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

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

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

November 22nd, 2011 / 4:30 p.m.


Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Instead of trying to extract an answer about harsher punishment, I'd like to talk about prevention. I'd like to talk about a situation that I have some experience with. It's a situation where you can't really increase the punishment because the behaviour in question may not be illegal, but it is elder abuse.

Older women living alone are often the victims of people going around selling electricity and natural gas contracts, even though that is not illegal and there's nothing in the Criminal Code you can do about it. If you understand the market, they're overpricing the risk of future price fluctuations in electricity and natural gas. It's pretty hard in a court of law to send somebody to jail because they sold something for a price that was high. I say this because people try to do this all the time.

Is there a role for an office like yours to help prevent that kind of elder abuse?

4:30 p.m.

Cst Patricia Fleischmann

In the past the, Toronto Police Service had designated fraud officers specifically working on crimes against seniors. Again, with reorganization, that position no longer exists. Each and every officer in the fraud unit will be assigned a case, whether the victim is older or younger. Generally that's where that particular type of crime or possible suspected criminal activity would go for investigation, and not to my unit.

It boils down to the definition of elder abuse. Different service providers have different definitions, and the Toronto Police Service definition of elder abuse is any harm caused to someone over the age of 65 by someone in a position of trust or authority. It does not include crimes by strangers, the frauds and scams, that are so common, and without question those types of criminal offences are increasing tremendously. It is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Older adults are specifically and deliberately targeted by such persons, because they are seen as vulnerable, as having property and cash, no matter what the actual amount is. In my particular office, I think that would be something that I couldn't handle, quite frankly.

4:35 p.m.


Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

To follow up on what you just said, are there places in the system that you think require additional resources, possibly from the federal government and possibly other levels of government, to help prevent abuse of elders through these fraudulent financial schemes? Are there places you think we should be putting more resources?

4:35 p.m.

Cst Patricia Fleischmann

Again, I can only speak of the Province of Ontario, but in the provincial government, some of the ministries do investigate these matters and, like police services, many of these agencies and organizations are under-staffed and under-resourced. Funding is always an issue, that is, trying to make do with less and less. We are all stretched to do the most that we possibly can under the circumstances.

Could there be designated units within policing? Perhaps. That's certainly a possibility. The financial crimes unit is a large one in the Toronto police. Would they look at something like this? It's entirely possible—again, if the resources were there, if the funding were there, if we had the appropriate staffing.

It is a problem, no question.

4:35 p.m.


Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

In smaller communities, the police force might not have people who specialize in fraud. I'm wondering, if I see the truck of these distributors, is there somebody I can call?

The reason I brought up the example of electricity and natural gas contracts was that I have some familiarity with that sector of the market. My parents almost fell victim to one of these guys, except my Dad was cautious and said, “Let me show my son this thing before I sign anything”, and I caught it. But if I see the truck of the same company on the street, I know the guy is in the neighbourhood somewhere. What can I do? What would I be able to do if extra resources were available?

4:35 p.m.

Cst Patricia Fleischmann

I certainly can't speak to what happens in smaller communities. I'm sure that in the next sessions that particular question will be addressed. But what I encourage people to do when I get those types of questions is to look for an officer who knows about elder abuse, who knows about frauds and scams; and if they don't, people should keep looking and not accept the first person who says, “I'm sorry, I don't know about this.” There are community officers and crime prevention officers. There are officers who might not have the title or designation but who are in fact interested in this particular issue and will take that extra step to give that person the necessary support and help they need. That's what I recommend people do: just keep looking and asking and find that right person in their particular community and in their particular police service.

4:35 p.m.


Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you very much. That's all I have.

4:35 p.m.


The Chair Irene Mathyssen

Thank you very much.

The clerk has pointed out to me that we're into the second hour. We have less than an hour for three additional witnesses. So, with the indulgence of the committee, might I suggest that we thank Ms. Fleischmann and move to the second panel?

Is that agreed?

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


4:35 p.m.


The Chair Irene Mathyssen

Okay, Ms. Fleischmann, thank you so much for your testimony and the posters you gave us. We look forward to seeing your video too. You've enhanced our understanding of this very much.

Thank you.

4:40 p.m.


The Chair Irene Mathyssen

We have less than one hour and I would like to give a full opportunity to our witnesses. They have come a long way, and I'm sure that we all want to hear them.

I'd like to welcome Constable Jared Buhler of the Edmonton Police Service, who is on the elder abuse intervention team. We have also Inspector Leslie Craig, manager of the crime prevention section of the Ontario Provincial Police; and finally, from the Ottawa Police Service, we have Detective Isabelle Coady of the elder abuse unit. I see we also have Isobel Fitzpatrick here. Welcome to all.

Each group will have 10 minutes.

Could we begin with Constable Buhler, please?

4:40 p.m.

Constable Jared Buhler Elder Abuse Intervention Team, Edmonton Police Service

Madam Chair, and honourable members, I will start by quoting the following: ...it would be very regrettable if the older among us, after long lives of supporting others, should be left beyond the reach of legal protection in their declining years by reason of investigative difficulty. There is a large difference between judicious care in the search for truth and a presumption that such cases are hopeless.

Mr. Justice Jack Watson of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench made these comments in the case of Clifford Morin. A senior himself while caring for his elderly mother, Morin was alleged to have assaulted, confined, and threatened her out of frustrations arising from her care.

Initiated by my predecessor, Detective George Doerksen of the Edmonton Elder Abuse Intervention Team, in 2004, this matter lingered before the courts for five years before a decision of guilt was rendered in 2009 for the counts of confinement and uttering threats. Morin's mother passed away prior to the case's conclusion because of her already advanced age and infirmity.

I have been a member of the Edmonton Elder Abuse Intervention Team since 2009. In this capacity I'm responsible for the investigations of complex or high-risk cases of elder abuse in collaboration with our partners of 12 years: the City of Edmonton, Catholic Social Services, Covenant Health, Community Geriatric Psychiatry, and the Victorian Order of Nurses. As much as I represent the Edmonton Police Service and our partners today, I feel it is my greater obligation to represent the seniors we serve, many of whom are women who are unable to share their stories with you today on their own.

I am neither an academic nor a statistician, and I will not speak from these perspectives. I'm an investigator who is a street policeman in my heart. In this role I have been able to meet seniors, of whom I will speak, in their homes and almost always in the midst of difficult times. To them I owe a sincere debt of gratitude, as they have been my patient educators and have provided me with the insight that allows me to speak with you today.

I'd like to share four short stories of five women, stories that have touched me personally and that I hope will assist you in understanding the nature, diversity, and complexity of abuse that many elderly Canadian women face on a daily basis. While I will focus my comments on the abuse of women, it is important to mention that many elderly men are likewise victimized and have stories similar to the ones I will share here.

This is a story of two women from different backgrounds whose lives intersected as a result of abuse. Of first nations heritage, Mrs. C is a woman who, along with her siblings, survived the experience of Canada's residential schools. As an adult, she suffered a brain injury that limited her memory and cognition and resulted in her becoming a ward of the province. Because of the demands of her care, Mrs. C. was placed in a care setting in which for several years reports of physical abuse were made by her family, which were dismissed or ignored. Mrs. C remained in the care of her alleged abuser and, as later investigation confirmed, continued to be abused.

At the same time, Mrs. T, a resident of the same home who had suffered from a severe physical disability from childhood, which had confined her to a wheelchair and rendered her effectively non-verbal, but still cognitively intact, witnessed the repeated abuse of Mrs. C while also being told that if she revealed what she witnessed, she would never be allowed to leave the home.

While charges were ultimately laid, both women wear the emotional scars of this abuse.

To this day, Mrs. K speaks no English. She emigrated with her family from Asia approximately 25 years ago. Her husband, after they had settled on the west coast, became ill and died within a few years of their arrival in Canada. Pursuing opportunities in Alberta, her adult sons established a business financed largely by the support of their mother, who took out loans in excess of $100,000 at a high interest rate from members of her own cultural community. Mrs. K's sons ultimately defaulted on their debt to their mother and in the process denied her access to their families and to her grandchildren. Mrs. K as a result suffered significant shame within her own community. In an effort to persuade her sons to repay their debt, she travelled to a rural location where she confronted her eldest son about the loan. In an ensuing argument, Mrs. K was threatened with a firearm and severely assaulted.

During the resultant police investigation, the stress and shame of the circumstances resulted in Mrs. K's being hospitalized after suffering an emotional breakdown. In order to ensure her safety and the safety of other involved persons, charges were pursued against her son, most of which were dismissed when Mrs. K refused to testify at trial.

On a spring night, Mrs. W was sleeping in the bed of a retirement residence in downtown Edmonton. In the early morning hours, a male gained entry to her suite, where he brutally attacked and sexually assaulted her. While surviving her attack, Mrs. W died in hospital, becoming one of Edmonton's 43 homicides this year. Mrs. W had never met her attacker.

The last example is that of Mrs. M. At age 20, shortly after an arranged marriage, Mrs. M emigrated to Canada with her husband from Europe and settled in Edmonton, where she raised her family. Throughout her marriage, Mrs. M was the victim of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse perpetrated by her husband. Aware of the abuse her mother was suffering and her refusal to leave the relationship, Mrs. M's only daughter severed her ties with the family as an adult. In her 70s, with the abuse not abating, Mrs. M accessed the services of a seniors shelter in Edmonton. Despite the supports offered by the shelter staff and our own team, because of the pressure exerted by her son, a citizen with some status in the community and who limited her access to her grandchildren, Mrs. M chose to return to the abusive marriage, where she remains today.

Violence perpetrated by a spouse remains the most common form of violence perpetrated against elderly women. These examples represent the primary abuse dynamics that I have observed personally during my tenure at the Elder Abuse Intervention Team—abuse in an institutional setting or care setting, abuse by a family member or a person in a position of trust, a crime by a stranger, or abuse by an intimate partner. Within these primary dynamics, Canadian seniors fall victim to all forms of elder abuse, including physical, sexual, psychological, and financial abuse and neglect.

While awareness of elder abuse is growing, it is acknowledged within law enforcement, the social sciences, and health care that elder abuse is 20 to 30 years behind domestic violence and child abuse. Elder abuse is often compared with both fields. However, it's important to recognize that it is a distinct area of study that requires a response that is tailored to the needs of the victims. It has been my experience that the dynamics and response considerations of elder abuse are as complex as or more complex than these related fields.

The overarching consideration in addressing cases of elder abuse are the values of autonomy and protection. Seniors value their autonomy. They're often reluctant to initiate a response against a family member, spouse, or person they trust. Frequently, the barriers imposed by seniors themselves are the single most significant obstacle to pursuing a successful intervention or prosecution. Professionals in government must balance the desire for autonomy against the need to protect the senior on a case-by-case basis within a complicated and often ambiguous and inadequate legislative framework.

Complicating this response is the fact that inter-agency information-sharing between organizations involved with both the abuser and the abused is often inadequate and restrictive, to the point that the moral imperative to act to protect vulnerable persons is not recognized or is ignored. Likewise, it has become evident to me that bias against the elderly is prevalent within society and in the attitudes of many professionals working with seniors.

I will conclude by suggesting that while awareness and educational programs in the area of elder abuse are undoubtedly an important component in responding to this issue, as a front-line service provider I cannot over-emphasize the importance of a collateral response and intervention capacity. Too frequently, valuable awareness and educational programs have the unintended consequence of further stressing responders who are already beyond their capacity, ultimately letting down both victims and family when advertised services fail to meet expectations.

Elder abuse is a complicated problem. Criminal investigation and prosecution of elder abuse are some of the most difficult files that I've handled as a police officer, but also some of the most rewarding.

On behalf of the Edmonton Police Service, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

4:50 p.m.


The Chair Irene Mathyssen

Thank you very much, Constable Buhler.

Detective Sergeant Isobel Fitzpatrick, I owe you an apology. I forgot to include your title.

You have 10 minutes, please. We're looking forward to your presentation.

4:50 p.m.

Detective Isobel Fitzpatrick Detective Sergeant, Coordinator, Eastern Regional Abuse Issues, Ontario Provincial Police

Thank you.

My name is Isobel Fitzpatrick. I've been a police officer for 25 years. I am presently the coordinator of the abuse issues program for the East Region OPP.

With me is Inspector Leslie Craig from Crime Prevention. Leslie has 28 years of policing, and a wealth of experience in dealing with seniors. She was around when the senior assistance team in the OPP was created, I believe in 2003. Her position now oversees crime prevention, a section in the OPP in which the abuse issues team and the senior assistance team are housed.

My position of abuse issues coordinator is in the eastern region: I work in Smiths Falls. I am the go-to person for our OPP members in terms of abuse and neglect of older persons, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and investigations involving persons with disabilities or mental health issues. I don't do these investigations. I rely on our front line to do that. I am a go-to person. I'm a trainer for them. I'm a resource person, and I am a person who will get other people to help if I don't know the answer.

I've been with the abuse issues team for 10 years, and in that role I'm very familiar with the issues that relate to the abuse of senior women.

We're pleased to be here to discuss this topic, as it is an issue of great concern to us. We expect, as our other speakers have advised, that the service costs are going to rise. As the number of older persons in our community rises, we're going to get more service calls.

We know that the police play a vital role in protecting seniors from abuse, but we also know that we cannot do this alone. We rely on the wisdom and experience of those who work with seniors full-time to assist us, because only a portion of the service calls we get involve seniors. We rely heavily on community experts who have a wealth of experience that we quite often tap into.

In this brief presentation, I'm going to give you a little insight into the OPP model of investigations in terms of our training, our support, and community collaboration.

The OPP polices over 1 million square kilometres of land and water in Ontario, and much of that area is rural. The people involved may not have Internet and cell phone access is touchy in places, so we face a lot of people who are dealing with isolation in their communities.

We have 226 detachments policing 322 communities and 19 first nations communities. We have approximately 6,300 uniformed members and 1,900 civilian members. Our role is to investigate crimes, much like my partner does, and we use the Criminal Code and various provincial acts to assist us.

In terms of our service calls across the province, I can give you some very general information. Our calls are rising. Certainly the number of calls in 2009, 2010, and 2011 was higher than in previous years. So we're getting more service calls. The caller is quite often someone other than the senior—neighbours, friends, families, medical staff, or concerned citizens who witness something that just isn't right. Most of the calls reported would be in the area of property crime, financial abuse, and thefts—which would be our biggest population of calls reported—and crimes against persons, meaning physical abuse, including domestic violence, would be the next bulk of calls. Emotional abuse and neglect would fall after that. The calls about sexual abuse of seniors are a very small portion of the ones we get. The number of calls on the abuse of seniors is a very small portion of the total calls for service we manage every year.

In terms of offenders, most of the offenders are known to the senior—family, friends, neighbours—although some of the frauds are by complete strangers, where the calls involve telemarketing or Internet offers or door-to-door pressure sales to the senior.

In terms of our crime prevention, we have officers doing public presentations. We have our community services officers, we have some front-line officers, and we have abuse issues investigators and a senior assistance team doing presentations. We provide information to the seniors, or to those who support seniors, to put in place the things they need to know before somebody knocks on their door offering something that they really shouldn't buy.

With respect to our investigative model, it's our front-line uniformed members who do the bulk of the investigations, as well as their supervisors. They have a broad base of knowledge. They are going on many different calls a day, and they are supported by people in their detachment in the crime unit position—detectives and detective sergeants. If a front-line member has a question, they find a detective or an abuse issues person in their detachment.

Our members gather evidence. We try to figure out if a crime has happened. Is there an offence, and is there a reason we should or should not lay charges. Whether charges are laid or not, we always provide referrals to the seniors we deal with. Even if we can't lay charges, we want to do what we can to stop things from happening again. So we put them in touch with different victims service agencies, so they can get that education and support, and those around them can begin to get educated as well.

We have different resources for providing assistance. We have victim services, who will go right to the house and provide in-home support at the time of the crisis. We have other services that help to prepare them for court. We have other referrals that are based on the actual crime, such as sex assault services, domestic violence services, and addiction and mental health services, depending on what the parameters of the case are.

We have strong coordination between regional resources and our provincial resources. So if I don't know the answer to something, I have friends at headquarters in Orillia who probably can answer my question. We work interactively with each other.

We have regional coordination with service providers in terms of community networks. Our local service providers and officers will sit on community network committees, developing relationships and meeting regularly to discuss best practices, changes in legislation, and the challenges they're facing at a local level.

We also have provincial coordination between the OPP and other police services in Ontario in the area of abuse and neglect of older persons, with our provincial coordinating committee, known as LEAPS or Law Enforcement Agencies Protecting Seniors. This committee meets regularly to discuss challenges, and shares best practices across the province. Committee members also liaise regularly by email to support each other when challenging issues are presented.

I feel our biggest challenge is that many people do not wish to involve the police in incidents of abuse in their home, particularly seniors. They will refuse to talk to us or will only tell us a bit of what's happening, which really challenges us in doing our job.

I feel we have appropriate legislation in the Criminal Code. I feel we have appropriate sentencing provisions, but there are times when criminalizing the behaviour isn't really the answer. If it isn't best for the senior to go through the system, then it may not be the best time for that senior to lay charges. If it involves a senior acting out on another senior, is criminalizing that behaviour necessarily the way to go? There are times when we just don't lay charges, because it's not the best thing to do for that senior.

I look forward to answering any questions you may have for about the role of the Ontario Provincial Police in combatting the abuse of senior women in the communities that we police.

5 p.m.


The Chair Irene Mathyssen

Thank you very much. We appreciate your presentation.

Finally, from the Ottawa Police Service, we have Detective Isabelle Coady of the elder abuse unit. Welcome.