This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

moved that Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (elder abuse), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to Bill C-36, the protecting Canada's seniors act.

As members are no doubt aware, the abuse of elderly Canadians is a problem that is generating outrage across this country. Given the reality of our aging population, it is unlikely that this problem will go away on its own.

The courts have also taken notice of this emerging trend. In Regina v. Foubert in 2009, for instance, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dealt with the case of a personal support worker who pled guilty to assaulting four elderly war veterans suffering from Alzheimer's disease and dementia while they were in his care. In sentencing the offender to a period of incarceration to be followed by a probation order with onerous conditions, the sentencing judge noted the growing phenomenon of elder abuse in our society and the need for it to be addressed in a most serious way. In this regard, the judge added:

...there is little to distinguish individuals suffering from Alzheimer's disease or severe dementia from children. Both are among the most vulnerable members of our society. Just as one is forbidden to strike a baby, one is forbidden to strike a vulnerable, elderly person.

I do not believe there is a person in this chamber who would disagree with this statement.

Yet another example of judicial awareness of the issue of elder abuse in Canada is provided by the 2010 Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court decision in Regina v. Manuel. In this case, the offender had twice broken into the home of an elderly veteran and assaulted and robbed him. In sentencing the offender to six and half years imprisonment, the judge was clear in stating that the sentence being imposed was designed to address the public interest in deterring criminals from breaking into private homes and especially the public duty to protect the elderly of our society.

This is an issue of serious concern to our government. During the last general election we made a commitment to address it through an amendment to the Criminal Code to add, ”vulnerability due to age as an aggravating factor when sentencing those who commit crimes against elderly Canadians”.

Once passed into law, this amendment will ensure that the approach now being taken in a piecemeal fashion by the courts in different parts of Canada will truly become a national standard.

Our commitment in this regard was reiterated and strengthened through the statement in the Speech from the Throne of June 3, 2011, that our government would protect the most vulnerable persons in our society and work to prevent crime by proposing, among other things, tougher sentences for those who abuse seniors. The proposed amendment set out in the bill before members today will do just that.

More specifically, the bill proposes to amend paragraphs 718.2(a) of the Criminal Code to provide that where an offence has had a significant impact on a victim due to that victim's age and other personal circumstances, including their health or financial situation, it shall be considered to be an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. This means that judges all across Canada will be better able to justify the imposition of a serious penalty in cases where elderly persons are victimized. This amendment would convey the strong message that abuse of older Canadians will not be tolerated.

The proposed amendment is not intended to be a simple stand-alone response to elder abuse but rather complements other efforts being made by this government to address this serious issue.

The proposed amendment would also complement provincial initiatives focusing on health, social services and adult guardianship. Such initiatives address elder abuse through general legislation, policy or specific requirements such as mandatory reporting of suspected abuse.

As the case and recommendations to which I have referred indicate, “elder abuse” is an expression commonly used to refer to the victimization of older individuals.

A useful working definition was developed in 2002 by the World Health Organization that characterized elder abuse as "a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person".

Today, it is generally understood that the abuse of elderly persons includes physical and psychological abuse, financial exploitation and neglect.

One of the challenges of addressing elder abuse is that there is no consensus on a definition of who is an elderly person either within Canada or abroad. This has resulted in wide variation in defining older, senior or elderly persons.

For instance, chronological age is specifically referred to in at least 17 statutes in Canada. Thirteen of these statutes refer to the age of 65 but other references vary from 50 to 75, depending on the circumstances. The majority of these statutes deal with issues relating to retirement and pensions.

However, the impact of a crime on an elderly person is not always tied to the chronological age of the victim. Not every 65-year-old person is equally vulnerable. Much depends on the personality and life experience of such a person, as well as factors such as physical and mental health, whether a support system in the form of a loving family and friends exist, and whether the person's finances are secure and sufficient for his or her future well-being.

In short, as opposed to children of tender age for whom a general assumption of vulnerability is far more justified and appropriate based on chronological age alone, there is no one size fits all age at which the chronologically older person could be said to be vulnerable in terms that are easily recognized by the criminal law. This is an important point because the impact of a crime on an older person is more typically associated with the combined unique characteristics of that person that when viewed together reflect the overall impact of the offence.

Therefore, in order to properly achieve the goals behind this amendment, the bill deliberately does not set a chronological age as a triggering factor for invoking the aggravating factor. Rather, it focuses on the impact of the crime on an elderly victim in light of the combination of age and personal circumstances that render that person particularly vulnerable to the offence in question.

I must add that the Criminal Code currently contains dispositions that address some but not all forms of elder abuse. In this regard, and as I will outline, the amendment before us today goes beyond these more limited approaches to this issue.

For example, and as most members will recall, this government introduced the Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act, which came into force on November 1, 2011. One of the elements of this legislation was the addition, as an aggravating factor for the offence of fraud, of the fact that the offence has had a significant impact on the victim given his or her personal circumstances, including age, health and financial situation. This aggravating factor was in response to large scale economic crimes that have had devastating consequences for vulnerable victims, particularly seniors who have a reduced ability to replace the moneys stolen from them.

The Criminal Code also lists other aggravating factors that address some of the circumstances often present in cases that may be characterized as elder abuse.

For instance, the Criminal Code provides in subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) that where an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based, for instance, on age, mental or physical disability, it shall be considered to be an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. This aggravating factor addresses cases where crimes were motivated by hate toward an identifiable group, such as seniors.

By way of comparison, the proposed aggravating factor in the bill before us today would recognize that the impact of crime on a victim may be exacerbated by reasons of a combination of the person's age or other personal circumstances, such as the individual's health.

Other aggravating factors currently in the Criminal Code that would also apply in some elder abuse cases include the fact that the offender abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim, which is cited in subparagraph 718.2(a)(iii), or abused the offender's spouse or common-law partner, subparagraph 718.2(a)(ii).

These aggravating factors apply not only where the abuse was committed by a family member, but also where the abuse was committed, for example, by a caregiver in a nursing home who was in a position of trust and authority over vulnerable seniors.

In addition to the aggravating factors I have mentioned, the Criminal Code provides a range of specific offences that equally apply to protect Canadians, regardless of whether the victim is male or female, able-bodied or disabled, young or old.

For example, the offence of assault applies equally to all Canadians to protect against physical abuse. Mental cruelty is captured by offences such as intimidation or uttering threats and financial abuse is captured by theft or robbery.

In some instances, an offence is applied to a specific relationship that may be relevant to elder abuse cases. One such example is the offence of the failure of an individual to provide the necessities of life to a person under his or her charge if that person is unable by reason of age, illness or mental disorder to withdraw himself or herself from that charge and is unable to provide himself or herself with the necessities of life. This is section 215. This offence is commonly charged in elder abuse cases.

All Criminal Code provisions that I have just referred to can be used depending on the circumstances. The proposed amendment in the bill is of a more general and all encompassing nature that will ensure that no case of elder abuse falls through the cracks simply because it does not fit exactly within the language of these more specific provisions.

The bill is needed now. According to Statistics Canada, in 2010 an estimated 4.8 million Canadians were 65 years of age or older. This number is expected to double in the next 25 years to reach 10.4 million seniors by 2036. By 2051, about one in four Canadians is expected to be over the age of 65. These statistics clearly show that our population is aging and that the number of elders who may be at risk of such abuse will increase as more baby boomers become dependent upon others, such as family members, for their care.

According to a January 2011 report by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, in 2009 about 70% of reported crimes against Canadians aged 65 or older were committed by a member of the victim's family or by a friend or acquaintance, and 29% by a stranger. In terms of crime committed by family members, assault was the most common violent offence committed, accounting for more than half, 53%, of all violent offences against seniors. Other forms of family violence against seniors included: uttering threats, which represented 21% of such crimes; major assaults, which represented 13% of family violence against seniors; and criminal harassment, which represented 4% of such crimes.

It is important to understand that those numbers may be well underestimated as to the true extent of family violence against seniors, as many cases of elder abuse might not have been reported to the authorities. For instance, according to the 2009 general social survey, about seven in ten violent victimizations were not reported to the police because victims did not believe that the incident was important enough, or because the victim may still care for the abuser, or because the victim feels ashamed of being unable to stop the abuse on his or her own. Another reason is that older persons are more likely to suffer from chronic illness and cognitive impairment, which may limit their ability to report violence to police.

These facts speak for themselves. Older Canadians are at risk and can expect to continue to be at risk for the foreseeable future. That is clearly not right. Older members of our society, those who have contributed to building our great country, should not have to live in fear for their personal or financial security. After all, they have given to Canada and they have a right to be treated with respect and to live in a safe environment. Bill C-36 is a significant contribution to this important objective. I urge all members to support the expeditious passage of the bill.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question was actually about a step before the bill.

Many seniors find the justice system intimidating and incomprehensible. They are in no position to take their abusers to court. Because seniors do not understand the system, they cannot make informed decisions. They cannot decide whether they want to take the person to court. That creates a paternalistic environment with someone else making their decisions for them.

Does the government plan to do something to help these people by ensuring that they understand their rights and are capable of making their own decisions about whether to take the person to court?

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her question.

This government has invested significant funds in helping victims of crime. Two authorities are responsible for intervening when such crimes occur. The province, through its minister of social services, should help the victims, and the federal government also takes steps to protect victims of crime. I think that these authorities are well placed to guide seniors in their decision-making process.

I should also mention that if an incident is reported to the police, it is no longer up to the victim to decide whether to take the matter to court.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, here we are debating yet another bill to expand the provisions of the Criminal Code. It seems as though the answer from the Conservative side to all that ails society is to expand the provisions of the Criminal Code to focus on the offender, to focus on retribution. I believe we all share the goals of protecting our seniors. I heard my colleague say that this focuses on showing respect to seniors and preventing abuse, including financial exploitation.

My question is on the inconsistency between what we are attempting to do here today through amendments to the Criminal Code, and what we saw here just a few weeks ago when, in a classic case of financial exploitation, the government raised the age of eligibility for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement for our most vulnerable seniors. Does the hon. member not see the patent inconsistency in the government's position with respect to the treatment of seniors in this regard?

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, there is clearly no inconsistency. Obviously, a lot of the amendments to the Criminal Code have been made with a view to protecting Canada's most vulnerable citizens, the seniors. The measures taken to change the Old Age Security Act, given the demographic changes, were to protect seniors in the future. We know that by 2030 there will only be two people working to fund those benefits going to each senior.

Again, measures have been taken to make sure that the system continues for seniors in the future, so there is no inconsistency in protecting Canada's most vulnerable.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member. When we look at what the Conservative government has done for seniors since we came to office in 2006, such as implementing the tax-free savings accounts, which many seniors across the country have engaged in, as well as 6 million other Canadians, income splitting for seniors, extending the GIS for the lowest income seniors and taking many seniors off the tax rolls altogether, is this not just another piece that we are doing as a government to try to support our seniors?

We have made several initiatives in several different areas to support our seniors, not only with respect to the criminal justice system or extending the powers of law enforcement to support seniors in the Criminal Code, but also financially. We also implemented a national seniors day showing our strong support for seniors.

This is just another piece of the puzzle, is it not?

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has certainly fallen upon two golden common threads in his comments.

One is that throughout all legislation obviously this government has sought to protect seniors, whether it be financially or against crime. The measures to protect them financially, take them off the rolls of the taxman, permit income splitting and the guaranteed supplement for revenue have been put in place by the government.

The other common golden thread is that with each one of these measures taken by this government, the opposition, particularly the NDP, has voted against protecting them in that fashion.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud that we voted against those measures. The Conservatives did not get the job done for Canadian seniors.

If we pause and think about it for a moment, over the last five to six years there have been repeated conversations in the House about 300,000 seniors living in poverty. Most of those who collected GIS were women. They were getting approximately $15,000 a year when the poverty line was $22,000 a year. Instead of giving them a $200 a month increase that would have helped alleviate that, as was suggested in the last election by the NDP and in the House repeatedly, the government gave them $50. The HST increase in Ontario alone ate up most of that $50.

Therefore, the government should not try to tell members on this side how much it has done for seniors. It has taken $6,000 out of their lifetime income for each of those two years that it has moved forward on changing the age of eligibility from 65 to 67. It is really frustrating on this side of the House because we hear these claims of what it is doing, but it is not getting done.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I believe the hon. member is referring to the change in the OAS, which will take effect in a whopping 23 years. What has really been taken away from the seniors, other than the possibility of future seniors being able to benefit from the program? We know that demographically it will not be sustainable if we do not take the measures to protect them now and in the future.

Obviously, the opposition has a different way of looking at things. Everyone lives with the costs of living, whether it be transportation of goods or paying heating. Imposing the carbon tax that the opposition proposes would be a large taxation on the funds of seniors who perhaps have limited funds. We have a different view of making their quality of life work.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, when the government gave its reasons for the changes to OAS, $36 billion a year is what it cost, escalating to $109 billion, there is no argument there. We agree with the government on that, but the assumptions the Conservatives are using do not take into account an average of 2% growth in the GDP, as projected by their own Minister of Finance over the next number of years. That would pay for it.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

That is very interesting, Mr. Speaker. According to the hon. member, this system is sustainable. The question I would ask him is, in the following 20 years, how many people will have dialysis? How many people will have cancer treatments? How many people will have medical treatments which will go well into the future because Canadians continue to live longer and health care goes up?

These two things run in tandem. We have no way of predicting exactly how much medical treatment will be needed. We know it will increase. We know the demography of the Canadian population is becoming significantly older. With age comes medicare. With age come health costs. We are taking steps to protect seniors in the future.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by seeking the unanimous consent of the House to share my time with the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to share her time?

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise here in the House today to speak to Bill C-36 as the seniors critic for the official opposition.

It is no secret that Canada is facing an aging population, which, I would like to point out, is not a problem in itself. Our society is enriched by its seniors, who still contribute a great deal to society by volunteering, sharing precious time with their families, helping their friends and neighbours, and investing directly in their communities and their surroundings. Our aging population is clearly not a problem in itself.

However, we need to ensure that the government and its programs adapt to the situation so that everyone can continue to live with dignity until they reach the end of their lives, without any problems. This is possible.

We have known about our aging population for some time now, since those who are 60 today were not born yesterday. We began taking measures a long time ago to prepare for this situation.

One question that keeps coming up right now about our aging population has to do with all kinds of abuse that our seniors are suffering. Since we have an aging population, it is especially important that we seriously ask ourselves how we can help our seniors. We must ensure that elder abuse diminishes and, ideally, that it disappears altogether.

Today, Bill C-36 is a good start and could become part of the solution to the problem of elder abuse.

I would like to begin by briefly talking about elder abuse. Clearly, all forms of abuse are unacceptable in our society, but there are certain distinctive characteristics of elder abuse.

The most prevalent kind of abuse that seniors tend to suffer is financial exploitation. Next, in order of prevalence, comes psychological abuse and, finally, physical abuse ranks third.

Another distinctive characteristic of elder abuse is that it is often people close to them who commit the abuse: members of their family, even their immediate family, neighbours, friends and caregivers.

Another thing about elder abuse is that it is largely under-reported. In fact, according to the Réseau québécois pour contrer les abus envers les aînés, nearly 80% of abuses are never reported. That is a huge percentage. Why? Because seniors are especially vulnerable. They are afraid of being isolated and uprooted from their lives. They are afraid that if they report a family member, that family member will reject them and they will end up even more isolated. They are afraid that if they report the person who cares for them, they will stop getting their regular care and will be sent to a nursing home. For abused seniors, reporting that abuse has specific and very significant consequences. As a result, seniors unfortunately often put up with abuse and keep mum in order to protect themselves from something that they believe could be worse.

Seniors need to know that someone will be there for them, that if they report abuse, they will get all the help they need to get through the situation.

Bill C-36 recognizes the seriousness of elder abuse. The Criminal Code currently recognizes a number of aggravating factors in cases of child abuse or abuse of persons with disabilities, but there is nothing in the legislation to make elder abuse an aggravating factor. The vulnerability of seniors in cases of abuse has not been recognized. Bill C-36 recognizes this factor.

The NDP is pleased to support this bill at second reading because we believe it is an important and necessary measure.

However, that is not all. A very interesting committee, the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care, studied the issue of elder abuse and made some recommendations to Parliament with a view to addressing this problem.

Bill C-36 tackles the criminal aspect of elder abuse. We must consider whether we want to punish people who carry out the abuse and whether we also want to prevent abuse. They do not necessarily go hand in hand. Giving a longer sentence to someone who commits elder abuse may not really reduce the number of cases of abuse or increase reporting of elder abuse. These two things do not necessarily go hand in hand. Yes, we have to punish the perpetrators, but we also have to prevent and reduce abuse and ensure that we make it easier for seniors to report it.

There were some very interesting things in the committee's report. First, it is important to launch an extensive awareness campaign. We have to make people aware of elder abuse and show them that this abuse is serious. People must know that society has a role to play in helping seniors report abuse.

Second—and I am still talking about targeted, effective measures—the report talks about prevention programs. Not only do people have to be made aware of the problem, but we have to go one step further and prevent elder abuse. For example, the committee mentions training people who care for the elderly and providing family members with information so that they can recognize the signs, determine whether an elderly relative is being abused or not, and support that person in reporting the abuse.

Third, there has to be an intervention service. It is all well and good to prevent abuse or detect it and help an elderly person report it, but once that happens, what then? Seniors need to know that they have access to people and a system that can help them through their ordeal. They do not have to be afraid of losing their freedom, their loved ones or their independence if they accuse an abuser. Intervention services should include offering seniors who have been mistreated psychosocial and other care. That is another very important aspect of what should be done to fight elder abuse.

Fourth, the report talks about a legal response, which Bill C-36 addresses. Yes, there is a “legal response” element to tackling elder abuse. However, there are three other elements that are just as important.

The NDP will support Bill C-36, but we must be clear about the fact that it is not enough. If we focus only on legal measures, we will be missing a very important point. We must not forget that we need to prevent crime, and not merely punish criminals. Unfortunately, punishing criminals is the Conservative way. We saw this with the mandatory minimum sentences proposed in Bill C-10. However, prevention and intervention are measures that can truly help people who suffer abuse, and we do not talk about that enough here in the House.

Here are some suggestions of concrete measures that could be taken in response to the suggestions made by the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care. Factors that cause seniors to be more vulnerable include poverty and dependence on family members or caregivers. This means that a senior who has limited resources is much more dependent on others and will therefore be much less likely to report any financial or other abuse. A senior who does not have a spot in an affordable, appropriate seniors' home and must therefore live with a friend, neighbour or family member will be unlikely to report that person, because the senior would have nowhere to go if he or she were forced to leave.

Thus, creating a national affordable, suitable housing strategy for seniors would be another way of tackling elder abuse. I could mention several other ways of doing so. In closing, I think my message is clear: some legal measures are needed, but that is not the only way to tackle the problem of elder abuse.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I agree with much of what the member said in her speech.

She talked about taking measures not only to change the Criminal Code, but also to educate and try to prevent elder abuse before it takes place. That is exactly what this government has been doing.

Ads to prevent elder abuse appear regularly on many television channels in Canada. The ad campaign is, “Elder Abuse -- It's Time to Face the Reality”. I think many Canadians, including many seniors, have seen those ads.

The department responsible for seniors in Canada has many resources in place. Its website provides information on how to deal with fraud, lottery fraud, telephone fraud. There is information on credit card fraud. There is information on how to deal with suspected physical abuse of seniors.

Our government has taken many of the steps which the member opposite spoke about in her speech, in terms of advertising, educating and providing resources for seniors.

Does the member support those measures that have already been taken by the Government of Canada?

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for bringing this important information to our attention. Indeed, I support all the prevention measures to help address elder abuse. The measures that the hon. member listed are very important. However, the fact remains that there is still widespread abuse of seniors. We cannot say that the government's measures go far enough. They have to go farther. I am sure my colleague agrees with me on that. The prevention measures in place are indeed excellent, but unfortunately, they are not adequate and the numbers on every kind of abuse prove it.

I might have another solution that could help seniors. The committee finds that basic funding for non-governmental organizations is an effective way to build the necessary infrastructure for reducing elder abuse. I do not know whether this is the case in my colleague's riding, but in my riding I am faced every day with community organizations that contribute tangibly to prevention and helping seniors, that do not have enough funding to do their work. And I am talking about organizations that operate with a lot of help from volunteers and donations from the community. A little more help from the government would be welcome.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, we all recall the current government bragging recently with great fanfare about having increased the guaranteed income supplement. However, on closer inspection, that increase amounted to roughly $1.25 per person, or a little less than a coffee and a doughnut.

Failing to prevent a real decline in the financial vulnerability of seniors is consistent with what my colleague was saying when she said that the more that not-for-profit organizations that provide financial assistance to seniors are stretched in the social fabric, the less they will be able to help seniors, no matter how many tough laws we adopt.

If we do not provide basic help, if seniors become too fragile, then crime bills are not going to solve their problems. I would like to know if that is what my colleague was getting at.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have no trouble giving credit where credit is due, but when things are not done properly, they need to be criticized. First of all, not all seniors in need are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, and secondly, it is not enough to keep seniors who receive it above the poverty line.

The objective is therefore not achieved. Many seniors who depend on federal government allowances live below the poverty line. Moreover, what is given with one hand this taken back twice over with the other. While it is true that this measure is an attempt to combat elder abuse, it is also true that old age security is being attacked. That is something that will keep many seniors in poverty and hit middle-class seniors and those who are most vulnerable financially. It is just one more example of what this government is doing to promote elder abuse.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak today about Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (elder abuse), with a view to ensuring that sentences factor in the vulnerability of seniors.

It is easy for us to support this measure, particularly as we put forward a similar measure during the last election campaign. Basically, the bill provides that sentencing for a crime against a senior shall take into consideration the significant impact that the offence has on the victim because of the victim's age, health and financial situation. Such factors are considered aggravating circumstances that require a stiffer sentence.

The Criminal Code already provides similar measures for the abuse of vulnerable people. For example, abuse of a person under 18 years of age constitutes an aggravating factor in sentencing.

Many extreme cases of negligence and abuse of Canadian seniors have been given a great deal of media coverage in recent years. One recent case occurred in February 2011, when the Toronto police found a 68-year-old woman unconscious, frozen and starving in a makeshift bedroom located in her son's unheated garage. Cases like that, which are very tragic, occur everywhere in Canada.

According to two major Canada-wide studies carried out in the late 1980s and late 1990s, 4% of seniors living at home are victims of one form or another of elder abuse at the hands of a family member, with financial and property abuse being the most common forms. The second study, benefiting from a stricter methodology, suggests that 7% of seniors are being abused. Researchers say that these figures are only the tip of the iceberg.

In 2003, just under 4,000 incidents of violence against people over the age of 65 were reported. Of those, 29% were committed by family members. Even though not all incidents are reported, studies suggest that between 4% and 10% of Canadian seniors have experienced one or more forms of abuse or negligence at the hands of a person they trusted.

This is unacceptable and should not happen in a country like ours. Police statistics on crime in Quebec show that, between 2003 and 2007, while the number of property crimes fell, the number of crimes against seniors rose, particularly fraud and theft. Elderly people are more often victims of threats, robbery and criminal harassment.

Although I am happy to support this government bill, I would like to stress that it is only a first step in the fight against elder abuse. My honourable colleague said as much a moment ago.

Disadvantaged seniors are the most likely to be victims of abuse. The fight against seniors’ poverty must be one of our top priorities.

I would like to mention some statistics. Of the 10 provinces, the number of seniors on a low income is highest in British Columbia and Quebec. In 2003, between 122,000 and 567,000 seniors lived in poverty.

It is unacceptable in a country like ours that there are still seniors who are unable to live in dignity because of their financial situation.

It is clear to me that a detailed plan is required to combat elder abuse. This is why, in the last election campaign, the NDP proposed measures in collaboration with Quebec to stop elder abuse and allocate the necessary resources to a strategy that would include the following three measures: a telephone help line for seniors suffering abuse, the establishment of specialized counsellor positions in the area of elder abuse, and the amendment of the Criminal Code so that people convicted of elder abuse are sentenced appropriately.

Moreover, unlike the Conservatives who believe that a tough on crime approach is the best way to fight crime, we believe that we need to tackle the root of the problem by combating exclusion and poverty.

I would like to draw the hon. members' attention to the extraordinary work done by the organizations in my community in the riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles to combat poverty and exclusion among seniors.

We propose an increase in transfers to the provinces for home care and long-term care in order to guarantee a basic level of home care and to address the shortage of quality long-term care facilities.

We are also proposing measures to bring down drug prices and improve access to housing. However, above all, we believe that it is important to increase pensions and strengthen retirement security.

While it is important to increase old age security benefits, it is even more important to ensure that people who are entitled to government annuities have access to their due. For instance, we know that 135,000 Canadians and 45,000 Quebeckers are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but they do not receive it because the government is not doing everything it can to reach them. Of the seniors who are deprived of the GIS, 80% are women.

It was to put an end to this injustice affecting our most vulnerable seniors that I introduced Bill C-409 in March. My bill is intended to promote the automatic registration of people who are 65 years old for the guaranteed income supplement. It is unacceptable that the federal government has unfairly deprived, and continues to deprive, many seniors who are among the most vulnerable in our society of significant revenue to which they are entitled under the guaranteed income supplement. I hope that this bill will receive the support of my colleagues, regardless of their party affiliation.

As legislators, we must look at the big picture when we want to tackle a problem or an issue. This is why I would like to once again emphasize that it is only by tackling the issue of seniors' poverty that we will be able to improve their quality of life. I am thinking of the seniors in my riding who have to go to food banks in order to feed themselves, and of veterans across the country who are in the same situation.

I hope that this government will be able to connect the dots and I encourage it to consult some of the NDP's policies in order to find possible and necessary solutions. If it really wants to help seniors, I call on the government to reverse its decision to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67, a decision that Canadians across the country have spoken out against. According to a poll conducted a few weeks ago, 75% of the residents of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles are opposed to the increase in the retirement age. It is a policy that is not socially acceptable.

Because the government refuses to tackle seniors' poverty, I urge the government to consult the NDP's election platform and to consult us in order to come up with solutions that truly deal not just with elder abuse but the poverty of our seniors. Seniors must be able to live with dignity and we must look after them.

Therefore, I invite my colleagues opposite to be open to these proposals, because we must look after all our seniors, who have contributed so much to Canadian society, including all our veterans who went to war for Canada. I will now answer my colleagues' questions.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I applaud my colleague for her interest in this issue and for her comments. In the last couple of years, the government has spent a lot of money on TV ads alerting people to the issue of elder abuse and advising them to be aware of the fact this unfortunately goes on. Raising awareness is one thing, but many of the organizations in Canada that reach out and monitor many of our elderly could have used the money that was spent on those TV ads. It would be far more effective to put money into these non-profit organizations, and elsewhere, that would reach out in the local communities to help people.

In her experience, has the member seen a decrease in the number of organizations that are there to help many of the elderly?

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his comments. In my riding, community groups such as the Artisans de l'aide and others that work with this vulnerable population are having trouble keeping their doors open.

We have to invest in prevention, before the crime is committed. That is something that this government does not understand when discussing poverty. This government does not understand and spends $700 a night on a hotel room.

We have to look after our seniors by looking at the big picture. The NDP has been pointing this out all through the debate. We have to tackle poverty and other factors that make seniors vulnerable to abuse in order to truly tackle the problem.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, this has been identified as one of the major concerns of seniors in my riding in the Northwest Territories. The seniors associations there have stressed many different aspects of and solutions to this.

This bill would simply clarify some of the things that already exist in law, to allow extenuating circumstances to be used in sentencing people for particular crimes. However, does this really get at the root of what we are dealing with? On a scale of 10, how would this fit in with respect to productivity on this issue?

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would not be able to say where it fits in on a scale of one to ten, but I know that seniors living in poverty are more vulnerable to abuse, which is often carried out by family members, by people who they trust, who they live with and who are very close to them.

I do question some of the policies that the government has brought forward, notably raising the age of retirement from 65 to 67, which will prolong poverty for those seniors who are of that age. The government is unwilling to take measures to increase the guaranteed income supplement to acceptable levels to raise every senior in Canada out of poverty.

We know this is a realistic goal. We have done the calculations and looked at the situation. We know this is realistic in terms of what we can afford as a country. I would invite my colleagues across the aisle to consider this.