House of Commons Hansard #163 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 17th, 2023 / 1:35 p.m.


Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Joliette, because I want to take the extra minute that he left on the table.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the second reading debate of Bill C-295, an act to amend the Criminal Code, neglect of vulnerable adults.

At the outset, I would like to start by applauding the member for Vancouver Centre for her leadership on this file and for emphasizing that caring for and protecting vulnerable persons and adults is of the utmost importance. It is an important topic of discussion, not only to me personally, but also to my constituents at my seniors community council meetings.

I would like to acknowledge the following private and public long-term care facilities, along with their staff, for the great service they have been providing to the community of Richmond Hill: the Mon Sheong Care Complex, the Revera Elginwood Long Term Care Home, the Richmond Hill Retirement Residence, Delmanor Elgin Mills, Sunrise of Richmond Hill, the Langstaff Square Care Community and Mariann Home Richmond Hill.

Protecting vulnerable residents in long-term care is a laudable and important goal, not only for me and my constituents, but also for many Canadians. This issue is of national importance. Canada's population is aging, and more persons may find themselves living in institutional care or will be in the near future. Statistics Canada reported that the number of people over the age of 65 has increased by 42% since 2010. This is the fastest-growing rate among all G7 countries. As our national demographics shift, there will likely be a corresponding increase in the number of residences offering long-term care and the number of adults residing in them.

In addition, more than one-third of women 85 years of age or over live in care facilities. In Ontario, for example, approximately 54% of residents in long-term care are over the age of 85, and approximately 10% are over 95 years old. Importantly, it is not only seniors who live in long-term care. In Ontario, 6.6% of all residents are 64 years of age or younger.

All residents have diverse needs, and we have a responsibility to protect them from abuse. We are so grateful for the many excellent health sector professionals who take care of our vulnerable populations. We want to ensure that all residents of long-term care facilities receive the high-quality service they deserve.

Beyond individual harms, we must also be mindful of systemic issues that adversely impact the quality of life of residents. Systemic practices, such as understaffing, overcrowding and insufficient resources, can all harm those whom have come to care settings precisely because they cannot receive the care they need at home. In light of these statistics and issues, Bill C-295 will address the systemic challenges and the harms that would continue to potentially impact a growing part of our population.

Our criminal law already contains a wide range of measures to address the abuse and neglect of vulnerable persons, including offences of assault, fraud and failure to provide the necessaries of life. Bill C-295 will build on this framework and improve protections in the context of long-term care accommodation. Residents of long-term care facilities accounted for 43% of the COVID–19 deaths in Canada from 2020 to 2021. They were 13 times more likely to die of COVID than non-residents 69 years of age or older.

We have seen too many harrowing situations involving seniors in recent years, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they are provided with an environment free of neglect. This is why our government doubled down on its strong leadership and action to support vulnerable adults all across the country. It will continue its collaborative work with provinces and territories to help support improvements in long-term care, including $1 billon for the creation of the safe long-term care fund and $740 million in the safe restart agreements.

On January 31, 2023, the Government of Canada welcomed the release of complementary, independent long-term care standards from the CSA Group and the Health Standards Organization, or HSO. Together, these standards provide guidance for delivering services that are safe, reliable and centred on residents' needs, that foster a healthy and competent workforce and that create safer physical environments by promoting a culture of quality improvement and learning across long-term care homes. Additionally, budget 2021 provided $3 billion over five years to support provinces and territories in their efforts to improve long-term care in their jurisdictions.

Currently, there are 2,039 long-term care homes in Canada. Forty-six per cent of them are public and 54% are private. The percentage of facilities that are public versus private varies considerably from province to province. For example, 86% of long-term care facilities in Quebec are public, while only 16% are public in Ontario. Whether for profit or otherwise, the operators of such facilities have significant responsibilities to their residents, and this bill would ensure that those responsibilities are fulfilled regardless of the environment where care is provided.

Bill C-295 would provide important new tools to respond to practices that fall below the standard expected and that put seniors and other vulnerable persons at risk. COVID-19 strained our long-term care facilities and shone a spotlight on system weaknesses, offering us a key opportunity to introduce reforms and do right by our elderly and vulnerable populations.

Bill C-295 provides us with this opportunity by introducing the following three major improvements to our Criminal Code.

First, the bill would add a category of persons in section 215 under “Duty of persons to provide necessaries”, specifically targeting owners and managers of these facilities who fail to provide the necessities of life to their residents.

Second, it would create a prohibition order against these people so that for a period of time determined by a judge, they are prohibited from seeking, accepting or keeping any employment, even as a volunteer, where they would be responsible for adults who are vulnerable.

Third, as the sentencing stage is an integral part of the criminal process, following a conviction, a judge must consider a variety of factors to determine the best sentence to impose in the circumstances of the crime committed. This means that Bill C-295 would create aggravating factors at sentencing for an organization that has failed to meet its legal obligations to a vulnerable adult.

I think the reasoning behind Bill C-295 is quite simple: that organizations have a responsibility to the vulnerable, and failure to meet this obligation must be punished in a clear and unequivocal manner.

The situation of vulnerable people in long-term care facilities has been repeatedly denounced over the past few years, with the conditions of these facilities and the care provided coming under increased scrutiny, particularly at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While law reform alone will not eliminate neglect and abuse in long-term care facilities, it will send an unequivocal and clear message.

I am proud to fight on behalf of our seniors and other vulnerable populations who use Canada's care facilities. Through this bill, we can inform all facility residents that we care about their well-being and are looking out for them. We can also support the many wonderful health sector professionals who provide care to residents every day by fixing operational problems and systemic challenges in facility management.

In closing, Bill C-295 is a crucial first step in providing a level of accountability and restoring the public's trust in Canada's long-term care system. Focusing on the role of owners and managers by proposing measures to target their criminally negligent behaviour is important. I support Bill C-295 because it recognizes the responsibility that long-term care organizations have to their residents. Neglect cannot and will not be tolerated. I urge all members to do the same.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to talk about Bill C-295 and the new offences it would create in cases of neglect of seniors. The neglect of seniors and vulnerable people is a serious problem in Canada, and abuse is endemic.

Ensuring the protection of vulnerable seniors is a very personal matter for me. My grandfather and his companion were defrauded by a caregiver. They were vulnerable seniors who were victimized by an individual who they had every reason to believe they could trust. The circumstances are sadly familiar to thousands of other families who have endured senior abuse. They spent the final months of their lives worrying about money.

My grandfather's companion of nearly 30 years not only endured my grandfather's final months of illness and death, but also feared confrontation with the individual who defrauded them and remained in their neighbourhood. She worried about running into her at the grocery store or other places. My grandfather, who was 90 years old and in ill health at the time, did not live long enough to see justice done.

The police did not treat the case as a priority despite the case being relatively simple and straightforward. There was a poster in the police station that invited members of the public to report situations of abuse. The public communication around this problem is that it is a problem and should be reported to police, yet the police are slow to act and did not act within my grandfather's remaining time alive.

My grandfather was luckier than many. He had the support of family and was not ruined financially by the fraud. The particular fraud was not sophisticated and it was detected. Eventually, charges were laid and an arrest was made. He was not injured in body and was not denied physical care, but he was a vulnerable person like so many other Canadians.

I thank the member for drawing attention to the issue of vulnerable Canadians through this private member's bill. This bill is welcomed.

Sadly, neglect does not only occur in institutional settings, but this bill would address issues where neglect within institutions occurs by making changes to the Criminal Code that would hold operators and managers of such facilities to account when they neglect to provide the necessities of life to people in their care. I think all Canadians would agree that this level of neglect is a criminal matter and ought to be a criminal matter.

This bill would also allow courts to make an order prohibiting persons charged with certain offences from working in proximity to vulnerable Canadians. That is a good step forward as well.

There is so much that could be done. With private member's bills, we are very limited in what we can do with the one chance we get if we draw a low number for Private Members' Business. I certainly do not blame the member for all the things her bill does not do. However, there are many problems that need to be addressed, including fraud, emotional abuse, violence against seniors, abuse, neglect and other harms that occur outside of institutional settings. These are pressing issues the government needs to deal with.

I am disappointed by the government in this case. It has taken a private member's bill to make any headway on this issue, despite the Minister of Justice's own mandate letter, which calls upon him to take action. His mandate letter calls upon him to finalize a proper definition for “elder abuse”. It calls upon him to get better data on this problem and to establish new offences and penalties. He has not done so. This bill from a private member will, but the government, which has said this is a priority, has failed to do so.

The bill would actually fulfill a piece of the Conservative platform that my colleagues and I were elected on, so I certainly support the member in this. It does not matter to me who gets credit in this kind of thing. We want to improve the lives of Canadians, and that is what we can often do in Private Members' Business, so I support her efforts, but I am disappointed in the government for its lack of progress in this area.

We have a minister who was tasked with this, and I wish he had spent more time on protecting vulnerable Canadians than he has on expending enormous effort on Bill C-21, where the Liberals have had to backpedal on those amendments they put forward at committee. There was Bill C-5 that the minister put forward, which would actually weaken penalties and sentencing for violent crimes and other crimes.

Therefore, it is disappointing that we do not have a minister who will take this seriously, but fortunately we do have a private member who is taking a positive step forward.

We know the vulnerabilities of seniors in institutional care, like the vulnerability to neglect. This was all laid bare during the pandemic. We heard other members comment on this. The abandonment of vulnerable seniors, the failure to supply the necessities of life to seniors, is appalling. It was appalling to many Canadians, so action needed to be taken.

It is outrageous, really, that the Canadian Armed Forces would be called in to provide care in seniors facilities. That is not the purpose of our armed forces. That is not something we would normally think of in terms of aid to civilian authority by the Canadian Armed Forces. We are thankful for their ability and the work they did, but what a failure it was, down to an individual level in some cases, and certainly a failure of the management of facilities to ensure that vulnerable Canadians are able to get the necessities of life.

On the data, the minister's own report says there is an enormous gap and a failure to understand the extent and patterns of types of abuse, but Statistics Canada knows a bit about that. It says that between 2014 and 2019 the rate of violence against seniors grew faster than for any other age cohort, so we know that violence against seniors is on the rise. We know that fraud among seniors is on the rise.

I support what this member is doing with her bill. I am glad that this House is now taking time for us to give public voice to the vulnerable and to ensure that, I hope, fewer families and fewer seniors spend their final months as victims of crime. With that, I thank the member for her private member's bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be here today as the seniors critic for the NDP to talk about Bill C-295, an act to amend the Criminal Code targeted at neglect of vulnerable adults.

This bill would do two things. First, it would amend the Criminal Code to create a specific offence for long-term care facilities, their owners and 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 the 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.

I am going to be in support of this bill. We saw dreadful outcomes during the pandemic. So many seniors across this country faced challenges that we cannot imagine and then there were deaths beyond our imagination. It is really important, as we remember this time, to remember the men and women in uniform who serve this country, who were sent in to some long-term care facilities and saw things they were horrified to see in their own country.

It is really important to understand that when we ask those in our military to step up for us, they are used to stepping up outside of our country in these kinds of circumstances. They were in this country and saw seniors who had died just because of neglect, because they were dehydrated. This is Canada and that should never happen. Those folks did a huge service to us, something I hope they never have to do in their own country again.

It is also important to point out that the vast majority of seniors never enter long-term care. That is important. I hear from the Seniors Advocate in British Columbia all the time that we should remember most people stay at home and that is where they end their lives. However, when seniors move into such facilities, families and loved ones need to know those people are safe and that standards are in place, something they can put their trust in.

We know that sometimes families move their loved ones to be closer to them from one province or territory to another. What is surprising is that the standards are different in each part of this country, which really leaves increased vulnerability. I appreciate that the government did table some long-term care standards, but the thing that was terrifying to me is that they are voluntary. A lot of good work was done in looking at those standards, making sure they made sense for long-term care, and now we see that they are voluntary.

This worries me because it provides a huge risk to seniors and the people who love them most. Again and again, we see loved ones doing the best that they can. If they live far away or there are any kinds of challenges, knowing that their loved one is in a long-term care facility and not getting the support that they want makes people feel ill.

I am going to quote something important by Candace Rennick, CUPE's national secretary-treasurer, who said:

Voluntary standards did not protect the 17,000 residents of long-term care homes who have died so far because of COVID-19. Canadians want better protections for seniors. This country needs standards that are backed by the force of law. People need to know that their loved ones will spend their last days living with dignity and respect. They need to know that there will be penalties and consequences for long-term care service providers that don’t follow the rules.

If all we have in this country is a national voluntary standard, there will never be the level of accountability that I think Canadians want to see.

This bill would amend the Criminal Code, but I am afraid that it will not do all that it must to protect seniors. We need more long-term support for them and a practice of having more accountability. What this really means to me is that when seniors die in this situation, there need to be actual charges laid, and we are not seeing that. We are seeing families taking on long-term care facilities, and that is not right. There needs to be a process and we need to start having charges laid. That is a real deterrent.

Graham Webb, executive director and former staff lawyer of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, has called the Criminal Code amendments “a very viable approach”. However, he said, “I'm really not aware of a single charge ever having being laid for the neglect of a long-term care resident. I think it’s important that the criminal justice system is able to respond when we see such flagrant cases of institutional abuse and neglect of older adults.”

I think that is startling. Even if we see a minor change to the code, it is still not fulfilling the other end, which is the actual movement toward laying those charges and holding people accountable.

Members know just as well as I do that when people are held to account, other people observing start paying attention. I think it is shameful that in this country seniors are so vulnerable that they can be sacrificed without a thought. They built our country. We owe them so much more, and we owe them dignity.

One of the things I found particularly painful in my role as the seniors critic is how many people with loved ones in a seniors facility have come to my door and talked about how hard they worked to try to look after them. They could not always be there the way they wanted to, because they had to work or because they had children. Then, when they went to visit, they saw things that horrified them, and they fought in that system the best that they could and with everything they had. Now that their loved one is gone, the pain is so raw that they do not want to talk about it because of the guilt they feel. They feel guilt because our system is broken. That is wrong, and that is why we must fix this.

To me, it goes back to the simple reality that we need to see the long-term care standards in legislation. We need to raise the bar. I get that every province and territory wants to do their own thing. I respect that, but let us make this the bar. If any province or territory wants to be higher than that bar, good for them. Let us make sure that no senior in all of Canada falls below it. Let us make sure that no family is in a position that they would think of moving their loved one from one province to another, simply so that they get better care. That is ridiculous.

I think Canadians need to listen to those on the front lines. For example, Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, noted that there has been “no consequence whatsoever” for the abuse and neglect that was exposed during the pandemic, or for the needless deaths of residents due to poor infection control and non-COVID-19 reasons, such as dehydration and starvation. How could a senior be starved to death in this country? This is Canada. She further noted, “I think we need to search our conscience if the lives of the elderly are not worth a formal government bill and real change with teeth.”

As we vote on the bill before us, which hopefully people will support because it is a small change in the right direction, I hope we all think about our commitment to the people who built this country. Those people are increasingly vulnerable as they age. Think about the hard-working families who are doing everything they can to support that loved one. Think about the fact that we still do not have legislation that has teeth so that we can make sure to support seniors as they age.

In closing, as a person who represents a rural and remote community, we also have to recognize that those in small communities often see their loved ones go far away to get long-term care. They have to travel a great distance, which means they cannot be with them. Let us all fight to make sure that wherever one's loved is, they are safe.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all members who spoke in favour of this bill.

As a physician for 22 years, I saw negligence in seniors home. I saw an inability to provide the appropriate protocols of cleanliness and the right kind of care. I saw actual abuse as well. What COVID-19 did was expose this for people other than physicians like me and for Canadians, who now see the vulnerability within the system.

We have, in the Criminal Code, the ability to protect children who are vulnerable. This bill would expand that to protect not only seniors but persons with disabilities and vulnerable adults.

I want to point out that an important thing about this bill is that we are not talking about adults who are being taken care of by their blood relatives or by people who are related to them by marriage. We are speaking of people who are taking care of three or more vulnerable adults who are not related to them by blood or marriage. We are talking about facilities, whether they are large institutions or small institutions. I think it is not just about abuse; it is about negligence and failure in the duty to protect vulnerable adults.

This is, for me, a first step. I think many people have said this is the first step, and I want to thank everyone who recognizes it as that. It is not intruding on provincial or territorial jurisdiction. This is about making those who provide care within institutions, whether they are owners or managers, actually provide that care and are accountable.

I have had patients with problems who did not have anywhere to go. Nobody was held accountable, and there were no standards to live up to. There was nothing going on. I think if we look at what happened during COVID in 2020, the scathing report from the 4th Canadian Division's joint task force really exposed all of the deficiencies within the system.

I want to thank everyone for supporting the bill. I agree with everyone that the standards set out by the CSA and the HSO are important standards. However, because they are voluntary, there is no teeth to them. Criminalizing the behaviour of owners and managers who specifically fail to do their duty toward vulnerable adults will give them some teeth. It lets people know that there is a place they can go, that people can be held accountable and that they have to live up to certain requirements.

Again, I want to thank everyone for supporting the bill. I have had calls from many members who have told me they can see ways to make it a better private member's bill at committee by adding amendments that would strengthen it, and I welcome them. I look forward to seeing this bill at committee and having people bring forward amendments that would strengthen it.

At the end of the day, this is about protecting our vulnerable adults, whether they are disabled, they are seniors or they have a chronic illness. I thank everyone for their support.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

The question is on the motion.

If a member of a recognized party present in the House wishes that the motion be carried or carried on division or wishes to request a recorded division, I would invite them to rise and indicate it to the Chair.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I request a recorded division.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

Pursuant to order made on Thursday, June 23, 2022, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 8, at the expiry of time provided for Oral Questions.

It being 2:13 p.m., the House now stands adjourned until Monday, March 6, at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

I hope everybody has a great break in their ridings.

(The House adjourned at 2:13 p.m.)