Elder abuse is any action, often committed by someone in a relationship of trust, that results in harm or distress to an older person. Commonly recognized types of elder abuse include physical, psychological and financial abuse, and neglect. Financial abuse is the most commonly reported type. Often more than one type of abuse occurs at the same time. Abuse can be a single incident or a repeated pattern of behaviour. Elder abuse often occurs because of the abuser's power and control over an older person. In some situations the abuse may also result from addiction issues (drugs, alcohol or gambling), mental health problems, a cycle of family violence or discrimination against older people. In many situations of elder abuse the abuser is dependent on the older adult for money, food or shelter.
Abuse can happen when the aggressor wants to intimidate, isolate, dominate or control another person. Police reported that nearly 7,900 seniors were victims of violent crime in 2009. Of those reported crimes, 35 percent were committed by a family member, 35 percent were committed by a friend or acquaintance, and 29 percent were committed by a stranger. However, it is difficult to estimate the prevalence and incidence of elder abuse in Canada due to factors such as under-reporting.
The June 3, 2011 Speech from the Throne stated,
“Our Government will continue to protect the most vulnerable in society and work to prevent crime. It will propose tougher sentences for those who abuse seniors.”It is estimated that by 2036 there will be more than 10 million Canadians aged 65 or over, representing almost 25 percent of the country's population. Therefore, it is important that laws are in place to protect elderly people from abuse and other forms of crime.
Under the proposed amendment to the Criminal Code, evidence that an offence had a significant impact on the victims due to their age and other personal circumstances, such as health or financial situation, would be considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. The amendments would ensure the consistent application of the established sentencing practice, that violence against individuals who are vulnerable due to their age and other personal circumstances should be treated seriously. The Code already contains similar measures that denounce the abuse of vulnerable persons. For instance, it states that the abuse of a person under the age of eighteen is an aggravating factor at sentencing.
In 2008, the Government of Canada launched the Federal Elder Abuse Initiative (FEAI), a successful $13 million, multi-departmental, three-year initiative to help seniors and others recognize the signs and symptoms of elder abuse and provide information on available supports. This initiative successfully concluded on March 31, 2011. Building on the momentum created through the FEAI, which featured an awareness campaign, the Government remains active in addressing elder abuse through the New Horizons for Seniors Program and the continuation of its elder abuse awareness campaigns. The campaign ran again during the month of February and featured an elder abuse television ad, complemented by both a print ad and a new web component targeting financial abuse.
The New Horizons for Seniors Program is designed to help ensure that seniors benefit from, and contribute to, the quality of life in their communities through social participation and active living. The program was expanded in 2007 to include elder abuse awareness activities. The elder abuse awareness objective of the program helps organizations develop national or regional education and awareness activities to reduce the incidence of abuse of seniors. Additional funds were announced in Budget 2010 for projects that focus on raising awareness of the financial abuse of seniors. In 2011, the Government increased its investments in the program by $5 million per year for two years, bringing the program's annual budget to $45 million. A portion of this funding will continue to support projects that expand awareness of elder abuse, including financial abuse.
As noted above, 35 percent of crimes against the elderly are committed by family members. The Government of Canada's Family Violence Initiative (FVI), a partnership of 15 federal departments, agencies and Crown corporations, is led and coordinated by the Public Health Agency of Canada. The FVI aims to reduce the occurrence of family violence in Canada. It works toward this goal by promoting public awareness of the risk and protective factors associated with family violence; strengthening the capacity of the criminal justice, health and housing systems to respond; as well as supporting data collection, research and evaluation efforts to identify innovative and promising practices and a range of effective interventions.
To find out more on what the Government of Canada is doing for seniors, visit www.seniors.gc.ca or call:
- 1 800-O-Canada (1-800-622-6232)
- TTY: 1-800-926-9105