A new Bill introduced in the House of Commons proposes changes to the Criminal Code of Canada aimed at imposing stiffer penalties on perpetrators of elder abuse.
Bill C-36, the Protecting Canada’s Seniors Act, will amend the Criminal Code’s sentencing provisions to add age and other personal circumstances of the victim including health and financial situation as aggravating factors warranting increased sentences. Promoters say that the changes would prompt judges to impose harsher penalties in cases of elder abuse.
However critics have said that it fails to address the root causes of elder abuse, such as low pay for caregivers, ineffective regulation of institutions, weak social security, and lack of affordable housing for seniors. Some of these issues, however, would have to be addressed at the provincial level.
Clearly Bill C-36 will not address situations which fall short of criminal activity. It also only applies once abuse has occurred, and does little to prevent it.
As estate litigators, we frequently deal with situations where a vulnerable elderly person has allegedly been taken advantage of by a caregiver or family member. The majority of these cases are considered “civil matters” which means that the elderly person, or another interested party, would have to initiate civil proceedings. And as MP Jean Crowder pointed out in a recent article, many seniors are not going to take steps to report abuse because they are dependent on the care provided by their abusers.
Although Bill C-36 is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to protect vulnerable seniors from all forms of abuse.
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.
Learn more about the new legislation here.