Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today in support of a very important piece of legislation, private member's bill, Bill C-206, an act to amend the Criminal Code to expand powers ensuring protection against the abuse of vulnerable persons, such as the elderly and people with various disabilities, put forward by my friend, the member of Parliament for Yellowhead.
Our criminal justice system needs to be strengthened to protect the most vulnerable in our society. This legislation looks to close some of the gaps in our system that negatively impact vulnerable Canadians across our country every day.
The physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse of a person over the age of 65 or a person with a mental or physical disability should be considered an aggravating circumstance. This legislation would ensure criminals who take advantage of vulnerable persons get stricter sentences for their crimes.
First, I would like to discuss elder abuse. Elder abuse can take many forms, and both the mental and physical impairments seniors face increase their vulnerability in our society. Roughly 8% to 10% of seniors in Canada experience elder abuse. This means over 750,000 seniors have been subject to unfair physical, financial or psychological abuse. Elder abuse is severely under-reported in Canada, with an estimated 20% of abuse victims never coming forward and never receiving the justice they deserve.
Looking for the appropriate care in their later years, our elderly often unknowingly entrust their finances, health and futures into the hands of individuals who do not have their best interests at heart. I have heard stories of caregivers stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the purses of their wards. I have heard of physical abuse cases going largely unreported. I have heard of elderly couples afraid to report their injustices for fear of losing their homes and their independence.
In my riding, an elderly gentleman living alone in a remote area had his home broken into. The robbers stole his precious belongings and beat him to the point where he had to be hospitalized. Though the perpetrators were later caught, they were released after only serving part of their sentence. After their release, those same criminals went back to the elderly man's home and beat him again to within an inch of death. That elderly man will now spend the rest of his life in a nursing home, as the injuries he sustained took away his independence entirely.
Our broken system does not have strict enough sentences for criminals, and it is failing victims. It is not just individuals perpetrating crimes of elder abuse. Studies show abuses are taking place in over 99% of care homes across the country. These bonds of both necessity and trust are too often taken advantage of by ill-fitted caregivers.
We need to put more legislation in place to protect our most vulnerable, as our elderly are our family and friends. Some victims are dependent on their caregivers, some fear retaliation and social shaming, some fear they will not be believed by resource providers and others do not nave the right tools at their disposal to report elder abuse, being impaired by their own disabilities to an extent to which they cannot reach out.
One day we will all be in their shoes. We need to act today to ensure a better future for all Canadians in their golden years.
Canadians who suffer from various mental or physical disabilities are also at risk of abuse. Imagine people living their lives, unable to fully care of themselves, having their independence stripped away at no fault of their own, and being forced to entrust their lives into the hands of others.
People with disabilities are twice as likely to be abused than any other group. In fact, people with disabilities are more likely to experience workplace, domestic, medical, financial and sexual abuse than any other demographic. Instances of abuse against Canadians with disabilities are on the rise. Forty per cent of incidents of violent crime happen to people with disabilities.
Much like elder abuse, people with disabilities are most often abused by people they know. Caregivers, spouses, common-law partners or other family members are the most common perpetrators of this crime.
Alberta's human services website provided testimony from a man living in an apartment building for persons with disabilities. He spoke on his experiences with assisted care. He wrote, “When the person who is supposed to be my care aide came in the morning to help me get up and dressed, we had a disagreement. We argued for a while. And then the care aide looked at me and said, 'So did you want to get out of bed today?'” Too many caregivers are using a victim's dependence as a bargaining tool to ensure they get what they want, rather than providing the best care possible.
There needs to be stricter punishment for the mental, physical and psychological harm this abuse leaves its victims. The abuse of vulnerable persons is too often overlooked at the national level and the signs of abuse are easily missed. Anyone can become a victim of abuse, including our mothers, fathers, children, neighbours and friends. We need the right tools to recognize abuse and put a stop to it now.
Aside from changing the culture surrounding the treatment for our most vulnerable, we also need stricter laws and punishments surrounding these heinous crimes. Often victims of abuse are forgotten and overlooked by our bustling society, as we are so consumed with the here and now. It is time we pause and recognize these largely forgotten victims.
My colleague and I in the House today are determined to get vulnerable persons the support and services they need to stay independent and stay safe. I am grateful for the member for Yellowhead's bill, which will hopefully shed more light on this important issue. It is time we give a voice back to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been silenced by the injustice of our broken system.
These vulnerable persons feel isolated and alone and often these caregivers are their only connection to the real world. However, we, the Canadian government, are also their caregivers and we have a duty to stand up and protect these people when they cannot protect themselves. Abuse can happen to anyone at any time, but it is far more dubious to commit abuses against individuals without the means to protect themselves.
As our society changes, our government needs to equip itself with the right legislation to confront our current issues and provide a safer future for all. Bill C-206 would provide just that: a method to provide a safer future for all Canadians, especially Canada's most vulnerable.
In closing, I would like to thank the member for Yellowhead and everyone who spoke today in support of this bill.