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Suggested Amendments to the Substitute Decisions Act Would Create Mandatory Reporting of Senior Abuse

A private member’s bill seeking to amend the Substitute Decisions Act, 19921 (“SDA”) passed second reading by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on December 10, 2015, and was referred to the Standing Committee on Social Policy.

Bill 148, Protection of Vulnerable Seniors in the Community Act, 2015, was introduced by member Soo Wong, of Scarborough–Agincourt. It seeks to amend the SDA to make it a requirement for regulated health professionals to report any reasonable suspicion that a senior is being abused or neglected. Professionals would include, but not be limited to, doctors, nurses, dentists, physiotherapists and chiropractors, occupational therapists, and pharmacists, who would be required to report the suspected abuse to a law enforcement officer, the Public Guardian and Trustee, or another prescribed person. The Bill enforces the obligation to report by making it an act of professional misconduct for any health professional to fail to do so. At the same time, the Bill provides protection against such professionals who report, by stipulating that no proceeding may be commenced against a health professional for making a report, provided it is made in good faith.

These suggested amendments are similar to those currently found in Ontario’s Child and Family Services Act (“CFSA”),2 which creates an obligation on every person (not just professionals) to report suspected child abuse or neglect, and creates an offence for those who fail to report if they are professionals (e.g., healthcare professionals, teachers, religious officials, peace officers, lawyers, or others) and obtained the information in the course of their professional duties.3

In light of the prevalence of senior abuse currently, mandatory reporting akin to that in place for children may be a necessary step. The following alarming statistics were presented by Ms. Wong and other members who spoke in support of the Bill at the second reading:

  • According to Elder Abuse Ontario, between 40,000 and 200,000 seniors living in Ontario have experienced or are experiencing elder abuse.
  • Elder abuse reoccurs in up to 80% of the cases.
  • Approximately 43% of perpetrators are the senior’s adult child.
  • The second most likely family member identified as a perpetrator is the individual’s spouse.”
  • It is estimated that 10% of the seniors population, and as high as 30%, have been subjected to some form of abuse.4

Other provinces, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, have legislated the obligation to report suspected elder abuse. Ontario currently has legislation that includes a reporting obligation with respect to seniors living in retirement homes or assisted living facilities: the Long-Term Care Homes Act, 20075 and the Retirement Homes Act,6 both contain mandatory reporting provisions. However, the majority of seniors currently live at home in the community, rather than in retirement or care homes. Bill 148 seeks to provide them with the same protections.

Bill 148 passed second reading with overwhelming support from other members, and has been referred to the Standing Committee on Social Policy, which is tasked with reviewing the Bill and proposing any amendments to its provisions. The Committee may invite individuals, groups and Ministry officials to comment on or answer questions about the Bill in writing or in person before the Committee. Following public submissions, the Bill’s clauses (and any amendments) are considered in order and new clauses may be added. The Bill is reported back to House after completion of clause-by-clause consideration.7

The Bill would then need to pass third reading and receive Royal Assent before becoming law.

1. S.O. 1992, c. 30.

2. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.11.

3. CFSA s. 72(4).

4. Hansard transcripts, Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Thursday December 10, 2015. http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/house-proceedings/house_detail.do?locale=en&Date=2015-12-10&detailPage=%2Fhouse-proceedings%2Ftranscripts%2Ffiles_html%2F10-DEC-2015_L134.htm&Parl=41&Sess=1#para1048. Comments of Sue Wong and Bill Walker,

5. S.O. 2007, c. 8.

6. S.O. 2010, c. 11.

7. Legislative Assembly of Ontario, “How an Ontario Bill Becomes Law” August 2011: Legislative Research Service. http://www.ontla.on.ca/lao/en/media/laointernet/pdf/bills-and-lawmaking-background-documents/how-bills-become-law-en.pdf


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