Madam Speaker, I am pleased, as always, to stand and speak on behalf of the people of Vancouver Kingsway, bringing their concerns, ideas, hopes and aspirations to this chamber.
As health critic for the New Democratic Party, I am always happy to see a bill that addresses the state of health in our country and proposes a solution. This bill is very specific. Bill C-295, an act to amend the Criminal Code, targeted at the neglect of vulnerable adults, would do two things.
First, it would:
[amend] the Criminal Code to create a specific offence for long-term care facilities, their owners and their managers to fail to provide the necessaries of life to residents of the facilities.
Second, it would:
[allow] the court to make an order prohibiting the owners and managers of such facilities from being, through employment or volunteering, in charge of or in a position of trust or authority towards vulnerable adults and to consider as an aggravating factor for the purpose of sentencing the fact that an organization failed to perform the legal duty that it owed to a vulnerable adult.
All Canadians were horrified over the last two years to see residents in Canada's long-term care homes living in the deplorable and, frankly, outrageous conditions that so many of the people who built this country are forced to live in. We saw how seniors in long-term care homes have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Canada, long-term care residents accounted for 43% of all COVID-19 deaths.
Between March 1, 2020, and August 15, 2021, over 56,000 residents and 22,000 staff in Canada's long-term care and retirement homes were infected with COVID-19, resulting in more than 14,000 deaths among staff and residents. Frankly, the most astounding figure that I saw was that Canada had the worst record of all OECD countries, the highest percentage of deaths in long-term care homes on a per capita basis of any OECD country. That speaks to a deplorable and long-standing issue in our long-term care sector.
Throughout the pandemic, there was a difference between for-profit long-term care facilities and public or non-profit facilities. The for-profit facilities had much worse patient outcomes than not-for-profit homes in general. According to an analysis by the Toronto Star, residents of for-profit facilities have been more three times as likely to catch COVID-19 as those in a non-profit facility, and for-profit facilities have seen more than twice as many staff infections per bed. Resident deaths have also been more common in for-profit facilities.
All Canadians were stunned when we saw that the provinces of Ontario and Quebec had to call for the Canadian Armed Forces to be deployed in some of the hardest-hit long-term care homes across Canada, where they documented horrific accounts of inhumane treatment, abuse and substandard care. “Assault” is not too strong a word.
According to the CAF reports, residents in two Ontario nursing homes died not from COVID-19, but from dehydration and neglect. The stories were documented by soldiers. I have read those documented notes of CAF soldiers, who simply wrote down in unembellished form what they saw when they entered those homes. They read like a horror story from a third world. They found residents lying in bed in soiled underpants. They found instructions that care aides were not allowed to change the bedding on a bed for 24 or 48 hours, even when the patient had an incontinence problem. Incorrect medications were given to patients. Patients were malnourished and were not fed properly. This was simply outrageous.
I want to make the point that COVID did not cause these problems. COVID exposed these problems in Canada's long-term care sector.
To date, more than 30 proposed class actions have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic across Canada, and several of them allege that the owners and operators of long-term care and retirement facilities failed to take appropriate health and safety measures to protect their residents from COVID-19. Several provincial governments have adopted legislation limiting the potential liability of long-term care owners and operators.
For example, under the Supporting Ontario's Recovery Act, 2020, plaintiffs now need to show that those operating long-term care centres were grossly negligent to avoid statutory liability protection. That is a higher standard than applies to ordinary negligence claims. In this country, what provincial Conservative governments have done is to act not to protect the vulnerable patients in long-term care homes, but to protect the managers and owners of those long-term care homes who were responsible for unbelievable incidents of abuse and neglect. That is shameful.
The courts have not yet considered the meaning of “gross negligence” under that legislation, but the phrase has been defined by the Supreme Court of Canada going back 80 years. I can state that it is a very marked departure from the generally required standard of care or even simple negligence.
Under section 215 of the Criminal Code, it is currently an offence for a person to fail to provide the necessaries of life to a person under his or her charge if that person is “unable by reason of detention, age, illness, mental disorder or other cause, to withdraw himself from that charge,” and “is unable to provide themselves with necessaries of life”, and “the failure to perform the duty endangers the life of the person to whom the duty is owed or causes or is likely to cause the health of that person to be injured permanently.” That is a very high standard, because it requires death or a permanent injury to be the foreseeable outcome.
Bill C-295 would create a specific offence under section 215 of the Criminal Code where a person is an owner or manager of a long-term facility and fails to provide necessaries of life to residents of the facility, and where “the failure to perform the duty endangers the life of the person to whom the duty is owed or causes or is likely to cause the health of that person to be injured permanently”.
We have some concerns about even that test, but the point is that bringing the attention of Canadians and members of the House to the deplorable conditions in the long-term care sector in this country is a valuable and worthy exercise of our time in this place. Anything that we can do to address that is needed.
We think that Canada's New Democrats have a much better and more structured approach to this problem. We want to end for-profit long-term care and bring long-term care homes under the public umbrella.
Long-term care is part of our health care system. When seniors are in hospital, they are in a health care system. Very often after that they are transferred to a long-term care home and suddenly they drop off the health map. That is incomprehensible and it endangers these people. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the reality that for-profit companies cannot be reliably counted on to protect our loved ones and keep workers safe.
We also believe that the victims of negligence in Canada's long-term care facilities deserve justice. That is why, due to the confidence and supply agreement, the one that the Conservatives scoff at, the New Democratic Party was able to force the Liberals to commit to tabling a safe long-term care act, to ensure that seniors are guaranteed the care they deserve no matter where they live.
I was in this House for nine years of the Conservative government. It never passed a long-term care act. With the current government, in the seven years since the Liberals have been in power, they have never passed a long-term care act. It took the New Democrats to come to this House and demand that on behalf of Canada's seniors. That is a positive step that we look forward to enshrining in this place.
Although Bill C-295 is a step in the right direction, it of course will not solve the problem. Rather than addressing the issues through a private member's bill, Canada's New Democrats expect the Liberal government to honour the confidence and supply requirements through government legislation. We will be present for that.
Finally, the Liberal Party promised in the last election to invest $6.8 billion in long-term care, $1.7 billion to ensure personal support workers are paid $25 an hour and $500 million to train personal support workers. That money has not flowed yet and New Democrats are calling on the government to honour its commitments and start putting money into the long-term care sector so that every senior in this country, no matter where they are, gets access to safe, quality, long-term care as their age and their contributions to our society so dearly benefit and deserve.