Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise a second time here today to speak to another bill.
I am speaking today on behalf of all Canadian seniors. Like others before them, they have built our country. They have contributed to society and created an open, warm, modern, caring society that does not leave anyone behind.
My grandparents raised their children, worked hard their whole lives and shared their knowledge and wisdom with their community. Now they are both over 85 years old, and like millions of other Canadian seniors, they still contribute to society through their experience, volunteer work and social and political involvement. They are productive members of society, and the last thing I would ever want is for them to be mistreated or neglected. I shudder at the very thought of my grandparents going through something like that.
Unfortunately, seniors can suffer from more serious physical disabilities, be more emotionally vulnerable and be financially dependent on others more often than younger adults. As a result, through no fault of their own, many Canadian seniors can become the victims of abuse.
Mr. Speaker, pardon me, but I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
According to Statistics Canada and a number of organizations that advocate on behalf of seniors, one in ten seniors has suffered some form of abuse in Canada, which is significant. I are talking about 10% of seniors in Canada. And that number is just the tip of the iceberg since only one in five cases of abuse is reported by the victims.
Worse yet, according to a study by the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal, 800 seniors in Quebec died as a result of neglect between 2005 and 2007. I am talking about 800 people. That is a lot of people, but, in my opinion, one person is too many.
That is why the NDP supports Bill C-36, which partially—I repeat, partially—answers the requests we made during the 2011 election campaign.
I want to work with all parties in order to make our country a safe place for our seniors. Unfortunately, the bill before us here does not do enough to properly protect the men and women who built our country. Protecting them also means providing them with income security, affordable housing, access to universal pharmacare, home care and health care, all of which are sadly missing from Bill C-36.
One of the other things that is missing from this bill is gender-based analysis that would take into consideration the fact that older women do not experience violence and neglect the same way older men do.
As chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, I tabled the committee's report on the abuse of older women in late May 2012. According to the report, the number of older women is and will continue to be greater than the number of older men. Even if the rate of victimization is the same, the number of abused women will always be greater than the number of abused men. In addition to the fact that their numbers are greater, women live longer and are more likely to have some disability that makes them more vulnerable to injury or abuse.
In fact, two-thirds of calls received by agencies dealing with elder abuse in Canada are from women. There are a number of reasons why women are victimized more often.
First, more than half of the 250,000 seniors living in poverty are women. Elderly women tend to have more limited financial resources. In 2008, the average income of elderly women was $24,100 a year compared to $38,100 for men. The ensuing financial dependence may contribute to financial exploitation and abuse, and also to the reluctance of women to report the abuse. In short, it is a vicious circle.
The absence of a national housing strategy that would enable elderly women to have access to safe, adequate, accessible and affordable housing, often forces these women to remain the objects of violence and prevents them from reporting cases of abuse. Once again, women are caught in between a rock and a hard place.
Elderly women are also victims of the lack of coordination between various levels of government. The current bill is a glaring example of this, unfortunately. Rather than offering a partnership with provincial social services in order to develop programs that encourage elderly women to understand and report situations of victimization, the federal government is doing the bare minimum.
Let us be honest, Bill C-36 makes only a minor change to the Criminal Code. It provides no support and no tools for the organizations, professionals and other stakeholders that assist seniors.
I am currently a member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. However, the non-partisan Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care also made several arguments and recommendations in its report. Indeed, the report entitled, “Not to Be Forgotten: Care of Vulnerable Canadians,” dedicates a section to the abuse of seniors.
We obviously support this bill, but it must not pass completely untouched. My colleagues and I are in a position where we are forced to implore the government to not only listen to us and people in need, but also to listen to its own committees.
We concur with the sentiments expressed in the committee's report on palliative care: all sectors of society must band together and make a huge, concerted effort. The federal government must not act alone.
Something must also be done with regard to housing for seniors, and in particular, for elderly women. Elderly women must enjoy autonomy in order to overcome systematic sexual discrimination. The lack of housing strips elderly women of their status and autonomy.
The New Democrats recommend that the federal government work with the provinces and territories to establish a national housing strategy in order to provide all Canadians with safe, adequate, accessible and affordable housing that meets the needs of elderly women, among others, and prevents cases of abuse, violence and mistreatment.
In closing, the government has well and truly taken the first step by incorporating one of the 15 recommendations in the report by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women on the abuse of elderly women, but it is far from sufficient.
To put an end to elder abuse—our elders being full members of our society, I would point out, and deserving of our respect—we have to define that abuse, coordinate the efforts of all levels of government and provide adequate housing for all seniors, particularly women. To do that, we need a national housing strategy, as I said earlier.
The NDP is offering concrete solutions that have also been recommended by two parliamentary committees. Unfortunately, this government has chosen not to put those solutions into practice. Our former leader reminded us not just to oppose, but to propose.
We are proposing solutions to the government. We want to work with it. It is up to it to listen to them and work with us.