The Harper government will introduce tougher sentences for those convicted of elder abuse.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and seniors minister Alice Wong announced amendments to the Criminal Code Thursday in Toronto.

The proposed changes would make age-related abuse an aggravating factor in sentencing offenders, so people convicted of some type of age-related abuse would face stiffer sentences.

"Our Government has a responsibility to protect elderly Canadians and to ensure that crimes against them are punished appropriately," said Nicholson in a statement Thursday. "This legislation will help ensure tough sentences for those who take advantage of vulnerable members of our society."


Are tougher sentences the solution to preventing elder abuse? Have your say. 

Stiffer sentencing provisions were among the Conservatives' promises during the last election campaign, and were also proposed by the NDP during the campaign.

There are already similar provisions under the Code for other vulnerable persons, such as minors, that can be considered as aggravating factors during sentencing.

Statistics Canada and advocates for the elderly suggest that nearly one-in-10 seniors experiences some form of abuse — but it's often not reported.

And Susan Eng, head of the CARP seniors' advocacy group, says in rare cases where someone is convicted of elder abuse, sentences are often lenient.

"Older Canadians will take heart from this opening salvo on ending elder abuses," said Eng.

"Public awareness initiatives are always welcome, but nothing beats a minister of Justice standing up in Parliament to back up our collective opprobrium with legislative action.

"More is needed, of course, to detect, investigate, prosecute and ultimately end elder abuse."

The NDP is inclined to back the Conservative elder-abuse bill, but says jail terms are only a small piece of the solution.

NDP seniors critic Irene Mathyssen, says the roots of abuse often lie in poverty and poor living conditions — areas she says the Harper government is ignoring.