House of Commons Hansard #4 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was municipalities.


Older Adult Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.


Diane Marleau Liberal Sudbury, ON

moved that Bill C-439, An Act to establish the office of the Ombudsman for Older Adult Justice and the Canadian Older Adult Justice Agency and to amend the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker,let me start by thanking the member for Prince Edward--Hastings, the member for Huron--Bruce, the member for Lambton--Kent--Middlesex and the member for Calgary East who agreed to be recognized as co-sponsors of the bill.

In October 2002 I was approached by civic leaders in my constituency of Sudbury as well as older adult advocates asking what the federal government was doing at the national level to deal with the problems of older adult abuse, neglect and exploitation. I was saddened to say that not enough was being done to deal with this issue. It is an issue that is hidden from the public. Its victims are often cloaked in secrecy and shame.

It is in order to deal directly with the problem that I have decided to put this bill together. I have no illusions. In its present format, the bill will not be passed in its entirety. In fact, members of the seniors community are opposed to some aspects of the proposed measures, but there are other aspects that they would like to see added or clarified.

That is certainly fair. I think that the bill has to be based on a co-ordinated approach arrived at through consensus. It must be non-partisan and there must be serious and dynamic consultations with seniors in all regions of Canada.

I know that the Prime Minister's task force on active living and seniors, being chaired by my colleague, the member for Trinity--Spadina, will be extremely productive and forthright in its deliberations. I hope they take note of my bill and join with me in putting together a plan of action to combat this issue. It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to take action. Older adults are a growing population in Canada, who will by the year 2041 number at least 23% of our total population. That is one out of every four.

What does this mean for the federal government? It means we have to look at ways to ensure we have the necessary national institutions in place to deal with an older population, an older population that despite its age has the abilities and strengths to continue to contribute to this country's future. We must do our part to foster and promote this contribution.

However, we must be cognizant of the fact that within our population there are those in the older adult community who are unfortunately targeted as victims of crime, based solely on their age or their perceived infirmities. This stigma is shameful and yet it is a stigma that some in this country have been willing to attach to this sector of Canada for far too long.

However, stigmas are, after all, just that: false perceptions, false ideas, and false truths. They must be confronted, combatted and slapped down. I am seeking to do just that with this bill.

Research and awareness of the issue of older adult abuse is relatively recent, as it was only raised in the House in the early 1980s. In fact, 21 years ago this March, a member of this chamber by the name of J.R. Howie brought this issue to the fore through a bill entitled “An Act respecting Senior Citizens”. Like me, Mr. Howie saw a need for intervention by the federal government to address the inadequate attention to the needs of the elderly.

As all members are aware, abuse comes in a variety of forms, including physical, emotional, financial and sexual abuse as well as psychological abuse, and is carried out at times by those that older adults trust the most. It can be categorized under three main themes: abuse and neglect in domestic settings, abuse and neglect in institutional settings, and self-abuse and neglect, which occurs when adults live in ways that disregard their health or safety needs.

Studies recognize that older adult abuse is a significant problem that impacts on the quality of life of many seniors across Canada. Indeed, going as far back as 1989 to the national survey on abuse of the elderly in Canada, it was shown that at least 4% of Canadians over the age of 65 suffer some sort of abuse, whether it is at the hands of family members or others. The study found that financial abuse accounted for more than 50% of the cases, while 30% were cases of verbal aggression. Physical abuse ranked third.

The Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey for the year 1999 found that older adults aged 65 or older represent 2% of all victims of violent offences and were 67% more likely to be victimized by non-family members. Additionally it was found that common assault was the most reported violent offence against older adults, followed by uttering threats and assault with a weapon. It was also found that older adults were the victims of 9.5% of all homicides, 8.3% of all extortion cases, and 6.1% of all reported cases of robbery in the year 2000.

Let me stress that these statistics represent only reported cases. I have been told by law enforcement officials as well as advocates that there are countless other cases that go unreported because victims are too ashamed to come forward.

I could go on, but in the interest of time, I want to get to the proposals in the bill.

As proposed in part 1 of the bill, I believe we need to seek the establishment of Canada's first ever ombudsman for older adult justice. The mandate of this individual would be to act as a neutral and objective sounding board, mediator and investigator in all matters relating to older adult abuse, neglect and exploitation.

One of the prime reasons for such a position at the federal level would be to collect and disseminate on an annual basis the data relating to older adult abuse and exploitation. Further, with such a range of federal programs, such as the family violence prevention program, I am certain that there exist gaps that need to be addressed in order to develop a coherent older adult abuse prevention policy. An ombudsman could identify and suggest strategies to address these gaps to maximize program effectiveness.

In addition, by having a federal ombudsman who is an expert in older adult advocacy, we as a government could work cooperatively with him or her to develop a long term strategic plan for dealing with the prevention, detection, evaluation and improvement of the older adult justice system.

In conversations with the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, it has been suggested that an expanded ombudsman's mandate could include the areas of old age pension, affordable housing, age discrimination, and other areas of federal involvement in the lives of Canada's older adults. I am open to this suggestion and believe examining this through hearings and at committee would be a worthwhile project.

The second proposal in the bill is the development of the Canadian older adult justice agency. The goal of this agency would be to develop and implement, in cooperation with the provinces and stakeholders, older adult justice policies and programs. It would serve as a depository and institute of specialized information on the issue of older adult abuse, neglect and exploitation. By putting in place such an agency, we would over time be developing the government's capacity to learn more about this serious problem and to develop long term and viable strategies to combat it.

That said, I want the agency to go even further. I have consistently heard two main points made by those in favour of my legislation as well as from some who are opposed. One is the need for proper and sustained funding to older adult programs and advocacy groups across the country. The second is the need to develop a training program, or at least an enhanced training program, for law enforcement officials, counsellors, long term care workers and others in how to recognize, deal with and be sensitive to incidents of older adult abuse.

These two things have consistently emerged as necessary for one simple reason: if we do not fund programs that are put in place, then they prove to be ineffective and a waste of taxpayer money. Frankly, advocacy groups deserve more, as do Canada's older adults. The message is clear: proper and sustained funding is imperative to the success of programs and the work of national advocacy groups.

Under the umbrella of the agency, I am also proposing that we develop a long term care consumer database to provide Canadians with information and data on older adult homes across Canada. Individuals, whether they are an older adult or the adult child or a relative or friend or guardian, deserve to know the type of care and the level of service that can be expected at any given rest home.

I think all of us have read the recent horror stories in The Toronto Star about a 94 year old woman who, due to poor care and neglect, wound up with serious bed sores, covered in her own filth, and was left to die with gangrene eating away at her. It is graphic, I know that, but let me tell members that there are many other instances as well.

As colleagues will recall, CTV reported in January the case of 90 year old Jennie Nelson, a resident of the Jubilee Lodge in Edmonton, who died as a result of second degree burns to body. How did she get these? By being immersed in a scalding hot bath.

This is not simply outrageous. It is insulting and demeaning in a country that prides itself on compassion.

I myself one day may need to use the services of such a home, as perhaps will many others in this chamber as well. Do we want the same level of care that Ms. Nelson received? No. She deserved better and so do all Canadians.

By putting in place this agency with a long term care database as part of its core responsibility, Canadians can have a focal point of information on what to expect in our long term care homes.

I know we will hear the usual provincial grumbling that it is a jurisdictional issue. Excuse me, but where the health and safety of Canadians is affected, then the federal government has every right to play a role. It is time for us as a federal government to put a little steel in our spine and show some leadership on this issue.

The third part of the bill deals with changes to the Criminal Code. I have worked in close consultation with seniors' advocates, attorneys and the chief of the city of greater Sudbury's police services to draft these changes, changes that all agreed were necessary. I take them at their word. They are, after all, the ones on the ground dealing with these issues as they arise.

At present, section 718.2(a)(ii) makes reference to a spouse, a common law partner and a child. I want to expand the category of victims to include those that may require care of any sort due to age or infirmity. This would ensure that these individuals are officially protected under the Criminal Code and sends a clear message to those who would seek to abuse their position of trust. If they are providing care to a person, old or young, vibrant or infirm,they have a duty and an obligation to set for themselves higher standards of responsibility. Shouldthey choose to breach that trust, they will be held fully accountable.

The other change to the Criminal Code would ensure that, in sentencing, the courts consider whether or not an individual has been targeted specifically due to their age or due to their physical or mental vulnerability. While it is true that this is mentioned already to some degree in section 718.2(a)(i), I believe that making clear reference to older adults in the code would enhance their rights and would ensure parity across the country when it comes to the sentencing of those that target the elderly or the vulnerable.

In closing, let me say that I believe this bill represents a discussion point on an effective national strategy for Canada's older adults and combatting older adult abuse.

I would like everybody in this House to know that I recognize that the bill could be rejected in its present format, that parts of the bill are not perfect and should be reviewed. I see no problem with that. However, I would like to see my colleagues from all sides participate in good faith in the process and ensure that the bill makes it to committee stage, where it can be reviewed, where hearings can be held and where representatives of the seniors community and their advocates can tell us parliamentarians what they would like to see in a bill to protect seniors' rights.

Our task as parliamentarians is to seek consensus as we move forward, to stand together to confront the scourge of older adult abuse, and to put the rights of our oldest citizens at the top of the national priority list.

Older Adult Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to express my appreciation to the member for Sudbury for bringing forth this issue.

Reams and reams of paper come across my desk every week, but when I saw this bill, it tweaked my interest, so I requested to have a few minutes to speak on this. However, I have some questions.

Maybe I will date myself by some of my questions and some of my thoughts as I go into this, but this is private members' business. We talk about things in private members' business and we raise issues that normally do not come across in Parliament. That is one of the reasons I appreciate this, and what we say does not reflect necessarily on our political party.

When we were growing up, I remember that abuse of aging parents was virtually unheard. Grandparents and aging parents were very seldom sent off to homes pass away. Families, churches and charities looked after aging parents for as long as they were physically able to do so.

The question I have is this. Because we are discussing the whole issue of abuse and taking care of elderly people, how can we maybe step back again and encourage families, churches and charities to once again assume a little more responsibility for this?

I reflect on this and I wonder--and I do not know how to say this in a different way--if Liberal social engineering has diluted everyone in society into thinking government can solve all our problems. Does big government have to look after all this? Maybe this is not what the member is getting at, but we have a problem here. I know we have been taxed and we have a debt of half a trillion dollars now. Maybe we have removed the financial wherewithal from families, charities and other organizations in the community to do something about it.

Would the member like to broaden the discussion in this way? I really appreciate the fact she has brought this forward, and these are some of my thoughts and questions as to whether another big government program would get at some of the root causes of this.

Older Adult Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Diane Marleau Liberal Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is right. Years ago we did not hear about abuse of older adults, but I believe that it occurred back then, as well.

I remember living near a family where the grandmother was kept. I remember the children, who were my age, going up and slapping the grandmother. I was horrified at the way she was treated in this home. Therefore, I know from personal contact that it did occur, but nobody ever spoke of it.

I want to encourage families to look after themselves. However, it is very important that one of the points of having a project such as this one is to bring out into the open the issue of abuse of seniors. It is family violence. If members remember way back when, we did not hear too much about family violence. It certainly was occurring, but it was hidden, and it was shameful. We need to bring it out in the open.

Nowadays families are more broken up. There are not such large families any more. The children move away. They do not necessarily live in the same community as their parents do. Many people do not have children. These people end up alone, very vulnerable and often are taken advantage of.

This bill came in response to a number of incidents in my own riding and discussions that I had with law enforcement officers and others.

What I really want to stress is, yes, there needs to be more work done and there probably needs to be some more spending. However, it does not necessarily have to be a great big, expensive program. It is a question of better spending what we are spending now and having an ombudsman or a point person to whom the seniors community can turn when it does not know where else to turn.

Older Adult Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her answer to my question and I really would like to sincerely work on this issue. If this goes to committee, I hope I can be part of it, and I appreciate the opportunity she has given us to discuss this whole thing.

Bill C-439 recognizes the fact that older adults are often vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and neglect. The principles of the bill include the prevention and treatment of this problem. It also includes, for the purpose of sentencing, the vulnerability of the older adult victim as an aggravating circumstance under the Criminal Code. These principles, I believe, are generally sound and worthy of support.

Members of the official opposition have been very vocal on the protection of children under the law. It follows that we should be also protective of elderly people. We should invest in the just treatment of the elderly and in some cases an equally vulnerable group of people.

However, the creation of a new government agency raises issues of cost and encroachment on provincial jurisdiction. I realize the member has talked about this and does not want to see this happen, but the overall objective of the bill is worth supporting. I want to underline that I am supporting the overall objective of the bill.

However, I believe it may not be necessary for a new government agency to be established in order to achieve this objective. Before we could support legislation creating a brand new bureaucracy, members of Parliament would have to know exactly how the ombudsman proposed in the bill and the older adult justice agency would fit in with all of the other services provided for the elderly.

For example, the federal government and the provinces have been working on this issue for a number of years. I would like to quote from a news release issued by Health Canada on June 27, 2002, following a meeting of federal-provincial-territorial ministers responsible for seniors. Item 4 in the release was specifically “Addressing Elder Abuse”. The minister stated:

Research indicates that the abuse of older adults is a hidden problem as reported cases only represent the "tip of the iceberg". Older adults are often reluctant to report abuse due to fears of retaliation, shame, family loyalty, abandonment and institutionalization. Therefore, continuing attention to public education is important. Ministers have requested further analysis on existing elder abuse strategies and legislation across jurisdictions in Canada. The analysis will continue their collaborative efforts to address the safety and security needs of seniors by identifying priority strategic initiatives for potential action, for governments who so desire.

I put that into the record because it appears that much of what is proposed in the private member's bill may already be being done. That does not mean that we should not discuss that here, but I think that we have to make sure that we are not duplicating things.

Health Canada's division of aging and seniors provides federal leadership in areas pertaining to aging and seniors. The division serves as a focal point for information and the centre of expertise and some of its activities include:

--providing advice and supporting policy development; conducting and supporting research and education activities; encouraging innovative means of improving the health of seniors in situations of risk and in preventing situations of risk from developing; working and consulting with partners, including the provinces, territories, seniors organizations and other sectors; and encouraging communication and disseminating information; and providing operational support to the National Advisory Council on Aging.

In executing all of its roles and responsibilities, the Division promotes the meaningful participation of seniors in federal decisions and activities that affect them.

I would also like to quote again, this time from Health Canada's National Advisory Council on Aging. It has been operating for the last 24 years. Its stated purpose is to:

--to assist and advise the Minister of Health on all matters related to the aging of the Canadian population and the quality of life of seniors. These may be matters that the Minister refers to the Council or that the Council considers appropriate.

The Council consists of up to 18 members from all parts of Canada and all walks of life. The members bring to Council a variety of concerns, experiences and abilities. Members are appointed by Order-in-Council for two to three-year terms, renewable once.

Support for the Council's operations is provided by a team of federal public service employees located in Ottawa.

I have some questions for the minister and I do not know when she will have an opportunity to answer them. Would the National Advisory Council on Aging be replaced by the agency and ombudsman proposed in this older adult justice act?

The National Advisory Council on Aging recently published an excellent eight page bulletin entitled “Hidden Harm: the abuse of seniors”. On page 8, it provides a list of toll free numbers in every province and territory advising where to get help for seniors experiencing abuse.

Anyone listening to this debate today should be aware that there is some of this already. Hopefully the message will get out that if these abusive situations are taking place, people should already be seeking these numbers and they should be looking for assistance because there is some assistance already available.

I checked out one of these, the province of Manitoba senior's directorate. It provides a senior's abuse line, a senior's information line and it also has a Manitoba Council on Aging. Many provinces have this. It is not clear to me how the ombudsman and the agency proposed in the bill would work with the existing provincial governments and agencies. Do the provinces support the creation of this agency? Will they help finance it? Will the new federal ombudsman and the agency fill a gap in services or will it duplicate existing services? I ask these questions because we all have to answer questions before we vote on a bill.

I do not want to give the minister the impression that because I am asking these tough questions I am not concerned about elder abuse. The exact opposite is true. I realize that it is a severe problem and we need to deal with it. The statistics I have seen show the horror stories in the media and we all should be very concerned about it. However being concerned does not mean that we should automatically create another government agency or bureaucracy, unless we can show that bureaucracy will actually solve the problem. That is what I want to get at. We have to solve this very serious problem.

We have all seen the problems we have got into by passing ill-considered legislation. You know, Mr. Speaker, the legislation we have passed since 1995. I have tracked it since then. We have spent a lot of money. It resulted in the creation of a huge bureaucratic boondoggle and we did not solve the problem of violence in our society. I want to make sure if we are to create some kind of agency, we do not go down that path again.

We all want an agency that will actually result in a reduction in the number of incidents of elder abuse and see that this objective is accomplished in a cost effective manner. I am not convinced that what is being proposed here will produce the results. It will have to go to committee if we approve this.

Again, I thank the member for raising this issue, one of the most important issues in the country. I look forward to working together with her on it. I think many members in our party will support this because it is something that needs to be investigated and it may need to go to committee to ensure that we get it right.

Older Adult Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the speech from the member and that of my colleague on this very important issue. Everyone knows how concerned I am about the situation of older adults. My role within my party is to defend older adults and to question the government about their situation.

The bill being introduced is full of good intentions, but we cannot support it because, as the member says, it interferes directly with provincial jurisdictions.

I am against having to take multiple steps to complete one task. This is not legislation that is going to protect older adults. In Quebec, we already have a Public Curator, the Conseil des aînés, and the CLSCs, that do roughly what this legislation is asking be done.

When I was an MLA in Quebec, I made it my duty to visit all the retirement homes at least twice a year. I did that for 9 years, which means I did it at least 18 times. I saw the abuse that goes on and I had the opportunity to make changes. However, it is not by implementing another council or another level of protection, legislation or officials that we are going to improve the situation.

Older adults have the right to be informed. It is by giving them information that we will help them, since they already have the Public Curator, the Conseil des aînés and the CLSCs. These agencies already exist in Quebec.

The legislation could be helpful if it made changes to the Criminal Code. That is an area that might need some work. We could rewrite the legislation in order to amend the Criminal Code because it could be flawed with respect to this issue.

This bill explains what constitutes abuse of older adults. The following is the definition provided for abuse:

The knowing infliction of physical, psychological or financial harm on an older adult.

I am scandalized by the introduction of this bill. Yes, there is financial harm. The one most responsible for financial harm is the federal government. It has kept money from at least 270,000 older Canadians. I have travelled across Quebec and in some parts of Canada, including Vancouver. I have met people who are the victims of the government. This does not mean that there are not people as well who financially abuse older people. I know this goes on.

However, when the government itself does not provide the information to ensure that people receive the guaranteed income supplement, when the government itself does not take measures to find these people, even by going door to door to meet the people who are entitled to their money because it is owed to them, when the government does not do so, I think that introducing a bill such as this one will not improve anything.

This is quite simple. There are 270,000 Canadians, including 68,000 Quebecers, who did not receive the guaranteed income supplement. I took part in 37 meetings across Quebec. I met almost all the news media there are and we managed to find people who were entitled to it. The department told me it may have found about 75,000 people that it was looking for, and about 30,000 in Quebec alone. This means that, in Quebec alone, about $100 million are now in the pockets of the poorest, who need it and who were deprived of it because of the inaction of the federal government.

Let them pass legislation, at any time, to require the federal government to reimburse seniors for the money stolen from them because they were not informed. This is money of which seniors were deprived, and it was used to the government's profit. These seniors were unable to cope, had little education, were alone, sick, abandoned to their own devices, and could not obtain the necessary information. Nothing was done to get it to them. In order to get what was coming to them, these seniors had to make a phone call, talk to a machine, and dial 22 numbers, only to hear that all the lines were busy.

That is how the information was given out. If someone did manage to get hold of an application form, it took an accountant or a lawyer to fill it out. Today I say this: enact legislation that will require the government to do the same for seniors to whom money is owing, as the former finance minister did, for example, for his shipping companies, which have come up again today. A way was found, retroactively, to put money into the pockets of certain individuals.

It is true that the seniors I speak for have been abused by this government. That does not mean that the government is alone in doing so. Still, they have been abused by the government and I think that it is criminal that, in their twilight years, because they are ill or do not have much money, or because they simply have no fighting spirit left, they are not given what they deserve, and no one takes care of them, although there are many organizations that could help them.

In Quebec there are the CLSCs and there are golden age clubs. There are many organizations whose sole purpose is to help people. I have dealt with these organizations on my travels around Quebec and I have found some incredible things. For example, I met a woman in Sherbrooke, who has since died, who lived out her senior years on $6,000 a year: just the old age pension. I calculated that the government saved $90,000, because of that woman.

In my opinion, legislation is not what we need to correct this. What we need is a little honesty in the system. We must use what we already have. We must use the information that can get to the people who need it. We must make use of the people working in the field who are only too glad to provide assistance. There are service clubs of all kinds and these people are ready to help us.

The Criminal Code needs some amendment, it is true. I said so a moment ago. Still, if it means that the services provided in Quebec are duplicated, I do not agree. Calculations show it is wasted time. Having more discussions at various times is fine; I,too, would like to be called as a witness to talk about it before a commission. I would work until I got back the money owed to those very deserving people. The older generation was here ahead of me; they built this country and they are entitled to our utmost respect.

Older Adult Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I too want to say a few words in support of the bill put forward by the member for Sudbury. I congratulate her for doing this.

In case I forget, I want to ask the member to take a look at a bill I drafted and tabled some time ago, Bill C-227. It was a bill to investigate the difficulties encountered by seniors when they deal with the Canada pension plan, the old age pensions and the different tax liabilities. It might be complementary to what she is trying to do. I had some help on that by people who were experts in the field. It might be something worth looking at.

In any event, I do support the bill put forward in the House today. We are an aging society. I just looked at some recent statistics showing that in the year 2000 some 16.7% of our population was over 60 years old. In the year 2050, another 50 years from now, the population over 60 years of age will be 31.9%. In other words, Mr. Speaker, 50 years from now you will be among the oldest one-third of the Canadian population. That will be getting up there in age by that time of course. We are an aging society and the baby boom is going through the cycle.

I suppose one of the deficiencies in our social system has been in making sure our older people, our senior citizens, get a decent, fair and just break in our society.

I have been a member of Parliament now for about 32 years. I was elected in 1968 and was out for one term. I have had my attention drawn many times to elder abuse. It occurs in all kinds of places and forms that we would not expect: abusive families, abuse between spouses, abuse between strangers and elders, and patronizing attitudes toward senior citizens. One sees and hears about it all the time. It is something for which we have to be concerned in terms of discrimination based on age.

One reason for referring the bill to committee for study is that there are all kinds of aspects of how we should be treating senior citizens better which we can study at the same time.

I am glad the member has taken the initiative in this bill to get the ball rolling and establish an ombudsman for older adult justice and the Canadian older adult justice agency and amendments to the Criminal Code. Of course that would include the Prime Minister of Canada as well. We may have to be very careful with how we question him in question period.

I think the bill is a move in the right direction and it is something we should be supporting. It is not right to discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, colour, religious background or on the basis of age, and that certainly does occur.

Some day in this country we will have a serious debate on an issue called mandatory retirement. I happen to agree with the Prime Minister of Canada that age 65 should not be a mandatory retirement age. I think that is discrimination based on age. At the same time, we have to make sure that people have adequate pensions so they can make a real choice as to whether they can retire at the age of 65.

We have made progress since the 1930s and 1940s on pensions, on seniors and on poverty, but I do not think that progress has been continuing on in the last 10 or 15 years as it was in the previous 25 or 30 years. It has levelled off. We have a lot of senior citizens living in poverty and below the poverty line.

Those are some of my concerns. We need an improved pension system. We need to improve the Canada pension plan so people will have a more adequate income. Private pension plans have to be more portable. We need to ensure that we have a retirement safety net for people so they can have a decent living and not live in poverty after they retire.

I remember growing up on the Prairies and believing all my life that it was the older people who built Canada, the pioneers who came out to my part of the world, Saskatchewan, which became a province in 1905.

Actually my father was born at the end of 1909. He was one of the last pioneers in this country in terms of filing for a homestead under the homestead act. He had one of the last homesteads in central Saskatchewan.

People of my grandparents' generation born in the last part of the 1800s and into the early 1900s were the real pioneers. They built a country through sweat and tears and hard work. They made many sacrifices and passed on a pretty good country to all of us. It is imperative for us now to make sure we treat our senior citizens with respect and dignity and to provide the financial means to make sure that they can live a decent life.

I am also concerned about adequate health care. We have across the way the sponsor of the bill who is a former minister of health. She knows the challenges in that field and the challenges that we have now. At one time the federal government paid half the cost of health care and the provinces paid half, but now the provinces put up over 80% of the health care cost. This is a big issue. The senior citizens use the health care system more than any other citizen. If we have a squeeze for health care, it is the senior citizens that tend to suffer more than anyone else. We need more money from the federal government for health care as well.

I have mentioned an adequate pension system. I have mentioned the need for more adequate health care and the concern that I have that a lot of people are living in poverty. Those are some of the other issues we have to wrestle with.

The pension issue is a very important one because of the aging of the population. We have to make sure that we can afford to pay adequate pensions for people when they retire, whatever that retirement age should be.

I remember when the member was a cabinet minister. An idea was floated by the Liberal government of the day which was called the seniors benefit package and was part of the present Prime Minister's deficit cutting strategy. The legislation, had it passed, would have done away with the last social program that was specifically there to help seniors, namely the Old Age Security Act. It is thanks to the intense lobby of senior citizens, the public and the opposition that this idea was dropped.

I also remember back in the Mulroney days when the Conservatives wanted to partially deindex old age pensions. There are a couple of Mulroney fans sitting here in the House of Commons, members of the Conservative Party. In the end the Conservatives did that.

I remember when they brought it in. Mulroney was very popular in 1985. There was a big rally here in the House of Commons. I see two Brian Mulroney fans sitting in the House, one from Yorkton—Melville and one from Ontario, two Conservative MPs. In 1985 there was a big rally in the House. A little woman named Madam Denis, who probably stood about 4 feet 10 inches, said in French to the Prime Minister, “Vous avez menti, vous avez menti”. She said to the Prime Minister, “You have lied to us”.

I remember the galvanizing of public opinion at that moment. I think the member for Sudbury became a member in 1988 and this occurred before she came to the House. I remember how the public opinion at that time galvanized and changed because of Madam Denis.

The grey lobby is increasing in size. It is politically a very potent force out there and an important force. The senior citizens should be listened to. When governments have tried to tinker with programs that they hold dear, and I have mentioned a couple of examples, there have been very effective protests by senior citizens. This is something we should pay heed to. They are our constituents and a very important part of our constituency.

The member for Sudbury makes some excellent points in the legislation. One of the points is that there are crimes being committed against seniors. We have heard about different scams and different con artists that prey on seniors, who telephone them with different ideas about where they should put their money. I have had cases where seniors have called my office after being taken by con artists on different schemes. They go after seniors because they feel they are vulnerable. In many cases it is older women who they feel are vulnerable and they take their money.

In summary, I commend the member for Sudbury. We should send the bill to committee. We should study the whole area of how we treat seniors and make sure we have a fair and just society for them in the years that lie ahead.

Older Adult Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

London West Ontario


Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on Bill C-439, the Older Adult Justice Act, introduced by the member for Sudbury.

I would like to thank her for the work she has done.

The amendments in the bill propose to establish the office of the Ombudsman for Older Adult Justice and the Canadian Older Adult Justice Agency and to amend the Criminal Code provisions on sentencing.

I would like to assure the House that those of us in the Department of Justice, including the minister and myself, understand that the protection of older adult rights is a serious matter in this country. I listened to all members in the House today and all of us take these rights seriously.

Through the work of the Department of Justice, we hope to attain a balance of the appropriate protection for older adults while maintaining respect for older adults' rights of independence.

Together with the partners that we have in this country, including the provincial and territorial governments, non-government organizations that operate in our community and the private sector itself, the department currently addresses older adult justice issues through strategies that include legal reform, public legal education, information, research and support for various programs and services.

These efforts have included involvement in the federal government's family violence initiative and the national crime prevention strategy, as well as involvement in and support for the work of the federal-provincial-territorial ministers responsible for seniors' safety, and the security working group in the interdepartmental committee on aging and seniors' issues.

I note that some of the members in the chamber have referred to these areas. The department also provides leadership for the federal interdepartmental working group, which is very active on safety and security of seniors.

Many other issues addressed by this bill are addressed by current provincial-territorial laws. That has been pointed out earlier today. To date, the provincial-territorial law addresses the interests of older adults in terms of physical and mental states, for example, issues of guardianship, health law, substitute decision making, and even those areas that relate to dying, for example, wills and estate planning.

There are also offences within current provincial-territorial jurisdiction such as an abuse of the power of attorney. Several jurisdictions in Canada have also enacted social welfare or protective legislation to protect older adults who are victims of physical or sexual abuse, mental cruelty, or inadequate care and attention.

In jurisdictions where adult protection and guardianship legislation is in place, there may be statutory adult protection service programs that offer a combination of legal, health and social services interventions. That cooperation is more important as one ages, particularly the integration of activity.

While we agree with the overall goal of Bill C-439, the Department of Justice will not support the bill in its current form because of the unconstitutional nature of this particular bill. The main constitutional question raised by the bill is whether the bill is within Parliament's legislative jurisdiction under section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

Part 1 of Bill C-439 would establish the office of the ombudsman for older adult justice, responsible for promoting the protection of older adult rights, investigating complaints, and referring to the Minister of Justice matters not settled satisfactorily.

Part 2 of the bill would establish the Canadian older adult justice agency, responsible for providing resources to promote the protection of older adult rights, including information on the prevention, detection, assessment, identification and treatment of older adult abuse, neglect or exploitation.

Parliament does not have direct legislative competence over the rights of older persons in relation to adult abuse, neglect or exploitation outside the context of criminal law. Inside the context of criminal law, we do have this power. In fact, Canadians aged 65 and older had low levels of violent victimization. It is about 1.8%, although they account for 12.7% of the population, and I am quoting 2002 statistics.

Aside from the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code, which do not present the jurisdictional issue, Bill C-439 is not a criminal law measure. Instead, the bulk of the bill is outside Parliament's direct legislative jurisdiction.

The creation of an ombudsman for older adult justice and of a Canadian older adult justice agency could be done federally through the exercise of the federal spending power. The courts have recognized that there is a federal spending power even though it is not mentioned specifically in the Constitution.

The courts have held that Parliament may constitutionally direct the expenditure of money outside its area of legislative jurisdiction so long as the spending statute does not amount in substance to a direct regulation of a matter within provincial jurisdiction. We have heard two of the parties mention this problem earlier today.

Much of Bill C-439 could be accomplished as an exercise of the federal spending power. In general, the ombudsman for older adult justice and the Canadian older adult justice agency proposed by this bill perform non-regulatory functions such as examining issues, making reports, collecting and disseminating information and other like aspects.

There are, however, provisions of Bill C-439 that step well beyond the simple exercise of the spending power and over the line into regulation. This is where we have problems of authority and jurisdiction.

For example, subclause 7(8) of the bill purports to give the ombudsman, in the course of conducting an investigation or study, to require any person to furnish information and to produce documents, papers or things.

Subclause 7(11) prohibits people from obstructing the ombudsman in the performance of the ombudsman's duties and functions under the bill.

Subclause 7(12) makes it a summary conviction offence to contravene clause 7 of the bill, including the ombudsman's right to require information and documents in the obstruction prohibition.

The provisions giving the ombudsman the power to compel information and the production of documents and the offence of obstructing the ombudsman cannot be sustained under the spending power. This is an extension. It is well beyond the jurisdiction. These provisions purport to regulate conduct by imposing legal penalties for failure to abide by the act.

The creation of offences as the most coercive of state regulation of conduct is well outside the scope of the spending power exception. The provisions of the bill I have just described are therefore outside Parliament's power to enact.

There is a similar constitutional flaw in the regulation making power contained in subclause 32(2). This subclause purports to authorize the governor in council to make a regulation, making it an offence to contravene the regulation. Here again, the delegation of this power to create offences exceeds the constitutional basis of Bill C-439, which is the federal spending power.

Having said that, there is no doubt that members in this chamber are interested in all those areas that affect seniors. I applaud the member from Sudbury for raising this. It is a good thing that we are standing in the chamber this hour and another hour, hopefully, to debate these issues and highlight the issues that the member, I know, is very concerned about, and all of us are in our communities.

However, it is not just noble principles that we have to debate in the chamber. We are legislators. We have jurisdictional issues and we should work cooperatively with the jurisdiction that has those areas of responsibility to engage all of us in our communities and make things work properly in a way that we can effect change. It is not our job to spend a lot of time where we cannot be the most effective with the time and resources we have available. We should be working within the jurisdictions, even in the most cooperative manner, to the best benefit of all of our constituents.

No one is saying that these rights and obligations in these areas are not of supreme importance in our communities. Obviously, all citizens are valuable in our communities and older citizens are a special responsibility, just as, as another member mentioned, the youngest citizens.

It is our job as legislators to engage and envelope the ideas, the goals and the values that I think the member is getting at. What she is looking for is an envelope of a bill to address the objectives. The situation with the bill and its present context does not meet the jurisdictional requirement to be supported by the government, the justice minister and the justice department.

Constitutional flaws are serious flaws and we should respect them. Having said that, I do respect all members of the House and their ideas. I think further discussion of anything that could benefit our seniors is a worthwhile use of our energy.

I will end by saying to the hon. member that I look forward to the ongoing debate on this issue. I commend her for her work.

Older Adult Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Message from the SenatePrivate Members' Business

February 5th, 2004 / 6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed a bill to which the concurrence of the House is desired.

It being 6:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:30 p.m.)