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Liberal government moves to define ‘elder abuse’ to better target ways to stop it

Increasing cases of abuse, neglect, financial abuse or abuse of power-of-attorney being flagged
Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

The federal government is launching a consultation on how it should define elder abuse, an exercise that would bring more targeted programs and policies for Canada’s aging population.

About one in 10 seniors are affected by abuse or neglect, often by those who are close to them.

And while there are signs and symptoms of abuse provided to the public, there is no one definition for elder abuse.

Seniors Minister Deb Schulte said coming up with a definition would help focus how governments and myriad organizations work to quash neglect and financial abuse of seniors.

She added that provinces and territories have talked about the need for a common definition after hearing from groups advocating for better outcomes for the country’s seniors.

Schulte said organizations have flagged increasing cases of abuse, neglect, financial abuse or abuse of power-of-attorney responsibilities, all of which has been amplified because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic-related public health measures have kept some seniors isolated from friends, families and other supports where signs of abuse would be noticed and reported, she says.

“The pandemic has somewhat provided an opportunity for some of this to go unrecognized,” Schulte said Tuesday.

“It’s concerning, so we need to address it.”

In 2016, the census recorded the fastest five-year rate of growth for seniors in 70 years, counting 5.9 million seniors in all, which also marked the first time there were more Canadians over 65 than under 14.

Those figures will all get an update with this year’s census, but Statistics Canada estimated there were over 6.8 million seniors as of July 1, 2020.

Canada’s grey wave is only expected to pick up speed in the coming years as more baby boomer retire, with seniors expected to make up close to one-quarter of the national population by 2030.

That growth could increase the prevalence of abuse, Schulte said.

In early 2015, the federal Justice Department dived into the legal definitions of elder abuse and found them to be varied across Canada and the world. It similarly found the specific terms “elder abuse” and “elder neglect” were rarely used in legislation.

The paper noted that one of the central issues in defining elder abuse was whether it could only be limited to actions by a person in a position of trust, like a caregiver or relative, or could include acts by strangers as well.

“It’s really a barrier for collecting data and collaboration if we’re not all working from the same frame,” Schulte said.

The government’s consultations will run until July 22, and next week Schulte and Justice Minister David Lametti are scheduled to hold virtual roundtables on the matter.

—The Canadian Press

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