Couple accused of keeping woman, 68, in garage remanded into custody

Originally published in the Globe and Mail on March 15th, 2011. To go to the Globe and Mail website please click here

A Toronto couple accused of keeping an elderly woman in a freezing garage for months this winter have been remanded into custody.

Kwong Yan, 43, and his wife, Qi Tan, 28, appeared separately Tuesday via video link in a Toronto courtroom, facing charges of failure to provide the necessities of life and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. The couple’s next court appearance will be April 14.

His 68-year-old mother was suffering from frostbitten toes in the family’s Scarborough garage. Police allege the woman, who suffers from dementia, was underfed.

Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy at CARP, a national organization for older Canadians, said this case highlights the need for a unique charge in cases of elder abuse in the Criminal Code of Canada.

“As a society, we’re now far more open to talking about the hidden crimes of spousal abuse and child abuse,” Ms. Eng said. “Now we need to do the same for elder abuse. … the current law is clearly not robust enough to signal society’s abhorrence for this crime.”

Police authorities say that roughly 4 to 10 per cent of older Canadians face some form of elder abuse – a percentage CARP suggests is “significant underreporting.”

Minister of Seniors Julian Fantino said the Criminal Code already has provisions to prosecute abusers of the elderly, but he is open to the idea of a review.

“Based on my 40-plus years of police service, I can tell you that elder abuse is not a novelty or something new we are just hearing about,” he said. “But I feel the Criminal Code does deal with crimes against seniors through assault and neglect.”

South of the border, the U.S. Congress is considering the Elder Abuse Victims Act, a bill that proposes to improve law enforcement’s ability to pursue and prosecute crimes against seniors.

With the rising public awareness of elder abuse, police services across Canada are also mobilizing. British Columbia pairs police officers with social workers who know how to approach traumatized seniors. In Ontario, Hamilton Police has the only dedicated squad committed to investigating crimes against seniors, Detective Mike Page said.

“A lot of police services have support officers for seniors, but not necessarily an investigative unit that looks at crimes against them,” he said. Police in Hamilton – where approximately 23 per cent of the population is over 60 – has had the Crimes Against Seniors Unit in place since 1995.

“We’re extremely busy all the time, but the trouble is often in establishing grounds for criminality,” Det. Page said. “This is really uncharted territory.”

© The Globe and Mail

Keywords: elder, abuse, crime