House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreements.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Alfred-Pellan for her question. It is an excellent one.

This bill is a good starting point, an opportunity for us to work with the government. How many times has the government asked for our suggestions and our help, then spat in our faces? This time, I am hoping for a sincere, collaborative approach on the part of the government so that we can improve this bill and do much more with it. Still, I am a little worried about shortcomings on the government side.

The truth is that what we really need is coordination and collaboration among stakeholders, including provincial governments. Any discussion of health and social services has to involve provincial governments.

If the government thinks that this one bill solves the problem, it will be a failure, and while that failure can be corrected later on, how many thousands of victims will get no help if we do not do more now?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-36, an act to amend the Criminal Code (elder abuse). While this is a very small step forward in dealing with the silent scourge that must be brought into the light, it does not nearly address the true scope and range of elder abuse in Canada.

The World Health Organization adopts a definition from the United Kingdom for elder abuse, which is, “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person”. This abuse comes in many forms: physical, psychological or emotional, financial or material, neglect or even sexual abuse.

The Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care found an expanded definition, which includes institutional abuse, such as a loss of freedom and control, inadequate care, insufficient diet, misuse of physical and chemical restraints in long-term care facilities; medical abuse, such as senior Canadians having their wishes ignored or seniors being subject to support cutbacks; or systemic victimization, be it marginalization by the government and bureaucracy or by the medical system.

Over the course of the last two years, I had the distinct privilege to serve on the all-party Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care, where we examined in depth the hidden crime of elder abuse in Canada. Ours was an ad hoc committee, founded out of a non-partisan and mutual concern for end-of-life issues and oriented toward improving care for elderly, dying and otherwise vulnerable Canadians.

My experiences as a young man and then later as a lawyer shaped my inherent belief in the need to stop these silent injustices. As a young law student, one of my summer jobs was through a provincial government summer employment program through which I worked with the Guelph Police Service. I was put to work inside the station and frequently had opportunity to go out on calls.

I will never forget attending a call with an officer of the police service involving a domestic dispute. It was enlightening. For the longest time, we further subjugated the victims of these terrible crimes, and I could not understand why, when a spouse or child was abused, it was the victim who was forced to leave with the police. It took years, but we finally changed professional opinion of the right protocol and eventually public opinion so that the offender was removed from the home and not the victim.

I have come to realize that elder abuse is a similarly silent but pervasive problem. In my former life as a lawyer, I was often called upon to assist with wills. I often had to spend considerable time determining whether older clients were being pressured to give me will instructions to satisfy the desires of their children. Too often older parents were asked to guarantee loans that could never be paid and for which they would become responsible, causing considerable emotional and financial damage. Too often children attempted to convince aging parents to transfer title of their home into their names to avoid probate fees upon death. I saw cases of children taking advantage of their parents by forcing them out of their homes after title was transferred.

Too frequently I witnessed children of aging parents coming into my office because another sibling with the power of attorney for the parents had misused the power and absconded with money from the parents' account. I could go on and on. However, I urge my colleagues to read the committee's report, “Not to be Forgotten”, wherein members will find numerous accounts of reported physical and emotional abuse of seniors and compelling, offensive and, frankly, sometimes gruesome examples of mistreatment at the hands of family or caregivers.

Now, as a member of Parliament, it breaks my heart to get a call from an elderly mother or father expressing horror over their yelling and screaming children, being forced into compliance, feeling trapped because if they report this abuse, they feel that not only will they lose a caregiver but they will lose their children. The parental bond is so strong, even in older age, that we are right now on the issue of elder abuse where we were 30 years ago with spousal abuse: a fear of reporting and lack of committed resources and programs to adequately research, detect and deal with its frequency.

We have the facts on our side to make this better. We know that elder abuse does not discriminate by gender, ethnicity, income or education. Regardless of one's cultural upbringing, previous career or social standing, any senior can become a victim, and it is shame or guilt that often silences them should they even have the capacity to report the abuse. Between 4% and 10% of Canadian seniors will experience a form of abuse in their lifetime, yet nearly half go unreported. When we consider how rapidly our population is aging, we have a problem on our hands that demands attention.

Elder abuse is often committed by a person known to the victim. It might be a son, daughter, grandchild, or another family member. It might be a friend or a professional caregiver, such as a paid care provider or staff. Family violence against elderly Canadians has increased by 14% since 2004. Abusers can also include neighbours, landlords or other authority figures.

Tragically, it is their love that makes them the greatest victims. Abused elder Canadians often do not reveal their mistreatment because of fear, love for the abuser, a lack of understanding, a physical or mental impairment, or simply a lack of awareness that this treatment is not okay and that there are resources they might draw upon.

The bill is really just a paragraph that would change a single section of the Criminal Code of Canada. Section 718 of the Criminal Code addresses the purposes and principles of sentencing; this bill would add a subsection to paragraph 718.2(a), which already states:

A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:

(a) a sentence should be increased or reduced to account for any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender, and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing,

This bill would add one other element:

(iii.1) evidence that the offence had a significant impact on the victim, considering their age and other personal circumstances, including their health and financial situation,

While it is admirable that we are including this as a factor in sentencing, the words in the current law, “without limiting the generality of the foregoing”, already allow a judge to consider age as a factor. This really is a cosmetic change, and cold comfort to the victim of abuse. Simply adding age as a factor does not deal with the root of the problem, and it runs the risk of not dealing with the result either. We need a more comprehensive approach to this problem.

Our committee found that we need to develop a broad-based public awareness campaign to raise the level of consciousness and understanding of these abuses and highlight the importance of reporting and ending it. It is important to ensure that we do this with proper consultation, as seniors focus groups recently found some ads that were broadcast too creepy and alienating. Our communication strategy must be inclusive to have its maximum effect.

We found that prevention programs are essential. By creating programs that integrate or further involve seniors in society, we can minimize risk, negate some of the harm and increase respect for seniors. A comprehensive strategy involves the development of adequate intervention and advocacy from and on behalf of senior Canadians. Abuses of any kind have pervasive psychological, physical and emotional effects that must be addressed immediately.

Finally, none of these measures will be sufficient without adequate and appropriate judicial remedies, and the bill addresses this final issue in some part. However, we are faced with a very serious crisis and we must act now to address it lest it get out of hand.

If there is truly one issue presently facing senior Canadians that is unsustainable, it is that we are not doing enough to end abuse at the hands of loved ones or authority figures and that we are still retreating into the mindset that so long as we threaten the perpetrator with an increased sentence, we solve the problem. This really is a myth.

Our mothers, fathers, elderly relatives and neighbours built this country for us. We stand on their shoulders and we would not be here without them. It is unpalatable that we let this go unaddressed.

I ask now that, while acknowledging this is a very small start, we do not stop until we adequately address the root of and solutions for elder abuse.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

June 19th, 2012 / 7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his speech on elder abuse. As he pointed out, the parliamentary committee did in fact take a number of months—in fact, almost two years—to study this issue, along with the issues of suicide prevention and improved palliative care in our country.

However, I have a slight sense of disappointment. While our committee did make a large number of recommendations in each of these areas, I think all of us as committee members were very much aware that no government of any stripe would be able to implement all of those recommendations in one fell swoop. There would have to be small incremental steps taken on all of these.

I would ask my hon. colleague to remember that limitation in terms of the committee that we served on and to acknowledge the fact that this is a good step in the right direction and that we hope to make additional progress in the future.

Can I have the assurance of my hon. colleague that he and his party will support this legislation?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's efforts in working together with us on the committee. He is quite right: we do support the legislation.

That should not negate the fact that there is so much more that needs to be done with respect to elder abuse, including a recommendation that we made for the creation of a national elder abuse prevention strategy. That recommendation would include supporting existing groups across Canada that are trying to deal with elder abuse as well as supporting awareness strategies and campaigns that would teach those on the front line, such as police officers, nurses and doctors, how to detect elder abuse when they might not otherwise notice it and how to intervene in an effective but conscientious and sensitive way and let elders know that it does not have to continue.

I want to assure my friend that while this is a small step, I intend—as I hope our committee intends, and I hope I have the member's support—to move forward in making much more meaningful strides towards the end of elder abuse.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this issue.

The problem with the bill is with the penalty that it advocates. The Criminal Code does not deal with abandonment. Nothing can be done for someone who is not invited to the Christmas party or who does not receive a telephone call on Mother's Day. Abandonment is probably the deepest wound that these people will ever receive. We talk about abandonment, about non-communication and isolation. Poverty is another kind of isolation. Social abandonment is a form of isolation and is very severe punishment for these people.

I would appreciate it if my distinguished colleague would explain how this bill, which aims at punishing people more severely, will protect the elderly against something that is heartbreaking but is not illegal, per se.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Madam Speaker, my friend is quite right: isolation is often one of the root causes of abuse. This bill, of course, does not deal with that, nor can it effectively, in and of itself as criminal legislation, deal with that.

That is why I continually say that the dichotomy is not being tough or soft on crime, it is being smart or dumb on crime. Frankly, if we are going to be smart on crime, we will develop a national strategy that deals with abuse prevention. That would include programs to draw seniors out of their isolation and encourage them to become involved and engaged in society when their own families may not be engaging them. That is just one of the many things that a national strategy would include.

Again, I would ask all members of this House to read the report we created, “Not to be Forgotten”, and see exactly how we, as members of this House, all can promote all levels of government, federal and provincial, toward a solution.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I have one quick question. I am not a lawyer, but there was a point the member raised that raises some questions with me.

He mentioned that this bill may in some ways be superfluous, since age is already taken into account when crimes are committed against elderly Canadians. Maybe I misunderstood. I would appreciate it if the member could clarify that for me.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Madam Speaker, sentencing within section 718 does not specifically mention age, but it mentions that the court can take into consideration aggravating or mitigating factors.

It goes on to say “without limiting the generality of the foregoing” and then mentions some sentencing factors. The fact that it says “without limiting the generality of the foregoing” generally means that a court can take into consideration anything it believes to be a mitigating or aggravating factor. In fact, the court can already take age into consideration.

What I would have loved to have seen included in this bill was some form of counselling, for instance, as an encouragement, so that if someone is found guilty of abuse, they are not just given a sentence of a fine or time, but one that requires some form of counselling and restorative justice. We do not want to pull families apart; we want to help families come together. That kind of sentencing would have helped.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague from Guelph's intervention was excellent. The status of women committee studied elder abuse. I had a chance to pick up the report done by the palliative and compassionate care ad hoc committee. It looked extensively at the issue and provided excellent recommendations. Even in the few weeks that we looked at the issue, we could see this was a very complex problem.

Given the complexity, could my colleague talk a little more about the autonomy we should be helping our seniors gain in order to prevent abuse, how can we do that and what kinds of ideas and programs have come out of his looking at this topic?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Madam Speaker, my friend is quite right. Not unlike my previous answer, a national elder abuse prevention strategy would encourage community to become involved in helping seniors who might otherwise be isolated and getting them more involved in the community.

There are many seniors groups out there that can be used right now. We have the infrastructure scattered across Canada. It just has not all come together. A function of the federal government could be to try and bring people together in a more intentional way, to reach out to seniors so they can become involved in more seniors programs to break the isolation and the preponderance of abuse that is often associated with isolation through any kind of activities that these groups normally encourage and engage in.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Is the House ready for the question?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.