Conservatives' Elder Abuse Bill and NDP's Guaranteed Income Supplement Bill Tabled
OTTAWA - Both the NDP and the Conservatives tabled separate bills Thursday aimed at improving the qualify of life for seniors.
The NDP proposed legislation that would automatically register seniors for the guaranteed income supplement.
And the Conservatives offered amendments to the Criminal Code that would impose tougher sentences on those convicted of elder abuse.
The bills are another sign that seniors' issues play an increasingly dominant role in social policy, as the population ages. In this month's budget, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is likely to raise the age of entitlement for old-age security and the guaranteed income supplement.
NDP MP Laurin Liu says about 135,000 low-income seniors miss out on collecting the pension top-up because of administrative hurdles — although that figure comes from a study done in 2005 before the federal government made some reforms.
For now, seniors have to actually apply for the benefit.
The government made changes in 2007 that mean once seniors qualify, they re-apply through their income tax forms in a process that is essentially automatic.
The NDP bill would make initial enrolment automatic as well.
"This bill will correct a serious injustice to the most vulnerable seniors," Liu said. "The federal government is unjustly depriving many seniors of significant income owed to them under the GIS."
The bill aims to make good on part of an NDP election promise. During the campaign, the party said it would make enrolment for seniors' benefits automatic and also extend retroactivity to 36 months, from the current 11.
Liu said she would "reach out across the aisle" in an attempt to gain the support of Conservatives for the bill.
But a spokeswoman for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said the government already takes steps to ensure everyone who is entitled to receive the supplement actually gets it.
Alyson Queen said 96 per cent of eligible recipients had their benefits renewed automatically last year. To reach those who are not already qualified, Ottawa sent out 600,000 applications to encourage them to apply.
For their part, the Tories put the emphasis on law and order.
Their bill would make age-related abuse an aggravating factor in sentencing offenders. So people convicted of some type of age-related abuse would face stiffer sentences.
"Our government has a responsibility to protect elderly Canadians and to ensure that crimes against them are punished appropriately," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in a statement.
"This legislation will help ensure tough sentences for those who take advantage of vulnerable members of our society."
Seniors' advocates have complained frequently that sentencing in elder abuse cases is too lax. They say abuse affects about one in 10 seniors and often goes unreported. Even when reported, convictions are rare.
"Older Canadians will take heart from this opening salvo on ending elder abuses," said Susan Eng, who heads up advocacy group CARP.
"Public awareness initiatives are always welcome, but nothing beats a minister of Justice standing up in Parliament to back up our collective opprobrium with legislative action.
"More is needed, of course, to detect, investigate, prosecute and ultimately end elder abuse."
Indeed, the NDP is inclined to back the Conservative elder-abuse bill, but says jail terms are only a small piece of the solution.
Liu said poverty is the source of many abuses seniors face, and that is best dealt with by ensuring solid government benefits to people over the age of 65.
15 Things Critics Fear In The Tory Crime Bill
Opposition parties, professionals working within the corrections and justice systems, the Canadian Bar Association and various other interest groups have raised wide-ranging concerns about the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">omnibus crime bill</a>. Here is an overview of some of their objections. (CP/Alamy)
15. Harsher Sentences For Young Offenders
Changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act will impose tougher sentences for violent and repeat young offenders, make it easier to keep such offenders in custody prior to trial and expand the definition of what is considered a "violent offence" to include "creating a substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm" rather than just causing, attempting to cause or threatening to cause bodily harm. The new legislation will also require the Crown to consider adult sentences for offenders convicted of "serious violent offences" and require judges to consider lifting the publication ban on names of offenders convicted of "violent offences" even when they have been given youth sentences. Some of the concerns around these provisions raised by some of the professionals who work with young offenders include: (Alamy)
14. Young Offenders - Naming Names
The publication of names of some young offenders will unjustly stigmatize them for life. Quebec has asked that provinces be allowed to opt out of this provision. (Getty)
13. Young Offenders - Stiffer Sentences
Stiffer, longer sentences will turn young offenders into hardened criminals and undermine any potential for rehabilitation. (Alamy)
12. Young Offenders - Minorities Take The Brunt
As with other parts of the crime bill, critics says harsher sentencing rules and increased emphasis on incarceration will <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/20/bill-c-10-omnibus-crime_n_1289536.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">disproportionately affect aboriginal</a> and black Canadians, who are already over-represented in the criminal justice system. (Alamy)
11. Young Offenders - Forget Rehabilitation
The changes shift the emphasis of the Act from rehabilitation to "protection of society," which critics say will put the focus on punishing young offenders rather than steering them away from a life of crime. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/22/crime-bill-quebec-canada_n_1107717.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Quebec, in particular, which prides itself on the success of the rehabilitative aspects of its youth justice system, has argued for stronger language prioritizing rehabilitation</a>. (Alamy)
10. Fewer Conditional Sentences
The legislation will eliminate conditional sentences, those served in the community or under house arrest, for a range of crimes, including sexual assault, manslaughter, arson, drug trafficking, kidnapping and fraud or theft over $5,000. It will also eliminate double credit for time already served. Critics say these changes will: (Getty)
9. Fewer Conditional Sentences - Spike Costs
Cost the federal and provincial justice and corrections systems millions of additional dollars a year. The parliamentary budget officer, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/28/omnibus-crime-bill-costs-conditional-sentences_n_1306528.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Kevin Page, has estimated that the average cost per offender will rise from approximately $2,600 to $41,000</a> as a consequence of the elimination of conditional sentences. (Alamy)
8. Fewer Conditional Sentences - More Trials And Hearings
- Lead to more trials as those accused of crimes will be less likely to plead guilty if they know there is no chance they will get a conditional sentence and will be more likely to take their chances on a trial. Some have predicted this will lead to greater backlogs in an already backlogged court system. - Result in more parole hearings. Page's analysis predicted that with the increase in the number of incarcerations, there will be more offenders coming up for parole, which will increase costs for federal and provincial parole review boards. A single review by the Parole Board of Canada costs an estimated $4,289, Page estimated. (Alamy)
7. Mandatory Minimums
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/22/bill-c-10-drugs-mandatory-minimums-omnibus_n_1292894.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">By far the most criticized aspect of the bill is the introduction of mandatory jail sentences for certain crimes, including drug trafficking, sex crimes, child exploitation and some violent offences</a>. Opponents of the measures have argued that this type of sentencing has been tried in other jurisdictions, most notably in the U.S., and has created more problems than it has solved. Critics say that coupled with other changes in the bill, such as increases in the maximum sentences handed down to some drug offenders and sexual predators and elimination of conditional sentences in some cases, mandatory minimums will burden Canada's prison and court systems in ways that are unfeasible, untenable and have little benefit. In particular, they argue that mandatory minimum sentences will: (Jupiter Images)
6. Mandatory Minimums - Higher Costs
Increase the costs of prosecuting and incarcerating offenders and leave fewer funds for rehabilitation programs. (Alamy)
5. Mandatory Minimums - Overcrowding
Lead to overcrowding in prisons. (Alamy)
4. Mandatory Minimums - Make Judges Less Powerful
- Remove judges' discretion to tailor sentences to the specifics of a particular case and offender and force them to apply blanket, one-size-fits-all sentences regardless of circumstances - Limit the use of alternate sentencing measures of the type currently applied to aboriginal offenders. (Alamy)
3. Mandatory Minimums - Over-Punish Drug Offenders
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/02/omnibus-crime-bill-pierre-claude-nolin_n_1316481.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Disproportionately punish small-time drug offenders and have limited effect on the drug producers, organized crime bosses and serious drug traffickers</a> the government says it wants to target. (Alamy)
2. Mandatory Minimums - What's The Point?
Have little rehabilitative effect on offenders and rather leave them more, not less, likely to re-offend. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/27/tough-on-crime-conservatives-doubt-tough-sentences_n_1115012.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill">Critics point to numerous studies showing harsher incarceration laws do not have a deterrent effect on criminals or lower crime rates</a>. (Alamy)
1. Mandatory Minimums - What Charter?
Violate provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and open up the government to legal challenges on grounds that the sentencing rules violate certain rights that offenders have under the Charter, such as the right to liberty, the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. (Alamy)