On May 11, 2011, Manitoba proposed Canada’s first adult abuse registry as well as tough new offences and penalties to better protect adults with intellectual disabilities. The registry would make the names of those who abuse or neglect vulnerable adults under any Act available to employers for screening potential employees or volunteers. Similar registries already exist in the United States.
The registry, which will provide added assurance to vulnerable people and their families, is expected to be operational in spring 2012. The government hopes this registry will deter people who have a history of abuse from applying for jobs with vulnerable people.
There are two ways that an individual would be put on the registry:
- Individuals convicted of an offence against a vulnerable person under any Act would be automatically placed on the registry.
- Where there is no conviction, a person could be referred to an adult abuse registry committee, which would determine if that person should be placed on the registry based on a finding that abuse or neglect occurred.
The adult abuse registry committee would be appointed and consist of at least three members. Individuals chosen by the committee to be placed on the registry would be notified in advance and have the right to appeal that decision.
In addition to the registry, several other provisions are being proposed in The Vulnerable Persons Living with a Mental Disability Act to protect Manitobans with intellectual disabilities. The Act would:
- Criminalize abuse or neglect of an adult with an intellectual disability
- Impose a duty on service providers or substitute decision-makers to take all reasonable steps to protect a vulnerable individual
- Impose a duty to report abuse or neglect on anyone who is aware that it is happening
- Protect anyone who reports abuse or neglect from retaliation, including employees of service agencies
- Increase the penalties to a maximum of $50,000 from a maximum of $2,000, and 24 months in jail up from a maximum of six months
- Increase the timeline to launch a prosecution to two years from six months
The proposed changes address a gap in The Vulnerable Persons Living with a Mental Disability Act that has made it difficult to charge anyone for abuse or neglect of an adult with an intellectual disability.
Manitoba’s department of Family Services and Consumer Affairs provides funding to over 100 community agencies that serve adults with intellectual disabilities. Further:
- Approximately 4,500 staff are employed with community agencies
- Over 5,000 adults with intellectual disabilities are served by community agencies across the province
- Since 1996, approximately 180 allegations of abuse or neglect against adults with intellectual disabilities have been investigated annually
- An average of 34 allegations of abuse and neglect are referred to police each year
- A range of one to eight criminal charges have been laid each year since 1996
Stronger enforcement, penalties and the proposed Adult Abuse Registry are designed to identify and hold people who abuse or neglect adults with intellectual disabilities responsible for their actions.
I applaud the province for being the first in the country to enact such measures. Too often patients with intellectual disabilities are the victims of abuse, neglect and misuse of their finances, and many times nothing happens to the people who do these terrible things. However, I think Manitoba should have explicitly included abuse of seniors in care environments. Maybe the government is planning something along these lines, but it is long overdue.