Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ontario closes its eyes to elder abuse

An article in the Toronto Star the other day really outlined the lack of concern for the problem of Elder Abuse in Ontario.

The article by Carol Goar on April 26, 2010 concerning the defeat of the elder abuse bill by John O'Toole stated:
Conservative backbencher John O'Toole was puzzled when four Liberal cabinet ministers showed up to vote on his private member's bill.

The provincial government didn't normally devote such high-level attention to opposition proposals. And this one wasn't even controversial. A previous version of the same bill had sailed through second reading (approval in principle) two years ago, but died on the order paper when Premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the session.

All O'Toole was asking the government to do was instruct the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (the agency responsible for adults who are mentally incapable of managing their affairs) to set up a public registry of individuals with power of attorney for those who have relinquished control of their finances.

Such a database would allow concerned relatives, friends, bankers, accountants and nursing home officials to find out who is in charge of an elderly person's property. It would also facilitate police investigations into complaints by vulnerable seniors and their caregivers.

“It's a non-partisan issue,” O'Toole insisted. As proof, he pointed out that his bill was at odds with his own non-interventionist ideology. “As a Conservative, I want less government, but this is an area where we need more government.”

His hopes withered when Liberal MPP David Zimmer, parliamentary secretary to the attorney general, spoke. The Willowdale politician said he could not support the bill because it violated the wishes of many aging parents. At the behest of their doctor or a financial adviser, they had designated one of their children or a friend or lawyer to act on their behalf, should they become incapacitated. But they wanted this information to be kept private. Their desire should be respected, Zimmer argued.

A few minutes later, Khalil Ramal, a Liberal backbencher from London, chimed in. “I think this bill does not serve seniors well. I'm not going to vote for this bill, not because I don't like the member for Durham — he's a great member — but hey, it doesn't fit with the direction of the legalities.”

After this bewildering statement, O'Toole was invited by the Speaker to respond. Recognizing the futility of a last-ditch appeal, he acknowledged the inevitable. “This is not going to become law. I fully understand this.”

His bill was soundly defeated. Six MPPs (four Tories and two New Democrats) said yes. Twenty three MPPs (all Liberals) said no.

“I was surprised they wouldn't even let it go to a committee,” O'Toole said afterward. “That's what that I was really hoping for.”

He hasn't given up. But he has no idea how to get elder abuse back on the legislative agenda.

What troubles O'Toole most is the lack of awareness of the extent and seriousness of this problem. He was as ignorant as everyone else, he admitted, until a constituent opened his eyes. It simply wasn't a topic of conversation in business or social circles. Looking back on his 30-year management career at General Motors, he couldn't remember anyone ever mentioning it. Nor did it come up during his four years as a municipal councillor or his nine years as a school board trustee.

He's still no expert, O'Toole stresses. But he's dealt with enough cases of frail seniors losing their homes, savings, investments and possessions to know the problem is real and more prevalent than people think. He's also learned a great deal from the Durham police, who have two officers working full-time on elder abuse, and from the strong coalition of volunteers, social service providers and health professionals working to protect vulnerable seniors in his riding.

For their sake, he wishes his bill had passed. For Ontario's sake, he hopes the government wakes up.

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/article/800155--ontario-closes-its-eyes-to-elder-abuse

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