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.