Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, members of the committee, for the opportunity to speak today.
I am a personal injury lawyer with a focus on nursing home litigation. I sue long-term care and retirement homes for elder abuse and neglect and have been doing so since long before COVID.
Nursing home litigation is seriously under-litigated in Canada mostly because the damages in these cases often do not outweigh the costs of litigation. This means that legitimate cases often never come to light. Our civil justice system does not recognize the value in our most vulnerable populations, our seniors and those with disabilities.
Every single family that I represent—several hundred currently—says that they want accountability and answers. That is why they come to me. These families are often caught up in a very complex web of bureaucracy, and they get passed around when something goes wrong. They can't get answers from the administrators of the home, the police usually will not investigate, the coroner will most often not get involved, and here in Ontario, when the Ministry of Long-Term Care does find wrongdoing, it rarely enforces all available remedies.
As we have seen throughout this pandemic, many families have turned to their MPPs, MPs and the media to get answers and some measure of accountability.
Every province has various regulations regarding the enforcement of penalties to a home for violating its obligations under the governing provincial legislation. In Ontario, for example, the ministry has the power to revoke a licence from an operator, order a return of funding and impose various sanctions.
This varies widely across Canada. Often when I see the inspector reports after an investigation, I see things like “voluntary compliance” and “written notice”. I have also heard that a staff member will sometimes be fired as a result of an infraction, but it's extremely variable across the board.
Even after the abominable atrocities that we heard about through this pandemic—like 26 residents of a long-term care home in Ontario dying from dehydration before the military was able to arrive—licences have still not been revoked and fines haven't been paid. Instead we see sweeping legislation at the provincial level across the country providing immunity to long-term care and retirement homes for COVID losses. This is another step away from accountability.
We are also seeing for-profit chains paying out over $100 million in dividends to shareholders while receiving taxpayer money for emergency relief to the same tune.
This is just unacceptable. Clearly, the slaps on the wrist from the regulatory bodies at the provincial level and the pittance that is paid in civil lawsuits are not making a difference.
In the criminal sphere, we have in existence several charges that could be laid against administrators of homes. There is failing to provide the necessaries of life, criminal negligence and criminal negligence causing death. They have never been used against those who have the most power and control over the lives of the residents—the owners, operators, administrators, directors and officers of the homes.
Historically, we've only seen some convictions of staff members for assault or maybe a family member in a private context for not providing the necessaries of life. We have never held anyone in management culpable for the abuse and neglect in long-term care homes and retirement homes. This needs to change.
The administrators of these homes take on a duty to provide the necessaries of life and are paid to do so. They are under contract, and for the most part in long-term care homes across Canada, they are being paid with taxpayer dollars.
The federal government has the power to control two very important mechanisms that would benefit the lives of our most vulnerable—the federal transfer payments to the provinces earmarked for long-term care and amendments to the Criminal Code.
As with the Canada Health Act, the federal government ought to require provinces to comply with national standards for long-term care in order to receive federal dollars for long-term care. This government has currently pledged $4 billion over the next few years to provinces. It would be unconscionable if even one of those dollars ended up in a shareholder's pocket at the expense of a resident.
My group, Canadians 4 LTC, Canadians for long-term care, in conjunction with the provincial and Canadian health coalitions, commissioned a legal opinion from Steven Shrybman, who drafted national standards for long-term care. I would be more than happy to share it with this committee.
With respect to Criminal Code amendments, I know we have already heard from Mr. Graham Webb. I support his recommendations, specifically to criminalize the abuse and neglect of our most vulnerable at the hands of those with the most power—the owners, operators, administrators, officers and directors. The changes would be similar to failing to provide the necessaries of life, like criminal endangerment, and should carry the same penalties.
Accountability should be bookended, with appropriate government oversight and enforcement at the front end and accountability, criminally and civilly at the back end.
Those are my submissions. Thank you very much for listening.