Elder Abuse Update

March 11, 2011 – In early March, we witnessed yet another case of elder abuse, when a grandmother was locked in a garage in freezing temperatures in Toronto. The case of the alleged elder abuse, leading to charges of failing to provide the necessities of life and criminal negligence causing bodily harm, does not need much elaboration. According to media stories, the 68-year old woman, possibly suffering from dementia and incontinence, has been living in an unheated garage over the winter months while her son, also her legal guardian, and his family lived in the house with tenants and empty bedrooms. The conditions discovered by police were appalling and the woman is now in hospital in critical condition. Click here to read the full compendium of CARP media coverage.

Unfortunately, approximately 10% of older Canadians experience some form of abuse, including financial, emotional, or physical. A CARP poll of members in 2009 revealed that almost 1-in-10 members 65 and over have suffered from elder abuse. In this group, which makes up 4.8 million people in Canada, 9% would represent 434,000. Based on current trends, within 10 years the number of Canadians 65-plus directly affected by elder abuse could exceed 700,000. Click here to read the CARP report on elder abuse

Elder Abuse cases, however, are notoriously difficult to prosecute and often result in what many see as insufficient deterrence. Part of the problem lies in the legal interpretation of existing criminal offences and another part lies in the lack of sufficient investigative support to pursue the prosecutions. And even when significant sentences are meted out, the justice system can fail us. A Moncton woman was recently paroled after serving 8 months of a 4 year sentence for letting her mother die of neglect while living under the same roof. We hailed this case as a high water mark when the original conviction and sentence was imposed. Click here to read about this case.

High profile media coverage provides some public awareness and education but a more comprehensive approach is needed. Elder Abuse, in effect, requires the full breadth of action: prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution.

In the wake of the most recent high profile discovery, CARP has called for a comprehensive approach to punish the most egregious manifestations of elder abuse but to also prevent the abuse from occurring in the first place.

CARP released our recommendations for fighting against elder abuse, targeting Julian Fantino, Minister of State for Seniors and Minister of Justice, Rob Nicholson. Click here to read the CARP press release

Our recommendations included the following:
1. Elder Abuse Hot Line – a single point of first contact: 911 or 1-800 line
2. Duty to Report – modeled on child abuse and spouse abuse protocols
3. Specialized Investigative Support for existing criminal offences
4. Use of the Exacerbated Sentencing Provision for hate crimes and breach of trust already in the Criminal Code
5. New Criminal Offence of Elder Abuse if warranted following review
6. Victim Support Services and elder shelter

Fantino agreed that sentences do not reflect the severity of the crime and prosecutors and investigators must take special note of elder abuse. But a problem as pernicious as elder abuse – and one that’s likely to grow in absolute numbers as the population ages – needs real action, not just acknowledgment.

All those who may be in a position to detect abuse, from hospitals and doctors to homecare workers, needs to know how to identify and report cases of abuse. The police need the resources and training to properly investigate cases of financial, emotional, and physical elder abuse. And, the court system needs the tools and mandate to effectively prosecute offenders.

High profile cases may temporarily captivate political and media attention, but elder abuse and its victims deserve sustained and concerted efforts to prevent, detect, investigate, and prosecute all cases of abuse.

Keywords: elder, abuse