Government introduces elder abuse bill

This article was published by The Vancouver Sun March 16th 2012.  To see this article and other related articles on The Vancouver Sun, please click here.

NDP supports legislation, but says more needs to be done from a social policy perspective

Legislation that proposes stiffer sentences for elder abuse is a good first step but more needs to be done from a social policy perspective, according to advocates and Opposition critics.

Justice Minister Rob Nichol-son made good on a Conservative election promise Thursday when he introduced Bill C-36, the Protecting Canada’s Seniors Act. It seeks to amend the Criminal Code to add age and other “personal circumstances” such as health and financial situation as “aggravating” factors that can prompt a judge to impose a harsher sentence on an individual convicted of a crime against an elderly person.

“Thousands of seniors are abused in their homes, in their relatives’ homes and in care facilities every year. We have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, including older Canadians,” Nicholson said at a Toronto seniors home shortly after the legislation was tabled in the House of Commons.

“This is one more step to make the Criminal Code more specific so that the courts have direction with respect to the abuse of seniors and so I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

The NDP agrees and is pre-pared to support the bill. But justice critic Jack Harris argued it doesn’t address some of the “root causes” of institutional abuse, such as inadequate supervision, poor pay for staff and ineffective regulation – not all of which, he admits, are within federal jurisdiction.

“One of the things that bothers me about this is this government is going to say ‘Well, we have introduced this into the Criminal Code and we’ve done our job,'” added seniors critic Irene Mathyssen. “They have not done their job. They are ignoring all the social aspects of elder abuse that we must address.”

Mathyssen argued “under-cutting” old age security and not increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement “under-mine” the financial independence of seniors and without an affordable housing strategy, “seniors are at the mercy of those who provide a roof and that is a recipe for abuse.”

CARP, a group dedicated to seniors advocacy, welcomed the government bill saying it couldn’t have come soon enough. The group cited recent cases of abuse including that of an elderly Toronto woman who alleges she was taken advantage of financially by a personal support worker and an elderly Scarborough, Ont., woman who was allegedly forced to live in an unheated garage.

“Older Canadians will take heart from this opening salvo on ending elder abuse,” spokes-woman Susan Eng said.

“Public awareness initiatives are always welcome but nothing beats a minister of justice standing up in Parliament to back up our collective opprobrium with legislative action.”

Eng added “more is needed” to “detect, investigate, prose-cute and ultimately end elder abuse” and noted CARP is also calling for a national elder abuse hotline capable of redirecting callers to local service agencies, greater financial sup-port and training for the estimated 2.7 million Canadians who care for aging loved ones at home and improved access to victim services and shelters for the elderly.

A 2009 Statistics Canada report found 154,000 Canadians over 55, or two per cent, had reported being the victim of violence in the previous 12 months. Some 333,000 senior households reported being the victim of a household crime.


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