OTTAWA: Canada’s justice minister unveiled Thursday legislation imposing tougher sentences for crimes against the elderly — a fast growing demographic increasingly targeted by violence and abuse.
“Our government has a responsibility to protect elderly Canadians and to ensure that crimes against them are punished appropriately,” said Minister Rob Nicholson.
“This legislation will help ensure tough sentences for those who take advantage of vulnerable members of our society.”
Under the proposed amendment to the criminal code, evidence that an offence had a significant impact on the victims due to their age would be considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
The bill echoes existing laws against child abuse, but the opposition New Democratic Party said it does not address the poor living conditions which it said is at the heart of the problem.
The party proposed its own legislation to automatically register seniors for a government income supplement.
The New Democrats claim up to 135,000 Canadian seniors are not receiving the money because they do not know how to apply for it, or because they encounter administrative hurdles.
The justice department said nearly 7,900 seniors were victims of violent crime in 2009. One third of those crimes were committed by a family member, and in another third of cases, the culprit was a friend or acquaintance.
Financial abuse is the most commonly reported problem; others include physical and psychological abuse, as well as neglect. Police say such crimes are underreported. Convictions are rare.
The number of people aged 65 years or older in Canada is estimated at 4,973,400 or 14.4 per cent of the population. Statistics Canada said the proportion of seniors will grow rapidly in the coming years as the first generation of baby boomers are now reaching the age of 65.
The justice department estimates 10 million Canadians or 25 per cent of the country’s population will be over 65 by 2036.
In addition to the proposed legislation, the government also launched television spots to raise awareness about elder abuse, depicting a woman making frustrated gestures towards an elderly man walking behind her and then marching off, and a man shouting at his elderly mother and grabbing her by the arm.