LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Thursday 4 March 2021 Jeudi 4 mars 2021
Report continued from volume A.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): I recognize the member for Ottawa Centre.
Mr. Joel Harden: Thank you, Speaker. It is a great honour to rise today and talk about the culmination of two years of work—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): I beg your pardon. I recognize the member to move the motion.
Mr. Joel Harden: I’d like to move a motion that reads as follows: That, in the opinion of this House, the Ford government should provide clear direction to operators that the Trespass to Property Act does not permit them to issue trespass notices to exclude substitute decision-makers and guests of the occupants of retirement homes, long-term-care homes, and other congregate care accommodations when they raise concerns about their loved ones’ living conditions.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Pursuant to standing order 101, the member has 12 minutes for their presentation.
Mr. Joel Harden: Thanks, Speaker. As I start out, I want to thank my friend from Chatham-Kent for the eye contact there, and I want to thank my friends at the Clerks’ table for that helpful advice as we began.
I launched right into the debate because this is a matter that hits me right in the feels, right in the heart. As the province’s disability and accessibility critic, I’ve had the good fortune to listen to families from across the province—not just from where I’m from, in Ottawa Centre—and I think we have an opportunity today to send a real beacon of hope out to a lot of them.
I want to acknowledge some people who are watching right now before I get into the substance of the issue, about why this motion is important for us to support as a Legislature today. I want to acknowledge Maria Sardelis, who is watching us right now, from the great area of Nepean in Ottawa. I want to thank her and her mom, Voula, for their support. I want to acknowledge the Seguin family in Cornwall: Joy, Vic, Uncle Felix and Andre. Andre, I hope you have your iced cappuccino going; I was told you do. I want to acknowledge Maureen McDermott, who is watching this from Sutton, Ontario, and who has been an absolute tower of power in standing up for folks at the River Glen long-term-care home.
Why is this motion before us, and why do I think we should pass this unanimously and send out a beacon of hope to the province? Because, unfortunately, we’ve had a situation in the province of Ontario where practices have not kept pace with the law. What do I mean by that? I mean, in a situation where one is in a position of offering volunteer family caregiving and love to someone in a care home, whether it be a long-term-care home, a retirement home or a group home, invariably, sometimes, there will be disagreements about the conditions of care for that loved one in that home.
Right now, the law is very clear: Residents of those care homes have a right to see those family members. They have a right, as occupants of those care homes, to see those family members. But unfortunately—and I want to emphasize this for the record—for a minority of home operators that, in my opinion, do a disservice to the entire sector, Trespass to Property Act notices have been issued at times to family members who have registered meaningful, informed complaints about the living conditions of their loved ones.
What this amounts to is a sledgehammer. In a delicate situation that requires thoughtful, consultative leadership, which most care homes practise, you can imagine the chilling effect that happens when you worry about whether your complaint about your loved one’s living conditions in a home could amount to you getting a letter by registered mail or an email telling you that you’re no longer welcome in the home, because you’ve committed an act that is not conducive to the home being a respectful workplace or a respectful place for residents in which to live.
This is what happened to Maria Sardelis in Nepean. She’s a fierce advocate for her mom, Voula, who lives with dementia. She’s 98 years old right now. I found out about Maria’s story, about Voula’s story, through a great newspaper in our city, the Ottawa Citizen, which talked about what happened to Maria. If you can believe it, Speaker, she was separated from Voula for 316 days. She missed Voula’s birthday, missed Christmas, missed Thanksgiving. And why? Because there was a dispute about whether or not an external caregiver Maria had hired to go help Voula could get into the home. The home operator said no. Maria couldn’t be there all the time. She wanted that caregiver to get access and get in. So a dispute presided, the home rendered the opinion that it rendered, and no resolve happened for 316 days. It was deeply, deeply unfortunate.
The same thing happened to the Seguin family in Cornwall, where their son Andre—hi, Andre—was living in a group home because Andre needed that 24/7 care and help. When the Seguin family registered complaints about Andre’s living conditions, unfortunately, this is what happened to them, too—trespass orders and disputes. That’s not conducive for anybody’s mental health or physical health. Ultimately, if you can believe it, Speaker, Andre was evicted from that group home and unceremoniously brought back to his family’s front doorstep, his possessions beside him in a garbage bag. Can you imagine? This is the province of Ontario.
I want to talk about Maureen McDermott, who was separated for 106 days from her mom—106 days. And this isn’t just any family caregiver; this is someone who is the president of the family council in this institution. She volunteered so much to make that home better, and this is what family councils do across the province of Ontario and across this country. They work to provide great civic life in care homes because care homes are supposed to be joyful. They’re supposed to be places where people can live and have fun. And when disputes happen, yes, they play that role of smoothing things out. But that did not happen to Maureen.
There are many more I could talk about. Every single caregiver I’ve talked to said the same thing to me: “Joel, any time any one of these cases ends up in a court, the court is very clear: You can’t do this to family caregivers.” The Trespass to Property Act is not meant to be used in this way. We need to have a sledgehammer taken out of this scenario. We need to enforce good operative practices.
I used to teach legal studies at Carleton University. Putting my legal studies hat on for a second, I can point my friends in government to several statutes that confirm the rights that I’m talking about here. The Trespass to Property Act is very clear that a person can only be trespassing if they do not have legally conferred authority as a POA or as a substitute decision-maker. If the occupant wants them in, they have a right to be there.
The Retirement Homes Act, 2010, section 51(1)(9) stipulates that residents have “the right to have his or her lifestyle and choices respected and to freely pursue his or her social, cultural, religious, spiritual and other interests as long as the resident’s lifestyle, choices and pursuits do not substantially interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of the home for all usual purposes by the licensee and other residents.” There’s a balancing act, but it’s very clear that it’s there.
The Ontario Human Rights Code says the same thing: Tenants of care homes have the right to decide who they want to invite into their home, just as homeowners do. If the landlord tries to control who can visit the tenants, this can be considered harassment.
In the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, section 22 protects tenants’ rights to the full enjoyment of their property. Section 23 of the same act prohibits landlords from harassing, obstructing or interfering with a tenant.
The Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board addresses the landlord’s restriction on tenants’ visitors as a violation of rights by referencing section 4 of the RTA, which essentially operates to make clauses in a lease restricting these as rights as null and void.
I could go on, as there’s more, but I just want to emphasize for the record that these rights are endowed; they’re here. Our grandmothers and grandfathers worked hard in this place to affirm them. But the problem is, most people don’t know they have these rights, and when the worry or threat of a trespass-to-property order is issued, it’s enough to cow people into just acceding to whatever the request, to look the other way.
I can tell you, Speaker, across this great province, there are caregivers right now in that wretched situation. You sense something is wrong. You want to do something about it, but you fear repercussions. You fear repercussions for your visitation rights for your loved one in the home.
When Maria Sardelis mustered up the courage to defy the Trespass to Property Act on that 316th day of separation from her mom, Voula, she called the Ottawa police the day before and told the person on the other end of the line, “I’m going to be defying this order. I don’t think it’s a lawful order. I’m not going to put up any resistance, but I think what’s happening here is wrong.” Police were called, and charges were laid. Guess how long it took for a judge to throw this out of court? Twenty minutes—gone. The judge said, “What’s this doing in my courtroom?”
But I ask the question, how many other folks have gone to that extent, and why do we put family caregivers in this position in the first place?
So I have some reason for hope, and we shall see it in the debate. But my friend the minister responsible, who I’ve been the critic for—for as long as I’ve been the disabilities critic, the Honourable Raymond Cho and I have talked about this. I’ve talked to his chief of staff, Michael Thomas. I know conversations are ongoing in the government about this. But if today we can clarify that what we’re calling Voula’s law—it’s a motion, but we’re calling it Voula’s law—is something we all agree on, that trespass-to-property orders should not be issued in circumstances like this, I think that would dramatically empower the process under way at the government level.
However you decide to take it, you’ll send a message out to this whole sector that we see the family caregivers and we value them. Can there be a more important time to send that message than right now, in this pandemic? Haven’t we been reminded about how important that voluntary caregiving has been to keep people’s lives meaningful? When we had that awful moment in the pandemic when people weren’t allowed in because folks were trying to keep people safe, you saw immediately how that really impacted care, how that really impacted residents.
This is a moment when we can actually come together. It has happened before. We’ve had the poet laureate bill, in memory of Gord Downie, pass here. We’ve had my friend from Toronto–St. Paul’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week private member’s bill pass. I want to hold out hope that this is another moment when we can come together, regardless of our political stripe, and agree that advocating for a family member is not a crime. It’s not a crime. We all do it. We do it through our whole lives. We do it for our kids in public school. We do it for our elders in retirement homes. We do it for our family members in group homes. We have to figure out a way in which that advocacy can happen so it’s constructive.
I’ll end on this note, Speaker. It comes back to encouraging a certain kind of leadership. I know there are some folks out there who think that you have to be firm and you have to be clear, and when you hear dissent, you’ve got to tell people where to go and how to get there. I want to tell folks who believe in that kind of leadership, you’re just courting trouble, because you’re going to find a Maria one of these days, you’re going to find a Joy one of these days, you’re going to find a Maureen one of these days, who is going to stand up and challenge you.
Let’s find a way to resolve conflict. That’s what this motion is all about.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Rick Nicholls): Further debate?
Mrs. Daisy Wai: It is my honour to rise today to speak about motion 129, raised by the member for Ottawa Centre.
Our government believes that the health, wellness and well-being of our congregate care residents, their families and the front-line workers who keep them safe must always guide our actions. We care about them. This principle has guided our actions during the darkest days of the pandemic, and it will continue to guide us as we see the light ahead for our province.
Our government took decisive action to require our retirement homes to follow the direction and guidance of the Chief Medical Officer of Health—something that hadn’t been in place under the Liberal government.
We have consistently stepped in with supports needed by the congregate care settings across the province to help them meet the local needs in our communities.
We know that if we prevent the COVID-19 virus from entering our homes, or if we can catch it as early as possible, we can help significantly curtail its impact on our most vulnerable populations, including our seniors.
To help our retirement homes keep our residents safe, our government has provided significant investments in additional infection prevention and control and personal protective equipment supports. We have engaged with our partners, including the Ontario Retirement Communities Association, to help flow these funds quickly and effectively to where they can do the most good. I want to take a moment to thank the ORCA for being a great partner to us in helping to keep our seniors safe, and the families and our front-line workers working together to keep everybody safe.
COVID-19 is a tough enemy, but when we act together as one Team Ontario, involving each other and our partners across the province, and when we are together, we are tougher. COVID-19 has helped to remind us of the importance of community, of our duty to help those who stay isolated to connect into our society, to remind them that we are all in this together.
The last year has been difficult for many Ontarians. It has been particularly difficult for our seniors. You and I feel the same way, and we have been working very, very hard for our seniors. Many of our seniors have had to isolate and stay at home to stay safe from COVID-19. This is why our government has introduced so many programs to help our seniors to stay connected into our communities—programs like the Seniors’ Centre Without Walls program, which I participate in and which has been acting with our community and the different organizations. We have funded the Seniors Community Grant Program, the Ontario Community Support Program and the Inclusive Community Grants Program. All help our seniors to stay connected, and I’m sure you have experienced the impact and the creativity and the support they have given to our seniors.
Our government has responded to the pandemic by addressing both the immediate needs of those facing COVID-19 as well as building the long-term supports needed to not only allow us to survive but to thrive as we exit from the pandemic.
Building our long-term supports for our seniors involves turning a critical eye to the systems that we already have in place, and looking for opportunities to enhance, replace or rebuild as needed. This is why we asked the Auditor General to report on the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority and the work of the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility in keeping our seniors, their families—
Ms. Suze Morrison: Point of order.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Rick Nicholls): Excuse me. I have a point of order from the member from Toronto Centre.
Ms. Suze Morrison: I apologize to the member for interrupting, but I don’t believe we have a quorum in the chamber.
The Clerk-at-the-Table (Mr. William Wong): A quorum is not present.
The Deputy Speaker ordered the bells rung.
The Clerk-at-the-Table (Mr. William Wong): A quorum is now present.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Rick Nicholls): I return to the member from Richmond Hill to continue debate.
Mrs. Daisy Wai: I’ll continue with what I have to say, and I say: This is why we asked the Auditor General to report on the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority and the work of the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility to keep our seniors, their families and our tireless front-line workers safe. The report that we received from the Auditor General will help inform our Retirement Homes Act review—and Mr. Speaker, so does the topic raised by this topic: how the trespass act intersects with our congregate care settings.
Our government stands in favour of this motion. I hope the member will be very happy that we are seeing things in the same way—because we care for our seniors. The seniors are something that we have been speaking—that we not just talk about it; we put that into action. This is a government of transparency and accountability, one that believes above all that services and supports must be delivered for the people. We will continue to build out the systems and supports that meet the unique needs of Ontario’s seniors. They are the fastest-growing segment, I’m sure you know, of our population, with over 100,000 joining the ranks of our seniors every year.
This is why the government, under the leadership of Premier Ford, delivered on our promise to create the seniors dental care program. Through our $90-million annual program, we’re able to provide better access to routine dental services for seniors. As I say, we are putting things into action. To help provide access to these services, we also invested $25 million last year through the seniors dental capital program, expanding facilities in underserved areas across the province. This is the promise that we have made and the promise that we have kept. It is one example of the strong systems and supports we are building for seniors and all Ontarians.
Soon our Minister of Finance will deliver a provincial budget, as well. He has been tirelessly advocating, not only for the residents of Pickering–Uxbridge, but for all Ontarians. It will be exciting to share with the people of Ontario the next steps in our continued and evolving system of supports for seniors.
Our seniors have helped to build the province, exactly as the member opposite has been mentioning. We care for them. We’re here to honour them, respect them and work with them and their loved ones to make the years that they are going to continue to share on this earth very enjoyable ones. Our government stands with them. They have stood by the province—it is time that we do and serve them in the greatest need.
As I shared initially, and as our government has consistently and continually shared, our government stands firm in its commitment to protect the health and safety of our retirement home residents, their families and the tireless front-line workers. We appreciate the efforts of all those who continue to work tirelessly to protect our vulnerable in retirement homes, in our other congregate care settings and all across the province—especially in long-term care.
Protecting Ontarians involves partners at all levels of government, with the support of community organizations, businesses and interested individuals all across the province.
Through the continued implementation of our vaccination plan, we will continue to move, together, towards brighter days ahead. Together, we will survive this pandemic and we will come together as we emerge, healthier and stronger, as a province.
We’re looking forward to working together with everybody in this province for our seniors.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Rick Nicholls): Further debate?
Ms. Jessica Bell: Thank you to the member for Ottawa Centre for bringing forward this very important motion that I know speaks dearly to residents in Ottawa, and also your own work.
Very simply, this motion aims to make it clear that there is clear direction to operators that the Trespass to Property Act does not permit them to issue trespass notices to loved ones, guests and family members of the occupants of retirement homes, long-term-care homes and other congregate care accommodations when they raise concerns about their loved ones’ living conditions. It makes a lot of sense. It shocks me that this needs to be debated so that the law is actually enforced. I fully support this motion because it is absolutely necessary.
I have spoken to Mary Sardelis—the MPP for Ottawa Centre put me in touch with her—and I was also shocked by her experience. By simply doing the job that any single one of us would do, to make sure that her mother, Voula, receives the care she deserves in the City View Retirement Community that she was living in—the fact that she was charged is shocking. Why I bring up this issue is because it also speaks to the testament of the power of having one woman stand up and say, “No, no, this is not going to happen, and I’m going to make sure that it doesn’t.” It also speaks to the testament of what an MPP can do, when they reach out and support a constituent in their riding, to make a difference.
It is also a testament to what happens when a specific example, which is what is happening in this case, is also a reality that is shared by many loved ones and occupants of long-term-care homes and retirement homes across Ontario. This is not an isolated incident. It happens all across Ontario. It’s an issue that has long been fought for by the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, a legal clinic in my riding that has continued to be concerned about the abuse of this power and has raised this issue many times. It is good to see their support for this motion.
Every single family member has the right to visit their loved ones in long-term-care homes and retirement homes, following all public health rules and protocols. Family members also have the right to tell the truth if they see substandard, cruel, inhumane conditions and neglect. That is what Mary did, and that’s what every loved one should be able to do, as well.
I fully support this motion. It is part of our long-term campaign to improve the living conditions of people who live in retirement homes and long-term-care homes. It needs to be augmented with the many bills and motions that we have introduced and will continue to fight for, which include taking the profit motive out of long-term care, ensuring that every single resident has four hours of long-term care from a qualified personal support worker so that they can get the care they deserve—and also to support MPP Gretzky’s bill, the More Than a Visitor Act, which gives essential caregivers the right to support their loved one.
It’s very good to hear that the opposite side is looking at supporting this motion. I’m looking forward to seeing it enacted so that it becomes the way things happen in every single long-term-care home and retirement home across Ontario.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Rick Nicholls): Further debate?
Mr. Tom Rakocevic: I want to thank my friend from Ottawa Centre for bringing forward this important motion.
I think we can all agree that so many of those living in long-term care are our grandparents, our parents, our loved ones—people who have spent an entire life dedicated to raising us, giving us everything we have, building the society around us—and in their time of greatest need, we must be there for them. We must give them the dignity they deserve. It is an absolute priority.
Before and during this pandemic, we’ve all heard from too many families worried about their loved ones in long-term care. We’ve seen far too many family members line up outside of long-term-care homes experiencing outbreaks, worried about the conditions their loved ones were living in. We’ve all read the horrifying military report which exposed cruel and inhumane conditions in five private long-term-care facilities, including at Hawthorne Place in my community, after years of neglect by previous governments.
Imagine you find yourself in a situation where you are visiting a loved one in a congregate care setting. It could be your mother, your father, your aunt, your uncle or even a close family friend. You witness that they are not living with the dignity they deserve. When you file a complaint about your loved one’s conditions, instead of having the matter addressed, you get a trespass order, meaning that you are unable to see your loved one and are unable to advocate for their care.
As the member from Ottawa Centre pointed out in his remarks, Mary Sardelis found herself in this very position. After she filed a complaint about the conditions that her 98-year-old mother, Voula, had been living in in her retirement home, rather than improving her mother’s living conditions, the retirement home used the Trespass to Property Act to ban Mary from entering the premises. Because Mary blew the whistle about conditions in the retirement home, Mary was not able to see her mother for almost a year.
The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly says that using the Trespass to Property Act to separate seniors from their families is not only cruel and inhumane, but it is illegal. Jane Meadus, a staff lawyer and institutional advocate for the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, has said that they receive at least one call a week from people who were served with a trespass notice and prevented from visiting their loved ones—again, their parents, their grandparents, people they love. When they’re concerned and they’re trying to come in to help them, they are served trespass notices. This is the response of some of the retirement homes.
Speaker, I’ve heard from residents in my community who are afraid to speak publicly about the conditions their loved ones have experienced in long-term care out of fear that they or their loved ones could potentially face retaliation. It’s terrible. Living in a congregate care setting is already lonely. Imagine the further mental anguish many seniors and others will face if they are prevented from seeing their loved ones.
I am proud to support Voula’s law. It is my hope that this motion passes unanimously so that families can have the peace of mind that they will not be separated from their loved ones just for advocating on their behalf. There is so much that needs to be done to fix long-term care in this province; certainly, this excellent motion put forward by my friend is one of them.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Rick Nicholls): Further debate?
Ms. Marit Stiles: I want to thank the member for Ottawa Centre for bringing forward this motion and for continuing to raise this issue on behalf of his community. I am so proud to rise on behalf of my constituents in the great riding of Davenport to support this motion and to urge the government to put aside partisanship and do the right thing.
As we have heard, this bill was prompted by the shocking story of Voula Sardelis, who was kept apart from her daughter for nearly a year. The Ottawa retirement home where Voula lived used the Trespass to Property Act against her daughter Mary, or Maria, in what clearly appeared to be retaliation for raising concerns about her mother’s care.
Voula and Mary’s case is disturbing; I think we can all agree on that. But we also know it is not an isolated incident. In fact, we really don’t know how many other times this has been used, but the member from Ottawa Centre did share some other examples.
That is why this motion is so important. We need the provincial government to provide clear direction to operators of retirement and long-term-care homes to not abuse the act in this way and to respect the rights of residents to see and to be cared for by their family and essential visitors.
Speaker, I really don’t have time in my remarks today to fully articulate the impact that this pandemic has had on our elders. The loss of life has been staggering; I would argue the negligence in protecting them has also been such. But beyond the immediate risk that seniors faced with this virus, the methods to protect them have had other impacts: increased isolation, a loss of hands-on care as staffing levels were strained, and prolonged separation from family members.
I have heard from many, many essential caregivers in my community who have had to become full-time advocates, on top of their work as caregivers—and not just during the pandemic; this is all the time—just to maintain access to the homes. It’s why my colleague the member for Windsor West tabled the More Than a Visitor Act—to recognize the role of essential caregivers. I want to be clear: While a lack of consideration in policy or overburdened staff definitely led to barriers in this moment for essential caregivers, what this bill seeks to protect them from is a barrier deliberately put in place to discourage whistle-blowers.
If there is one lesson that we need to take, I believe, from this crisis, from this global pandemic and from all of the lives that have been lost, it must surely be that we cannot find ourselves in this place again. We must learn something.
With the government leaving some of these outfits, I would argue, unchecked, we need to make sure those inspections are happening, that they’re comprehensive—before the pandemic, during the pandemic, after the pandemic. What we’ve seen for years now is that it’s families who have been left to raise the alarms—and the evidence is completely clear. We must ensure that we are protecting those family members, not just in providing that direct care, because it’s the humane thing to do, because it’s the right thing to do, but because they are often the folks who will raise the alarm, who will point to the issues. We need to know what’s happening if we’re going to make things better.
Speaker, I am extremely proud of my colleague for doing something about it. I encourage all members here to support this motion that’s before us—and for the government to act swiftly to ensure that what happened to Voula and Mary and so many more is never repeated.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Rick Nicholls): I don’t believe there’s any more debate on this particular issue.
Therefore, I will now turn to the member from Ottawa Centre. You have two minutes to reply.
Mr. Joel Harden: I’ve had some friends who have coached me along my life tell me that there would be moments like this in politics, when people could come together. I have already seen it, as I said, in this sitting of this Parliament, and this is great. It is great to see us come together and acknowledge these fundamental rights, because we can build on it.
But I want to be very clear: I wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be here as parliamentarians even talking about this were it not for the courage of Maria Sardelis, were it not for the courage of the Seguin family, were it not for the courage of Maureen McDermott and all of those folks. This is about them.
The message in politics in 2021 that I take from this, for what will be my emotional ride home to Ottawa, is that organizing makes a difference. Never, ever doubt that getting together in your community to advocate for change can work. Folks are watching this right now. We’ve had hundreds of people sign our online petition. Bless every one of you. This works. Don’t forget. Don’t give up hope. It’s so easy to give up hope. It’s so easy to become cynical and to dismiss the idea that you can effect change. But tonight, we’re seeing it. We can come together. We can honour the legacy—as my friend MPP Wai said, as so many of my colleagues have said—of our elders who built this place, and we can actually work right now to build a better world. It is not pie in the sky. It is possible.
Thank you, Maria. Thank you, Joy. Thank you Maureen. Thank you, all of you good-intentioned troublemakers out there. This night is for you. Voula’s law is for you.
And, Voula, I wore my blue tie for you, okay? People around this place know I don’t always like to wear ties. But this is for you, Vou. This is for you.
Let us remember, maybe from here forward, Speaker—let’s have more of these moments before we’re done in this Parliament.
Thank you very much, colleagues.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Rick Nicholls): The time provided for private members’ public business has expired.
Mr. Harden has moved private members’ notice of motion 129.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Motion agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Rick Nicholls): All matters relating to private members’ public business having been completed, this House stands adjourned until Monday, March 8, 2021, at 9 a.m.
The House adjourned at 1840.