Supporting legislation on elder abuse

Sometimes it can be difficult to see that parliament can work in a non-partisan way.  Scandals heat up, rhetoric becomes entrenched, and significant differences in viewpoints often lead to heated sittings that make for great news broadcasts, but isn’t really what most Canadians hope for from their elected officials.  That is why it is important to take notice of those things that do work when the opportunity arises.  As parliament’s current sitting drew to a close, one bill stood out as a piece of legislation that makes things better. 

Bill C-36 amends the Criminal Code to take into account a person’s age as an aggravating factor during sentencing for a crime.   The goal of the bill is to ensure that sentencing for crimes against elderly Canadians reflects the significant impact that any such crime has on their lives.  The bill was easy to support and we were able to do so for reasons beyond the obvious sense of its straight-forward objectives.

 A significant factor that cannot be over-stated was the bill’s stand-alone nature.  The reason that omnibus bills are seen as troublesome is that they can contain widely divergent initiatives.  The contents of C-36 could have been placed in this session’s earlier omnibus crime bill and would not have been supported.  New Democrats believe that legislation’s problems significantly outweighed any benefits and the government was unwilling to separate items or amend it – much like the recent budget.   By presenting the elder abuse amendment to the Criminal Code on its own, the government created more room for opposition parliamentarians to join them in this initiative.

While it is by no means a recent development, elder abuse was not a well known phenomenon in Canada until a recent public service advertising campaign helped focus the issue.  Just like other types of abuse, it is not always physical in nature, but does involve an unequal power relationship that can cross the line into activities that are illegal.   That is when the amendment to the Criminal Code would come into play. 

What is disturbing about elder abuse in Canada is that it is often perpetrated by an individual who the elder trusts and most commonly by family members.  Abuse can take any number of forms with some being non-criminal such as ridicule, isolation, or humiliation, with many forms being criminal such as theft, forcible confinement, or assault.  While C-36 focuses on the criminal aspects of elder abuse, the need to make sure Canadians are aware of the wide range of abuses that our seniors can face is obvious and remains an ongoing challenge.

What is clear is that the issue was serious enough to warrant the attention of parliament and was dealt with in a way that showcases how parliament should work more often.  It is great that it came at the end of the sitting and allows parliamentarians to return to their constituencies with a common achievement.