'Club Med sentence' for support worker angers victim's family

The family of a dementia patient at a city-run long-term care home is upset over what they're calling the "Club Med sentence" handed down Friday to the personal support worker seen on video punching the elderly man in the head.

Jie Xiao, caught on camera striking elderly dementia patient at city-run home, to serve 90 days

Surveillance footage showed former personal support worker Jie Xiao striking dementia patient Georges Karam at the city'run Garry J. Armstrong facility. (CBC)

The family of a dementia patient at a city-run long-term care home is upset over what they're calling the "Club Med sentence" handed down Friday to the personal support worker seen on video punching the elderly man in the head.

Jie Xiao, 44, pleaded guilty in July to one count of assault in connection to the March attack on 89-year-old Georges Karam at the Garry J. Armstrong facility on Island Lodge Road.

The victim's family, with permission from the home, had installed a surveillance camera after Karam suffered unexplained cuts and bruises to his face. In the video that led to Xiao's conviction, he's seen striking Karam 11 times with both a fist and the back of his hand while Karam lies on his bed.

On Friday Xiao was sentenced to 90 days in jail, to be served intermittently two days a week and followed by 18 months probation. Xiao must also seek counselling, cannot contact the victim or the family, and is prohibited from using a firearm.

The Crown had asked for a three-month sentence, served continuously.
Daniel, left, and George Nassrallah, Georges Karam's grandsons, are disappointed with the sentence handed down Friday.

'Blueprint' for further abuse

Outside the courthouse Friday, the victim's two grandsons, who are also lawyers, expressed disappointment over what they perceive to be a lax sentence.

It does not send the message to harshly deter individuals who might do this again.- Grorge Nassrallah, victim's grandson

"This was an order of convenience for the criminal," George Nassrallah said. "It does not send the message to harshly deter individuals who might do this again."

Daniel Nassrallah, who brought the video to the attention of Ottawa police, called the punishment a "Club Med sentence."

"Today's case actually provides a blueprint for individuals in long-term care who want to abuse elderly individuals," he said. "My family does preach forgiveness, coming from a strong Christian background, but at the end of the day it does not excuse what Mr. Xiao did against my grandfather."

Xiao sole breadwinner

Justice Julie Bourgeois called the act "morally reprehensible" and deserving of incarceration, but she pointed out it's unclear how many blows made contact with Karam's face, and noted a hospital assessment of the patient revealed no injuries.

In handing down her sentence, Justice Bourgeois acknowledged Xiao was a first-time offender who showed remorse. She also took into account Xiao's family situation: he has two young children and his wife is pursuing a PhD, making Xiao the family's sole breadwinner.

Since being fired from his job as a personal support worker, Xiao has only been able to find work as a convenience store clerk. He will serve his jail time on the days he's not scheduled to work.

Ontario PSWs 'appalled'

The president of the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association said her membership is also unhappy that Xiao is not facing a harsher sentence.

"[Personal support workers] are actually appalled," Miranda Ferrier said.

"They're not happy with the sentence, they feel that it should be longer. They want some assurance that he'll never work as a PSW again."

Ferrier said there is no regulation that would prevent Xiao from working in another long-term care home currently, adding he was not a member of the association.

She said the association has been calling for the profession to become self-regulating for nearly a decade so people could be expelled for bad behaviour. Her organization also provides whistleblower protection to personal support workers who report abuse.

"Confidence in personal support workers is at an all-time low," she said, referring to a series of cases across Ontario.

Registry for support workers on the way

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says providers are legally required to conduct criminal reference checks on all employees and volunteers, though hiring is up to them in the end.

Ottawa MPP John Fraser, parliamentary assistant to the minister of health on the long-term care file, said Xiao's behaviour was unaccepatable.

Ottawa MPP John Frasee, parliamentary assistant to Ontario's minister of health, has focused on the issues of long-term and palliative care. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"Things like this cannot happen, should not happen and we have to do whatever we can to make sure they never happen," he said. 

Fraser said the province is creating a mandatory public registry for personal support workers, available to employers and the families, so people can be assured of the qualifications of the person in charge of caring for their loved ones.

Phase one of the registry will launch in January 2018, with the full program coming into effect at the end of 2019.

Assault led to order from ministry

The assault was one of several that spurred Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to issue a blanket order to the City of Ottawa demanding it come up with plans to improve standards at its care homes. 

Since their grandfather's case came to light, the Nassrallah brothers say their office has been inundated with inquiries from other families who are concerned about abuse in both city-run and private retirement homes.

Last month video emerged of another personal support worker threatening an elderly woman at the city's Peter D. Clark centre. Several employees were fired in that case.

Dissatisfied with the outcome in the criminal courts, Daniel Nassrallah said he's actively working on a class action lawsuit. His grandfather is still a patient at the Garry J. Armstrong home. 

with files from CBC's Matthew Kupfer