recent years. One recent case occurred in February 2011, when the Toronto police found a 68-year-old woman unconscious, frozen and starving in a makeshift bedroom located in her son's unheated garage. Cases like that, which are very tragic, occur everywhere in Canada.

According to two major Canada-wide studies carried out in the late 1980s and late 1990s, 4% of seniors living at home are victims of one form or another of elder abuse at the hands of a family member, with financial and property abuse being the most common forms. The second study, benefiting from a stricter methodology, suggests that 7% of seniors are being abused. Researchers say that these figures are only the tip of the iceberg.

In 2003, just under 4,000 incidents of violence against people over the age of 65 were reported. Of those, 29% were committed by family members. Even though not all incidents are reported, studies suggest that between 4% and 10% of Canadian seniors have experienced one or more forms of abuse or negligence at the hands of a person they trusted.

This is unacceptable and should not happen in a country like ours. Police statistics on crime in Quebec show that, between 2003 and 2007, while the number of property crimes fell, the number of crimes against seniors rose, particularly fraud and theft. Elderly people are more often victims of threats, robbery and criminal harassment.

Although I am happy to support this government bill, I would like to stress that it is only a first step in the fight against elder abuse. My honourable colleague said as much a moment ago.

Disadvantaged seniors are the most likely to be victims of abuse. The fight against seniors’ poverty must be one of our top priorities.

I would like to mention some statistics. Of the 10 provinces, the number of seniors on a low income is highest in British Columbia and Quebec. In 2003, between 122,000 and 567,000 seniors lived in poverty.

It is unacceptable in a country like ours that there are still seniors who are unable to live in dignity because of their financial situation.

It is clear to me that a detailed plan is required to combat elder abuse. This is why, in the last election campaign, the NDP proposed measures in collaboration with Quebec to stop elder abuse and allocate the necessary resources to a strategy that would include the following three measures: a telephone help line for seniors suffering abuse, the establishment of specialized counsellor positions in the area of elder abuse, and the amendment of the Criminal Code so that people convicted of elder abuse are sentenced appropriately.

Moreover, unlike the Conservatives who believe that a tough on crime approach is the best way to fight crime, we believe that we need to tackle the root of the problem by combating exclusion and poverty.

I would like to draw the hon. members' attention to the extraordinary work done by the organizations in my community in the riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles to combat poverty and exclusion among seniors.

We propose an increase in transfers to the provinces for home care and long-term care in order to guarantee a basic level of home care and to address the shortage of quality long-term care facilities.

We are also proposing measures to bring down drug prices and improve access to housing. However, above all, we believe that it is important to increase pensions and strengthen retirement security.

While it is important to increase old age security benefits, it is even more important to ensure that people who are entitled to government annuities have access to their due. For instance, we know that 135,000 Canadians and 45,000 Quebeckers are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but they do not receive it because the government is not doing everything it can to reach them. Of the seniors who are deprived of the GIS, 80% are women.

It was to put an end to this injustice affecting our most vulnerable seniors that I introduced Bill C-409 in March. My bill is intended to promote the automatic registration of people who are 65 years old for the guaranteed income supplement. It is unacceptable that the federal government has unfairly deprived, and continues to deprive, many seniors who are among the most vulnerable in our society of significant revenue to which they are entitled under the guaranteed income supplement. I hope that this bill will receive the support of my colleagues, regardless of their party affiliation.

As legislators, we must look at the big picture when we want to tackle a problem or an issue. This is why I would like to once again emphasize that it is only by tackling the issue of seniors' poverty that we will be able to improve their quality of life. I am thinking of the seniors in my riding who have to go to food banks in order to feed themselves, and of veterans across the country who are in the same situation.

I hope that this government will be able to connect the dots and I encourage it to consult some of the NDP's policies in order to find possible and necessary solutions. If it really wants to help seniors, I call on the government to reverse its decision to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67, a decision that Canadians across the country have spoken out against. According to a poll conducted a few weeks ago, 75% of the residents of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles are opposed to the increase in the retirement age. It is a policy that is not socially acceptable.

Because the government refuses to tackle seniors' poverty, I urge the government to consult the NDP's election platform and to consult us in order to come up with solutions that truly deal not just with elder abuse but the poverty of our seniors. Seniors must be able to live with dignity and we must look after them.

Therefore, I invite my colleagues opposite to be open to these proposals, because we must look after all our seniors, who have contributed so much to Canadian society, including all our veterans who went to war for Canada. I will now answer my colleagues' questions.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I applaud my colleague for her interest in this issue and for her comments. In the last couple of years, the government has spent a lot of money on TV ads alerting people to the issue of elder abuse and advising them to be aware of the fact this unfortunately goes on. Raising awareness is one thing, but many of the organizations in Canada that reach out and monitor many of our elderly could have used the money that was spent on those TV ads. It would be far more effective to put money into these non-profit organizations, and elsewhere, that would reach out in the local communities to help people.

In her experience, has the member seen a decrease in the number of organizations that are there to help many of the elderly?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his comments. In my riding, community groups such as the Artisans de l'aide and others that work with this vulnerable population are having trouble keeping their doors open.

We have to invest in prevention, before the crime is committed. That is something that this government does not understand when discussing poverty. This government does not understand and spends $700 a night on a hotel room.

We have to look after our seniors by looking at the big picture. The NDP has been pointing this out all through the debate. We have to tackle poverty and other factors that make seniors vulnerable to abuse in order to truly tackle the problem.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, this has been identified as one of the major concerns of seniors in my riding in the Northwest Territories. The seniors associations there have stressed many different aspects of and solutions to this.

This bill would simply clarify some of the things that already exist in law, to allow extenuating circumstances to be used in sentencing people for particular crimes. However, does this really get at the root of what we are dealing with? On a scale of 10, how would this fit in with respect to productivity on this issue?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would not be able to say where it fits in on a scale of one to ten, but I know that seniors living in poverty are more vulnerable to abuse, which is often carried out by family members, by people who they trust, who they live with and who are very close to them.

I do question some of the policies that the government has brought forward, notably raising the age of retirement from 65 to 67, which will prolong poverty for those seniors who are of that age. The government is unwilling to take measures to increase the guaranteed income supplement to acceptable levels to raise every senior in Canada out of poverty.

We know this is a realistic goal. We have done the calculations and looked at the situation. We know this is realistic in terms of what we can afford as a country. I would invite my colleagues across the aisle to consider this.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, this bill is oversold. I certainly support it. However, it is called “Protecting Canada's Seniors Act” and it adds one very small consideration at sentencing.

Does the member not agree with me that we need a fuller effort that actually draws attention to, for instance, the rights of seniors once they are in long-term care facilities, in care where they are unable to protect themselves from some senior abuse which is institutional?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I could not agree more with my colleague.

It is telling that on the very same day the government proposed this bill, I tabled my private member's bill in the House that would automatically enrol every senior who qualified for the guaranteed income supplement into this program.

We see very different approaches from the government side and from the NDP. Although we support the bill, we believe that things like the guaranteed income supplement, or things that really attack poverty among seniors are the solutions that we need to attack this problem at its roots.

We can talk about long-term care or we can talk about the price of prescription medicine. There are so many things we need to do to help seniors. We invite the government to look at those things.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this issue. It is interesting that we are dealing with legislation called “Protecting Canada's Seniors Act”, which is effectively a one paragraph bill. The title is almost longer than the bill itself. It is especially interesting that we are dealing with this after we dealt yesterday with an opposition day motion on the issue of the OAS and moving the age from 65 to 67.

We can tie all of these issues together and I do not think any of them are particularly helpful when we talk about the future of our seniors. A lot of the issues are tied into the vulnerability of seniors, poverty, lack of independence. Therefore, rather than have a comprehensive review of how many different areas we could improve on, we have one paragraph that criminalizes people

Many of the people I have talked to say that it is usually their family members who unfortunately are the ones who abuse the elderly, the mother, the father or whomever. I cannot find any people who say that they will have their son, daughter or daughter-in-law charged, which is all the bill would allow to happen. A frail, elderly person would run away from that.

I do not think the bill will do a whole lot, but, again, the government will stand and tell us all the wonderful things it will do to protect seniors. No one I know would put his or her son, daughter, family member or caregiver in jail.

To get to the seriousness of the issues, the world population is expected to exceed 9.2 billion people by 2050. This means that in less than two generations, the number of people on planet earth will grow by as much as 34%. Of that number, it is expected that people who are 55 years of age or older will constitute the largest segment of the human population. It is certainly a group of people to whom we need to pay attention.

Today, Canadians over the age of 55 make up about 27% of our entire national population and that number is expected to grow to 35% by 2031, which is only 19 years away. It might feel like a long way away, but it really is not.

These changing demographics mean that we must prepare and make certain that the seniors today and in the future have the protection they need, and the bill does very little in that way.

Seniors are a gift that we all need to treasure. We all hope to be a senior some day. Having a robust and growing seniors population is positive thing for our society and we need to be investing in all of the health and wellness opportunities. Yes, seniors are living longer, but that is because there is a lot more initiatives for them to be involved in and there is much more focus on living better and living longer.

If we look around, seniors for the most part are volunteering. They are community leaders, resources people and they are the keepers of our country's institutional knowledge, something that we need to treasure, count on and rely on for guidance. We all think we know everything, but when we get advice from those who were there before us, we often learn many things.

Seniors are an asset that can continue to help Canada advance and develop, but in return they deserve our respect, our appreciation and, most important, our protection.

Elder abuse is a reality in our world, not just in Canada, very sadly, but it is a reality with which we are all attempting to deal. Statistics Canada reports that in 2009 more than 154,000 Canadians over the age of 55 reported having been victims of not just of any crime, but of violent crime.

These people are our mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbours and friends. They are victimized at a rate far greater than one would expect to see in the national population, and 154,000 represents 2% of the population in that age bracket.

Clearly we do not have the required legal and social safeguards in place and that is what has brought us to this point. Will Bill C-36 do the trick? Unfortunately, no.

While I applaud the government for at least acknowledging that this problem exists, I am very disappointed with what the minister has set out on the table as a solution.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I will stop the hon. member there. She will have 15 minutes left to conclude her remarks, but now we will move on to statements by members.

The hon. member for Simcoe—Grey.

World Meningitis Day
Statements By Members

April 27th, 2012 / 11 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I proudly stand in support of World Meningitis Day.

Meningitis is a serious infection caused by inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. It kills children and adults all over the world. The disease has no boundaries based on wealth, colour, creed or country and is often mistaken for the flu.

Approximately 10% of individuals who contract this disease will die. Of those who survive, one in five suffer permanent disabilities, such as hearing loss, neurological damage or limb amputation.

The Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada was established in 1998 to prevent death and disability from meningitis and other infections of the central nervous system. Through education, it provides support to patients affected by meningitis and to their families, increases public awareness and promotes better understanding of the disease to health care professionals.

World Meningitis Day allows us to raise awareness to support all Canadians who are affected by meningitis and to work toward sparing the heartache of losing one more loved one to this devastating disease.