moved that Bill C-206, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (abuse of vulnerable persons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about seniors and vulnerable persons in our society, whether they are physically handicapped, have a mental condition or other. Bill C-206 focuses on the sentencing of individuals who perpetrate crimes against people specifically because of who they are: vulnerable.
The bill would amend section 718.2 of the Criminal Code by bringing further protection to seniors and other vulnerable persons to ensure that they live in safety, dignity and without fear.
As a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer for many years, I have seen many horrific crimes, brutality, theft and suicide. Fortunately for me, I have been able to take all the bad, the ugliness and the violence and push it to the back of my mind and I can forget about it. How much good we did and the people we helped save and set on the right course in life is very important to me.
However, there was always one type of crime I felt I could not accept, the lack of appropriate penalties in our Canadian Criminal Code, specifically for crimes against vulnerable persons. My bill would introduce tougher penalties for those who consciously use the weakness of vulnerable groups to financially, physically, sexually or emotionally abuse them.
It is difficult for the abused to admit to people that they are victims of abuse, especially at the hands of someone they know and trust. When trust is abused, the penalties should be severe. Perpetrators should be held to account with firm punishment. We must have harsher sentences for these types of perpetrators.
Criminals who target the elderly should know that they will not get away with it. Older people should not have to fear being targeted. We need stronger penalties to deter and tackle criminals who target the elderly and the disabled. There are hundreds of cases of abuse in which the offenders did not, in my opinion, receive fair punishment for their actions.
We should not tolerate or express any sort of sympathy toward conscious cruelty against seniors and other vulnerable groups. Their security should be of concern to us in Canada and their abuse should be treated as a human rights issue of the utmost importance.
I must point out that technically a judge already considers the vulnerability of a victim, including age and disabilities, when deciding on a sentencing term. It is just not specifically stated on paper or in the act. The bill would simply add it on paper as a requirement.
As people grow older, they become more isolated, so the risk of abuse increases. Punishment fails to deter would-be abusers who see older people as a soft target and we must do more to protect older people and vulnerable people. Bill C-206 would change that.
A large part of the Canadian population is either a senior or will soon be one, including me. I am already there. The demographic data released by Statistics Canada in the 2016 census shows there are approximately 5.9 million seniors in Canada.
According to government statistics, by 2031, around eight million people will be aged 65 or older. That will be almost a quarter of Canada's population. Many Canadians require care and assistance, and that number is only growing.
Offenders who exploit their weaknesses for their self-benefit and decrease the self-worth and dignity of vulnerable adults and seniors must face greater punishments in law. Statistics provided by the Department of Justice state that approximately 24% of disabled persons were victimized at least one in their lives and about 45% of seniors aged 65 and older reported experiencing some form of abuse. This is scary, especially when a quarter of our population will be in that age bracket very shortly.
However, according to the Canadian Association for Retired Persons, only 20% of elder abuse comes to the attention of responsible authorities. Why? Because many of the victims do not want to report the abuse for various reasons. These reasons include the dependence upon a caregiver who is abusive, fear of not being believed or even deep shame and humiliation because of what happened to them.
Moreover, in 32% of the reported elder abuse cases, the offender is related to the victim as a child or an extended family member. That is shocking. We can only imagine how many cases of such abuse remain unreported as the elderly are reluctant to bring charges against their family members or relatives.
It is therefore the responsibility of all of us in the House of Commons to protect those who cannot stand up for themselves by adopting measures that would deter potential offenders from committing these crimes. This is exactly what my bill is designed to do. Adopting it would mean two things: prescribing tougher penalties for the offenders and justice for the victims.
Bill C-206 covers four forms of abuse: financial, physical, sexual and emotional. I will speak about each to show how they affect vulnerable people.
The first is financial abuse, one of the most common forms of abuse against vulnerable groups.
In 2014, CBC News reported that Toronto police arrested a wife and husband who defrauded a 94-year-old woman, within four years, of $25,000 in cash, jewellery and furniture. The wife was hired as a housekeeper and became involved in the everyday activities of this victim. At some point, she forced the elderly lady into a smaller room and moved into the apartment with her husband. If it were not for a courier from a local pharmacy who, during his weekly deliveries, noticed that something was wrong when an unknown person answered the door, the consequences for that woman could have been more grave than just the money.
Under the Department of Justice, not a single reported Canadian case contains a definition of “elder abuse”. In fairness, there are some cases where the extreme age of the victim was taken into the sentencing factor, which is very good. However, my bill, Bill C-206, would take away the use of discretionary decisions and make it mandatory for the sentence to be increased due to the fact the aggravated crime was committed against a vulnerable person. This is not new in Canadian law. It is missing in certain parts of the Criminal Code and I want it to be used more broadly, especially for the crimes about which I have been talking.
In another example in the same year, 3,000 kilometres away in Edmonton, Global News wrote an article on a man who was accused of defrauding his grandmother of $265,000. He acted as his grandmother's attorney under a power of attorney agreement.
Fraud and financial abuse in general can occur not only among family members, but also with people who the victims trust the most. These cases are connected to the victim's trust and dependancy on the caregiver who is abusing the victim and, due to the simple fear of being physically abused, the victim will not report the caregiver. This is not acceptable today. These abuses are happening because offenders do not get fair punishments. They rely on the vulnerability of others and take advantage of them.
Physical abuse is the second form of abuse I want to address.
Statistics show that people with disabilities are more likely to be assaulted compared to people with no disabilities. Another disturbing case happened in Ottawa involving a personal support worker who pleaded guilty to assault charges for an incident at a retirement home. He delivered 10 punches to an 89-year-old man suffering from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
In my many years in law enforcement, this is one of the worst types of crimes I have ever encountered. Should such offenders be treated equally to those assaulting healthy and capable people? I do not think so. Their punishments should reflect the gravity of their crimes. Currently, those abusers, even if convicted, rarely get punished.
Advocates for people with disabilities have confirmed that vulnerable groups are often abused. If we look back at the report that came out yesterday, people who are vulnerable are being picked on.
In October 2014, the CBC posted a story about a 19-year-old mentally disabled woman being sexually assaulted on a bus in Winnipeg, while her support worker was sitting a couple of rows ahead. I am a father and a grandfather. To me, a 19-year-old is still a child. What this child experienced was traumatic for both her and her parents. She has a right to be safe. That is why we need a stronger law.
In the spring of 2017, a support worker in Ontario walked away with a guilty plea for only one count of assault and no criminal record in exchange for the court withdrawing 13 counts of sexual assault.
We need to be stiffer in our penalties. This is where my bill, Bill C-206, would come into play. The vulnerable in our society should enjoy an increased level of protection. They need to be confident in our legal system and must be assured that those who would try to use their vulnerability will always get a fair punishment.
The last but not least form of abuse I would like to cover today is the emotional or psychological form of abuse. I would like to add that all previously discussed forms of abuse are very much connected to emotional abuse in the sense that they have a great psychological effect on the victims.
There is no dignity in disrespecting a vulnerable person. There is no dignity in taking advantage of a vulnerable person. It is a crime and it must be punished in a greater way than it is being punished now. The cases I have talked about are not single cases; there are hundreds of them out there.
How do we change this? Canada needs harsher penalties for those who exploit vulnerable people and take advantage of their weaknesses. Tougher penalties for the abuse of vulnerable persons would make abusers think twice before committing these kinds of offences and would provide more safety for those who cannot protect themselves.
My bill would ensure that those criminals who would disrespect and use the weakness of others would not be able to get away with a simple conviction or a guilty plea, leaving the families and friends of victims desperate and disappointed in our criminal justice system.