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.