On June 21, 2017, Bill C-233, An Act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, passed third and final reading in the Senate. When the law comes into force,* it will require the federal government, in cooperation with its provincial and territorial counterparts, to develop and implement a national dementia strategy. It gives the federal health minister six months to convene a conference with various stakeholders for the purpose of developing the strategy, and requires the minister to report annually on the strategy’s effectiveness. An advisory board will also be established.
As it worked its way through Parliament, Bill C-233 enjoyed cross-party support. It was introduced in 2016 by Conservative MP Rob Nicholson, and seconded by Liberal MP Rob Oliphant. An earlier version, which was defeated by one vote in the House of Commons, was spearheaded by former NDP MP Claude Gravelle.
The passage of Bill C-233 is positive news. The Alzheimer Society of Canada estimates that 564,000 Canadians are living with dementia, and 25,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. If nothing changes, there could be nearly one million Canadians living with the disease in 15 years. While dementia is not an inevitable part of aging, growing older is an important risk factor. After age 65, the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, doubles every five years. After age 85, the risk is nearly 50 percent.
Despite these troubling statistics, Canada remains one of the last G7 countries without a national dementia strategy. Fortunately, after years of stalled progress, the bill’s passage has placed the country on the cusp of developing and implementing a pan-Canadian plan.
While the Dementia Justice Society of Canada welcomes this latest legislative development, it remains concerned that the new law does not reflect a modern approach to dementia, in which the rights and dignity of people with the disease, and their position as full and equal participants in society, are recognized. Bill C-233 does not mention rights or dignity.
Dementia Justice also remains concerned that the legislation limits the advisory board’s role to “any matter related to the health care” of persons with dementia, and the list of potential members does not specifically include representatives from the justice community. The justice community is also not specifically referenced in the list of conference stakeholders.
Nevertheless, the passage of Bill C-233 is an important step forward. Dementia Justice remains hopeful that the development of Canada’s national dementia strategy will provide an opportunity for health and justice stakeholders to come together and address the comprehensive needs of people affected by dementia, including those who come into conflict with the criminal justice system.
*Update: Bill C-233 received Royal Assent on June 22, 2017. Since it is silent on its commencement date, the default rule is that it comes into force on the day it receives Royal Assent (Interpretation Act, RSC 1985, c I-21, s 5(2)).
Text of Bill C-233
Senate Hansard (June 20 & 21, 2017)
About Dementia Justice
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. It strives to achieve its objectives through public advocacy, awareness-raising, education and research.