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.