Madam Chair, and members of the committee,
I’m Police Constable Patricia Fleischmann and I am the coordinator for the Elder Abuse Unit. I am honoured to be here and to share what I’ve learned about this problem with you.
My presentation relates strictly to my role as vulnerable persons issues coordinator for the Toronto Police. Therefore, mine is a criminal justice perspective. The opinions expressed are also mine alone.
There is no legal mandate to report elder abuse in Ontario by service providers, as there is for child abuse, because the people concerned are generally capable adults with the right to autonomy. Neither is there adult protective legislation per se, though pertinent provincial statutes do exist, and we need to use the existing legislation appropriately. Nor, under federal legislation, does the charge of elder abuse exist. But there are many sections in the Criminal Code that pertain to elder abuse, depending on the actual offence.
Communication barriers that impede the sharing of information between police and service providers, based on privacy and confidentiality laws, should be considered. We must not be guilty of sabotaging the safety and security of at-risk seniors in our communities because of misguided, misunderstood privacy legislation.
The justice system, as you know, is an adversarial one. It is offender-focused versus victim-centred. Reporting something to police or simply being present in the courts is usually an uncomfortable experience for anyone, let alone an older victim of crime, someone who in all likelihood has never come into contact with the justice system. Adding to the distress, an older adult may experience firsthand ageism in dealing with the justice system. Though police today have a much greater understanding of the issues surrounding elder abuse and are more adept at report-taking and appropriately categorizing occurrences of elder abuse, this is not always the case.
If a police report is taken, particularly in jurisdictions where little is known about this issue as a result of low reporting or minimal officer experience with elder abuse, and where elder abuse is overshadowed by other service priorities such as gang violence or drugs, then oftentimes there are problems in the investigative process. Over and above heavy caseloads, pressing investigations, attendance at court, these cases may suffer from a lack of attention. This may also be the result of officers who are neither aware nor familiar with the multifaceted subtleties of the ageing process and of elder abuse. These cases may be ignored, disregarded, minimized, or written off. They may be considered too complex and time consuming.
The older victim may not be considered a good witness. The victim may not be able to testify when the case reaches court, because of memory loss, illness, or death. The complainant is commonly advised it's a civil matter, when clearly it is appropriate for criminal intervention, especially in cases of financial abuse. Though both men and women can be victimized, older women are particularly vulnerable with their general lack of financial literacy.
Some police services have specialized elder abuse units to address these crimes. Others have a partnership with external service providers as part of a joint coordinated effort to more effectively respond to elder abuse. These partnerships are essential. Specialized training courses addressing the complexities of the ageing process and the uniqueness of elder abuse crimes must also become the norm in police agencies.
In policing there are legislative and regulatory requirements directed by the province. The “Policing Standards Manual: LE-021, Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse” offers guidelines, but as such, police agencies are not required to follow this. Nonetheless, many services approach this from a risk management perspective and have tailor-made the guidelines to suit the needs of their respective agency. Perhaps a mandated response to elder abuse should be considered, in the same way that one currently exists for domestic violence.
Another consideration may be for the province to expand the meaning of intimate relationship in the definition of domestic violence to include elder abuse, as very high numbers of suspects are persons, such as family members, who are in a position of trust or authority.
The Ministry of the Attorney General has a crown policy manual that includes a variety of practice memoranda that would apply to elder abuse prosecutions. At present, most are dealt with on a case-by-case basis by prosecutors who rely on this. Perhaps one day, we shall have specialized elder abuse courts with designated prosecutors, as they currently have in the U.S.
With a successful prosecution, no matter the offence, the elderly victim is seen by the courts as a vulnerable person. This allows for section 718.2 of the Criminal Code to be utilized. The section allows for a sentence to be increased or reduced due to relevant aggravating factors that relate to the offender or the offence. The specific circumstances include the victim's age, mental or physical disability, as well as the offender's status as someone in a position of authority or trust in relation to the victim. The section, however, only states that a sentence “should” be reflective of any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence. Perhaps this section needs to be strengthened and the wording changed from “should” to “shall.”
In a 2003, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police announced a resolution on vulnerable adult abuse. In some services, this is recognized as an important and emerging issue, while in others it is not. Since then, nothing further has developed. Unfortunately, there is no formal seniors committee or working group in existence within the OACP. Bringing this increasingly significant issue to the forefront of the OACP agenda and promoting education among its members perhaps will be an achievable objective with the continued encouragement and resources of Law Enforcement Agencies Protecting Seniors, a GTA group.
Education that provides an awareness and understanding of the relevant issues will always be critical. This includes social marketing campaigns. Social marketing strives to stimulate the viewer one at a time, thus evoking changing thoughts, attitudes, and behaviour. I have with me some examples from a 2006 project between the Toronto Police Service and Seneca College.
Education, of course, must also include youth-focused programs, for it is the children and youth of today who will truly change the face of elder abuse by challenging the beliefs that this is acceptable behaviour. A case in point is the 2011 Toronto Police youth in policing initiative program. Our YIPI students produced a one minute and thirty second video on elder abuse that will be uploaded shortly to the Toronto Police YouTube site. I do have a copy for you. We hope that this video will not only generate discussion through the tag line, "Look around. Speak up", but also challenge the community to bring this issue into social consciousness with a commitment to end elder abuse.
From 2005 to 2010, the statistics reporting elder abuse in Toronto have been a mere fraction of those reporting child abuse or domestic violence. Elder abuse statistics for this period fall below 200 reports per year, whereas child abuse reports number in the low thousands, and domestic incidents along with domestic violence statistics range in the tens of thousands. Clearly, there is a vast discrepancy in reporting crimes against older persons, which cannot continue to be ignored.
The victimization rate per 1,000 population in Toronto has generally decreased with increasing age. However, an increase in the number of baby boomers becoming seniors may well result in more demands on the criminal justice system. This is because they will be more willing to report crime than previous generations. The oldest baby boomer today is 65 years old. They are vastly different from the seniors of yesteryear. While older adults may be relatively unlikely to be victimized by crime compared to other age groups, they feel more vulnerable and perhaps less able to deal with the consequences of these crimes. This is another reason, perhaps, for the expected increased calls for service. Officers may spend more time on these calls due to the shifting nature of these complaints. Our response must also be more reflective of the increased complexity of these crimes. Aging victims, older criminals, changing crimes, all of these will most definitely impact on the police response.
Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with statistics specifically related to older female victims of crime. This information was not available. However, I can tell you that each day I speak to victims, family members, neighbours, service providers, and police officers. My conversations revolve predominantly around older women and their victimization.
Law enforcement plays an extremely vital role in the effort to reduce, if not eliminate, elder abuse, but it is not solely the responsibility of the criminal justice system, nor should it be. Neither does the obligation to combat this problem lie solely with service providers, the general community, government, or even victims themselves. For example, family justice centres that address the abuse of persons of all ages within a coordinated, multidisciplinary and, generally, co-located model are ideal.
The concept of a shared services model has become a movement and no longer just a service. This is evident from the increase in the number of centres established around the year and around the world. It is now recognized that coordinated joint efforts by all systems can produce greater results. The use of shared services helps prevent revictimization by providing the victim with wraparound services. This allows the victim access to those services specific to her needs. If the needs of the victim are met through coordinated services, it keeps them engaged in the process, empowers them, and provides the needed support to prevent further revictimization. Sustainable funding is core to this premise.
This model is available in some but not all communities. By and large, older adults are not getting the supports they need from the criminal justice system, but there are exceptions. Judith Wahl, executive director of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly asks, how do criminal justice practitioners empower older adults through the tools of awareness, prevention, and support while balancing the critical mandates of intervention and prosecution? Most decidedly, the answer is guaranteed to be as complex as the question. Nonetheless, in the final analysis, it is incumbent upon justice practitioners to ensure that when elder abuse is brought to their attention, it be given every consideration, from report-taking to investigation, and lasting through prosecution and sentencing.
Some might argue these considerations are few and insufficient--