No bail for couple charged in elder abuse case

Originally published in the Toronto Star on March 1st, 2011. To go to the Toronto Star website please click here

A Toronto couple will spend at least two more weeks in police custody after allegedly leaving a 68-year-old woman in an unheated garage all winter.

Kwong Yan, 43, and Qi Tan, 28, were arrested Feb. 25 and charged with failing to provide the necessities of life and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. The combined charges carry a 15-year maximum sentence.

Neither displayed any emotion as they appeared in a Scarborough courtroom via video link from separate detention centres on Tuesday. Each has been remanded in custody until a March 15 court appearance.

Paramedics found the woman unconscious and suffering from frostbite in the uninsulated garage of a Scarborough home on Feb. 23. She was taken to hospital where she remains in life-threatening condition after suffering a stroke.

Her skin was cold to the touch and her stomach was empty, police said.

It is alleged that her son and daughter-in-law moved her into the attached garage of their large, two-storey corner house on Marrakesh Dr. in November. The couple lives with their 6-year-old daughter and both their mothers.

The woman appears to suffer from dementia and was declared legally incompetent in the fall, said Det. Sgt. Mike Stones. Her son was named as her guardian. Since then, she has been living in “deplorable” conditions in a garage near McCowan Rd. and Finch Ave. E., Stones said.

Officers described being “taken aback” by the smell of urine when they entered the garage.

The couple’s lawyer said he will “vigorously defend” the allegations. David Hao refused to comment on the case but said his clients were “fairly distraught” when they sought his counsel last week.

He told reporters he was preparing a bail review.

“Obviously they were fairly distraught. Mr. Yan has only one mother, his father passed away years back, so I believe he was quite upset at his mother’s illness,” Hao said.

A national seniors’ advocacy group has called on the federal government to add the charge of elder abuse to the Criminal Code. Cases where seniors are severely neglected, malnourished and live in squalor, “happen, unfortunately, more often than we’d like to think,” said CARP vice president Susan Eng.

“Maybe we need the heavy hand of the law, after all,” Eng said.

Stones called the case one of the worst examples of elder abuse he has ever witnessed.

“I’m disgusted,” he said, adding the house has four bedrooms, two of which were vacant at the time.

The woman had been sleeping on a mattress in the “makeshift bedroom,” Stones said.

The only heating source was a “modified dryer vent” connected to a furnace inside the house, Stones said. To relieve herself, the woman was given a box of diapers and a port-a-potty. Her “washing facilities” consisted of a bucket of water. When she was found, the only food in the room was a piece of bread.

Stones said the woman had a room on the main floor until she was relocated to the garage around early November. He said her former room has been “converted for other uses” and now has a computer desk and some toys.