Couple charged with elder abuse remains in custody

Originally published iCTV News on March 1st, 2011. To go to the CTV News website please click here

A Toronto man and his wife who are accused of forcing his mother to live in a freezing garage remained in custody on Tuesday after being denied bail on charges of prolonged elder abuse.

Kwong Yan, 43, and Qi Tan, 28, appeared in a Scarborough court via video link on Tuesday to face charges of failing to provide the necessities of life and criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

A 68-year-old woman remained in critical condition in hospital on Tuesday, nearly a week after police found her unconscious, freezing and starving in a makeshift bedroom set up inside a non-insulated garage.

Paramedics were called to a home in the McCowan Road and Finch Avenue East area in Scarborough on Wednesday and found the unconscious woman suffering from frostbite. Police said a follow-up investigation determined that the woman had been living in the garage since November.

Det. Sgt. Mike Stones told reporters on Monday that the woman was sleeping on a mattress on top of a sheet of plywood and had been provided with one blanket for warmth. She was given a bucket of water as a wash basin, very little food and a port-a-potty that was not properly maintained.

Police allege the garage was not adequately heated, leaving the woman to suffer through several months of bitter winter weather.

The woman had been declared legally incompetent and placed under her son’s care in the fall of 2010.

The couple and their seven-year-old daughter lived inside the home with two tenants. Two bedrooms sat empty inside the house, one of which had direct access to a bathroom.

The family was originally from mainland China but are now Canadian citizens, Stones said.

Yan and Tan were arrested on Friday and are being held in the Toronto East Detention Centre and Vanier Centre respectively. The case has been remanded until March 15 to allow time for prosecutors to prepare disclosure.

Susan Eng, from the age advocacy group CARP, said that more has to be done to protect seniors, including enacting stiffer penalties.

“We need to find ways in which the system can help out,” she told CTV News Channel Tuesday.

“The current criminal code doesn’t do the trick,” she said, noting that related sentences are short and take too long to go through the courts.

Eng said that many cases of elder abuse go unreported, because others are loath to step into what many feel is a family concern.

She likened the issue to spousal abuse and child abuse, which at one point were also seen as a private matter between family members.

While more support for homecare workers and family members dealing with dementia can also help, the “heavy hand of the law” may be the only way to deter abuse of the elderly, Eng said.

CARP is also calling for a toll-free number to be set up nationally to deal as “a single-point of first contact” for reporting cases.