The federal government of Canada is currently in the process of creating a National Dementia Strategy and reviewing how people with dementia interact with the law. The Dementia Justice Society of Canada (“Dementia Justice”) is a staunch public advocate for such purposes. Most recently, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada wrote to Dementia Justice and its stakeholders to applaud them for their advocacy on behalf of the elderly and persons with dementia in Canada.
What is the National Dementia Strategy and why is it important?
The National Dementia Strategy is mandated pursuant to the National Strategy for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias Act (the “Act”), which was enacted in 2017. In summary, the National Dementia Strategy is to be a comprehensive strategy to address all aspects of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia to improve the lives of those Canadians affected by dementia. To develop the national strategy, the Act requires that the Minister of Health convene a conference with various stakeholders and government representatives responsible for public health across provinces and territories.
The National Dementia Strategy is important because Canada’s aging population is growing. Currently, there are more seniors than children in Canada. Consequently, this large cohort of Canadians are at risk of age-related conditions like dementia. Once developed, Canada will become one of approximately 30 countries around the world that has a national plan. Canada is currently one of the last G7 countries without a national dementia strategy.
What is Dementia Justice and what does it do?
Dementia Justice is a federally incorporated non-profit society dedicated to advancing the rights, needs and dignity of people with dementia who are, or are at risk of becoming, involved with the criminal justice system. Dementia Justice strives to achieve its objectives through advocacy, awareness-raising, education and research.
Dementia Justice argues that the National Dementia Strategy is too narrow in scope
One of Dementia Justice’s initiatives is advocating for the National Dementia Strategy to recognize persons with dementia as rights-bearing subjects and not simply patients suffering from a disease.
The preamble of the Act states that the federal Health Minister or delegated officials “must develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy to address all aspects of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia” (emphasis added). As such, Dementia Justice suggests that the federal government is thereby required to address laws as it relates to persons with dementia, and not just access to health care, in order for the Act to fulfill its legislative mandate.
Dementia Justice recognizes that persons living with dementia in Canada face various legal issues that must be addressed within the National Dementia Strategy. These issues include, but are not limited to:
- Capacity to make personal, health, financial, and legal decisions;
- Alternatives to substitute decision-making (i.e., supported decision-making);
- End of life matters (including medical assistance in dying);
- Employment and housing security;
- Elder abuse;
- Criminal behavior by persons with dementia.
Dementia Justice’s impact upon the National Dementia Strategy Conference
As required by the Act, the federal government convened the National Dementia Strategy Conference in Ottawa on May 14th and 15th, 2018. Prior to the convening of the conference, Dementia Justice, with the assistance of numerous co-signatories who are advocates for the elderly and people with dementia, including our own Kimberly Whaley, voiced its concerns about the government’s narrow scope for the National Dementia Strategy in a letter to the Minister of Health and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
In direct response to Dementia Justice’s letter, the Public Health Agency of Canada expanded representation at the conference to include stakeholders within the legal sector by extending invitations to the Canadian Centre for Elder Law (CCEL), the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (CNPEA), and individual legal professionals. As a result of these groups participating in the conference, the importance of incorporating the rights of persons with dementia into the development and implementation of the National Dementia Strategy was able to be a consistently discussed issue at the conference. Click on the following links for a more comprehensive review of the conference:
How else is the federal government attempting to improve the interaction of people with dementia in Canada with the law?
In reply to Dementia Justice’s letter, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, advised that the Department of Justice has undertaken various initiatives to consult with the community and obtain how the criminal law can better serve Canadians, particularly elderly victims, victims with disabilities, and people with mental health and addiction issues. The federal government will be publishing the “What We Heard” Report in the coming months.
The success of Dementia Justice as an advocate for the elderly and persons with disability highlights the vital role that public advocates play within our society to protect the voices of those persons who either cannot speak for themselves or haven’t yet been heard. We will continue to monitor and report on the development of the National Dementia Strategy.