Joel Harden
MPP Ottawa Centre

Phone: 613-722-6414

Voula’s Law:

Our motion to protect family caregivers and their loved ones passes unanimously

On March 4, the Ontario Legislature debated my motion on Voula’s Law, calling on the Ford government to clarify to care-home operators that they cannot use trespass notices to ban family members who speak out about their loved ones’ living conditions. I’m delighted to say that the motion passed unanimously with the support of all parties.

Voula’s Law is inspired by Mary Sardelis, who is the primary caregiver for her 98-year-old mother Voula who lives with dementia. In 2018, Mary expressed concerns about the treatment of Voula’s personal support workers by management in a retirement home.

When her concerns went unheard, she filed a complaint with the regulator of retirement homes and discussed this with other residents of the home. For doing so, she was banned from the home and separated from Voula for 316 days. Her story has been featured by CBC’s Marketplace.

The same thing happened to Joy Seguin, a Cornwall resident who was banned from her son’s group home. Joy’s son Andre is 34 and family members had consistently noted shortfalls in Andre’s care. These complaints provoked trespass orders and ultimately the home evicted Andre, leaving him on Joy’s doorstep. Andre’s possessions were stuffed in a garbage bag.

Incidents like these are happening across Ontario. Families are separated from loved ones for making reasonable complaints about the living conditions of their loved ones in care homes.

This is wrong. The Trespass to Property Act (TPA) should not be used in instances like this. While homeowners and operators have an obligation to ensure safety, dangerous or threatening behaviour is a Criminal Code violation. The TPA is not about that kind of behaviour and shouldn’t be used as a tool to stifle complaints.

Residents have a legal right to see visitors and family members have a right to advocate for loved ones (particularly when they are substitute decision-makers). This is what I have heard from experts in my capacity as critic for accessibility and people with disabilities.

As family caregivers have said to anyone who will listen, the withdrawal of family visitations comes at a steep price. Residents are deprived of crucial support. There is a moment when politics has to preserve the dignity of people in crisis, and this is one of those moments.

Voula’s Law asks a simple question: Whose side are we on? Will we support seniors, people with disabilities and families impacted by unfair trespass orders?  Or will we enable a minority of care-home operators who engage in terrible acts of cruelty?

Thankfully, my colleagues in the Ontario Legislature chose to support families by voting in favour of the motion. This is a victory for both the rights of family caregivers and their loved ones in care homes. We know, however, that this motion is only the first step. The Ford government must respect the will of the legislature and clarify to care-home operators that trespass orders cannot be issued to ban family members who speak out about their loved ones’ living conditions.

Families have waited long enough; it’s time for this government to act and put an end to this cruel practice once and for all.

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