The Globe and Mail stated last Thursday that:
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson took aim at people abusing Canadian seniors Thursday, introducing legislation that would mean tougher sentences for those convicted of the crime.
The bill makes age-related abuse an aggravating factor in sentencing, so those convicted would face harsher penalties. Other forms of abuse of vulnerable persons are already covered by similar measures.
“Our government has a responsibility to protect elderly Canadians and to ensure that crimes against them are punished appropriately,” said Nicholson in a statement. “This legislation will help ensure tough sentences for those who take advantage of vulnerable members of our society.”
The elder abuse prevention network was pleased by the concern the government has placed on preventing elder abuse, nonetheless, they felt that these provisions would not help. They commented this way:
“I appreciate the passion the government has placed in this area generally, but this particular provision is completely unnecessary and will end up doing more harm,” said Charmaine Spencer, a lawyer specializing in abuse and neglect and the former chair of Canadian Network for Elder Abuse Prevention.
Statistics Canada data shows that one-third of reported violence committed against older adults is done by family members like spouses or grown children. The federal agency also notes the true extent of elder abuse is unknown because not all is reported.
“Sometimes they don’t let somebody else know because they don’t want their family member to go to jail,” said Spencer. “If you increase the sentences, what the effect is going to be is to reinforce that.”
Spencer said the federal government should instead invest in resources to help seniors get out of these situations or endorse alternative sentences, so people will be more likely to come forward.
Judith Wall, an attorney for the Advocacy Center for the Elderly stated:
Wahl, agreed the law could deter seniors from coming forward.
“The person is going to say, ‘I don’t want my loved one going away for X amount of years,” she said.
Another common complication is that the senior may be dependent on their abuser for care and would be left without support if they reported them.
“What we are seeing is that people become dependent on others, or they can be taken advantage of because they have needs that need to be taken care of others,” she said.
CARP, one of Canada's largest senior's organizations welcomed the law while Teri Kay from the Ontario Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse stated:
new legislation is important and could actually increase the number of people, although not necessarily abused elders, reporting the crimes.
“People who have a responsibility to seniors, be they professionals, friends or neighbours, they may take stronger action than not reporting it at all,” said Kay.
All advocates agree a focus on prevention should come along with changes to prosecution.
“We need interventions and safety measures that help seniors bring these stories to light, so resolutions can be found before they reach the level of charges and criminality,” said Kay.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition urges the federal government to view this act as a one of many steps that are necessary toward eliminating the scourge of elder abuse in our culture. The fact is that we need:
1. Supply support homes and emergency shelters for people who are being abused.
We need to be able to place seniors who are being abused into a safe-place where they are protected.
2. We need to train judges, lawyers, police officers, etc to identify elder abuse in their communities.
3. We need inter-disciplinary teams who can identify and testify in cases of severe elder abuse cases.
4. We need alternative approaches that will help keep families together while dealing with the problem of abuse.
5. While increasing sentencing the government needs to recognize that very few cases of elder abuse are prosecuted because the legal system hasn't recognized the problem of elder abuse.
The most important action the government can take is by implementing a national elder abuse prevention strategy that is operated under a National Elder Abuse and Awareness Office.