Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here in the House to speak to this bill. As a member of the official opposition who sits on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I am participating in the debate at third reading, after the tabling of the House committee's report on Bill C-36.
Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, has to do with elder abuse, a problem the NDP is very aware of. As the official opposition critic, my distinguished colleague from Pierrefonds—Dollard, pointed out during her speech in this House on April 27, 2012, that Canada is facing an aging population, much like other countries in the world. According to Statistics Canada, the number of seniors in Canada is expected to grow from 4.2 million to 9.8 million between 2005 and 2036. In 2051, it is projected that seniors over the age of 65 will make up one-quarter of the Canadian population.
I would like to quote what my hon. colleague said:
Our society is enriched by its seniors, who still contribute a great deal to society by volunteering, sharing precious time with their families, helping their friends and neighbours, and investing directly in their communities and their surroundings.
...we need to ensure that the government and its programs adapt to the situation so that everyone can continue to live with dignity until they reach the end of their lives, without any problems. This is possible.
One of the challenges facing seniors is abuse, and this bill is a first step. It amends paragraph 718.2(a) of the Criminal Code regarding the principles for determining a sentence. In other words, the judge takes into account aggravating or mitigating circumstances, as applicable, before determining the sentence. Bill C-36 would add an aggravating circumstance to the Criminal Code. The proposed amendment reads as follows:
(iii.1) evidence that the offence had a significant impact on the victim, considering their age and other personal circumstances, including their health and financial situation,
This wording highlights certain elements regarding the victim, such as age, health and financial situation, among other things.
The NDP supported Bill C-36 at second reading and then proposed the adoption of two amendments. One of these amendments concerned the short title in the French version, and I am pleased to say that it was accepted. The title in French is “Loi sur la protection des personnes aînées au Canada”. However, the second amendment was rejected outright. As my colleague from Gatineau pointed out, the Conservatives unfortunately rejected the second amendment, but “significant impact” is being retained. We will see in practice what results from this, but it bodes ill in terms of interpretation by the courts.
According to a report of the ad hoc Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care, between 4% and 10% of seniors are victims of abuse. These numbers need to be treated with caution, however, because seniors who are being abused rarely report it, whether out of fear, shame or guilt. The relationship between the victim and the person committing an offence against a senior may also greatly complicate the situation. This is a particularly sensitive issue when the person in question is a family member, friend or caregiver.
Although the NDP will vote in favour of this bill, the official opposition party believes that additional measures are needed to curb elder abuse. These various measures would be implemented in collaboration with the provinces and territories. For example, having a telephone helpline for seniors who are being abused and professionals who specialize in this field would meet the needs of this growing segment of Canada's population.
Apart from all these measures, it must not be forgotten that within this segment of the population, approximately 250,000 people live in poverty, according to Conference Board of Canada figures. Things have to be done to ensure that the elderly can live in dignity, which requires government commitment to income security, affordable housing and health care.
Increasing transfers to the provinces for education, health care and social services, not to mention appropriate funding for NGOs and NPOs that work with the elderly, is the real solution and the way to proper prevention. What is needed is an improvement in the social fabric.
The official opposition supports this bill, but emphatically wishes to state that governments are responsible for adopting an appropriate approach to seniors, who have contributed socially and economically to society throughout their lives.
I believe that a long-term comprehensive strategy, as pointed out by my hon. colleague from Pierrefonds—Dollard, would be better. Mention was also made of protection before abuse begins, rather than afterwards. Appropriate efforts towards awareness, forms of prevention that can end isolation and support the elderly, appropriate training for all the stakeholders in the legal system and more services for seniors are all measures that would contribute to the well-being of seniors and minimize abuse. We need to remember that everyone will be a senior one day and that all can become victims of mistreatment whatever their sex, race, ethnic origin, income or educational background.
To conclude, for all these reasons, the official opposition supports this bill, even though we find it wholly inadequate and incomplete. It does not provide a comprehensive vision of how to solve the problem of elder abuse.