Yesterday, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology held a meeting on Bill C-233, An Act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The proposed legislation would 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, and requires her to report annually on the strategy’s effectiveness. An advisory board would also be established.
The Committee approved the proposed legislation without amendment. It will now proceed to third and final reading in the Senate. As Canada is one of the only G7 countries without a national dementia strategy, this development is welcome news. However, by approving the bill as drafted, the Committee missed an opportunity to modernize the Canadian approach to dementia. For instance, Bill C-233 is out-of-step with international calls for a rights-based approach in dementia plans, including the global action plan on dementia, which was recently endorsed by the World Health Assembly on May 29, 2017.
During the Committee meeting, Senator Art Eggleton referred to the Dementia Justice written submission and asked witnesses about the recommendation to create an advisory board that is more comprehensive in scope and composition, by including, for example, legal and criminal justice professionals. The bill currently states that the board's mandate would be to advise "on any matter related to the health care" of persons with dementia, and the list of potential members does not include representatives from the justice community.
In response to Senator Eggleton's question, it was stated, in part, that Bill C-233 is a health bill.
Dementia Justice is grateful for the dialogue on the issue, but the response cements the concern that justice issues may be sidelined in the National Dementia Strategy.
Given the urgent need for a national plan, the resistance to amend the proposed law is understandable. However, a modern approach to dementia must recognize the rights and dignity of people with dementia, and their position as full and equal participants in society, which sometimes includes falling on the wrong side of the law.
While Bill C-233 does not mention rights or dignity, Dementia Justice ultimately looks forward to the third reading of the bill in the Senate, and the continued discussion regarding the implications of dementia on the criminal justice system.
Written submission on Bill C-233, National Dementia Strategy, to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (April 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.