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.