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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Can people go to jail for elder abuse?

Elder abuse refers to mistreatment of older persons both by people who are in charge of their care and people who are not in charge of their care. It can range from physical violence to extreme neglect (lack of food, lack of medical attention, etc). It also includes financial abuse such as a child helping himself or herself to an elderly parent's money, or a door-to-door scam artist targeting seniors.

In Canada, criminal offences and their punishments are governed by the Criminal Code, which applies to every province and territory. There is no specific offence of "elder abuse" created by the Criminal Code.

Any criminal offence that applies to Canadians in general obviously applies to seniors as well. Offences that could be charged as a result of mistreatment of seniors include; murder, manslaughter, assault, neglect causing bodily harm, sexual assault, failure to provide necessities of life, making threats, theft, forgery and fraud.

An interesting offence from an elder abuse perspective is the criminal offence of theft by a person holding a Power of Attorney. Perhaps this provision (section 331) should be brought to the attention of all individuals who agree to act as attorney for their parents.

Once a person is convicted of a crime against a senior, the Criminal Code also has a couple of provisions that would affect that person during sentencing. One is the fact that the judge can take into account that an offence is considered worse when it is done by a person in position of trust or power over the victim. The second is that the judge can take into account whether the crime was motivated by the victim's age or disability.

So can a person go to jail for elder abuse? They can, and they do. Here are just a few recent Canadian cases:

R. v. Grant (New Brunswick, 2009) - daughter jailed for failure to provide necessities of life when elderly mother died in circumstances of shameful neglect.

R. v. Nanfo (Ontario, 2008) - daughter jailed for failure to provide necessities of life for elderly mother, who passed away.

R. v. Peterson (Ontario, 2005) - son was convicted of failure to provide necessities of life for his elderly father who did not pass away but whose life was endangered by the son's neglect of him.

And in R. v. Foubert (Ontario, 2009), a worker in a long-term care facility was convicted of assault on a number of elderly residents of the facility.

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