The system designed to help women escape abuse — physical, emotional and financial — is lacking the knowledge to help the demographic most in need of help: seniors.
That is the conclusion of a House of Commons committee that has studied elder abuse in Canada.
In a report this week, the Commons committee on the status of women called on the federal government to help the system improve and impose stricter legal punishments for those found guilty of elder abuse.
"Recent announcements with respect to Criminal Code amendments are intended to result in tougher sentences for those who are guilty of crimes associated with abuse of older people," Conservatives on the committee wrote.
Alice Wong, minister of state for seniors, said in an interview that the government had already done much of what the committee recommended, but understood there was more the government could do.
However, the NDP, in an attachment to the report, felt that the recommendations from the committee didn't go far enough.
"Instead, the recommendations in this report exclude directives to the federal government to take the concrete steps necessary to end violence against elder women," the NDP wrote.
Among those steps the NDP said the government should take: keep the age of eligibility for OAS at 65, rather than raising it to 67, a recommendation left out of the committee's report.
In the March budget, the government announced it was raising the age of eligibility for the OAS to 67. The change would come into effect in 2029.
During hearings, the committee was told that OAS and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) were important for elderly women to avoid being financially abused — especially by family members, the most likely culprits of such abuse. Conservatives on the committee called on the government to ensure senior women automatically apply for GIS, but there was no mention of the OAS.
"They (the NDP) are playing political games with seniors," Wong said, dismissing the NDP concerns.
In Canada, statistics on elder abuse are inconclusive. Elder abuse, the committee wrote, is under-reported to law enforcement agencies as well as service providers. As well, data on victimization and crime reporting do not provide specific information about elder abuse.
That lack of knowledge about the extent of elder abuse is equalled by a lack of understanding among social and health-care workers, lawyers, judges and police about how to report and respond to incidents of elder abuse, the committee wrote.
That same lack of knowledge could be extended to banks.
"While the population becomes more aware of elder abuse, several witnesses told the committee that service providers are often unaware of the risk factors for elder abuse and do not know how to respond when they suspect abuse," the committee wrote.
The committee also called on the federal government to run awareness campaigns and ensure they receive stable, ongoing funding rather than the ad hoc funding that groups receive today.
Wong said the government has already spent $13 million on awareness campaigns. A further $10 million investment in awareness programs was announced in the 2011 budget.