Protecting Canada’s Seniors Act ignores the best evidence
More politics than good policy
A version of this commentary appeared in the Guelph Mercury and the Waterloo Region Record
Crime issues are once again top of the federalgovernment’s agenda. Too bad none of the laundry list of unrelated pieces of legislation will have an impact on actualcrime rates — nor will any of the proposed legislationassist the victims of crime.It’s more politics than good policy in other words. AndCanadians are losing out in the process.Since 2006, the federal government has raised themandatory minimum sentence for some gun crimes fromfour years to five years; imposed mandatory minimumsentences of nine months for those planning to sell sixmarijuana plants grown in a rented apartment; banned conditional sentences for people found guilty of stealing high-end television sets; and ensured that rehabilitated offenders have to wait five years longer before applying for a pardon.There is no evidence that any of these laws, or the myriad of other similarly random legislation passed byparliament, has made Canadians safer.The “Protecting Canada’s Seniors Act” passed in December, is a particularly cynical piece of legislation. Itpurports to address elder abuse — a serious problem in Canada. Unfortunately, this Act will do nothing toprotect seniors. A glaring problem with the Act is that elder abuse cases are rarely reported to the police in the first place — itis largely a hidden crime — and offenders who have been reported are seldom convicted.The legislative summary of the Act prepared by the Library of Parliament points out the sad truth: most elder abuse is committed by family members, and victims do not want family members charged. Other victims maylack the mental capacity to pursue a complaint, and in some cases of financial fraud, the victims do not evenknow they have been victimized.But here’s the real reason this Act should be treated like little more than political grandstanding — the newlaw adds virtually nothing to existing legislation. In fact, it is difficult to imagine an amendment to the criminalcode that does less than this one.The Criminal Code already required judges to take six specified aggravating factors into account in their sentencing. The new legislation simply adds a seventh factor: “evidence that the offence had a significantimpact on the victim, considering their age and other personal circumstances, including their health andfinancial situation.”The Bill does not refer to “elder abuse” nor does it specify any particular age at which the aggravating factor should apply. The legislative summary notes that many judges already take the age of the victim into accountin sentencing.