Antipsychotic drugs prescribed to seniors at alarming rates, Ontario finds

Antipsychotic drugs prescribed to seniors at alarming rates, province finds

A Health Ministry study commissioned after the Star began investigating the practice found nearly half of Ontario nursing home residents aged 65-79 are being given “dangerous” drugs.
Dr. David Juurlink, who co-authored a report for the Ministry of Health, says that prescribing "dangerous" drugs such as antipsychotics and sedatives to vulnerable seniors in an effort to calm them down comes at a price. “Physicians who care for patients in long-term-care facilities should resist the urge to prescribe these drugs as freely as it seems they are," he said.


Dr. David Juurlink, who co-authored a report for the Ministry of Health, says that prescribing “dangerous” drugs such as antipsychotics and sedatives to vulnerable seniors in an effort to calm them down comes at a price. “Physicians who care for patients in long-term-care facilities should resist the urge to prescribe these drugs as freely as it seems they are,” he said.

Thousands of seniors in Ontario nursing homes are on a powerful mix of antipsychotics and sedatives, according to a new provincial Health Ministry report that surfaced aftera recent Star investigation.

The report, commissioned by the ministry and co-authored by a leading doctor and scientist, sheds new light on the widespread use of powerful prescription drugs among the vulnerable elderly.

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“These drugs are prescribed so commonly because they are perceived to be benign. That’s not true,” said Dr. David Juurlink, a drug safety expert who co-authored the report. “These drugs are inherently dangerous.”

Last week, the Star revealed that some long-term-care homes, often struggling with staffing shortages, are routinely doling out antipsychotics to calm and “restrain” wandering, agitated and sometimes aggressive patients.

At close to 300 homes, the Star found, more than a third of the residents are on the drugs, despite warnings that the medications can kill elderly patients who suffer from dementia. Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the Star’s findings “horrifying.”

The new report, commissioned in early April, around the time the Star started asking the ministry questions about the issue, shows startling prescribing rates in certain age groups: nearly half (45 per cent) of all Ontario nursing home residents aged 65 to 79 are on an antipsychotic drug.

Health Minister Deb Matthews told the Star that her ministry asked for the report because appropriate prescribing in long-term-care homes is a priority. She said the government is working on an “education strategy … that can be rolled out across the province.”

The report also exposes the problem of high prescription rates of sedatives such as diazepam and lorazepam: 30 per cent of those aged 65-79 are on the drugs.

The report found the prescription rates “appear high,” and co-author Tara Gomes told the Star they “warrant further investigation” to find out why — “so that we can ensure we are not putting nursing home residents in harm’s way.”

To Juurlink, the common prescribing of antipsychotics, which can have a sedative effect, and of sedatives such as lorazepam suggests doctors are using the drugs to calm residents down.

“Sedation comes at a price — falls, bedsores, blood clots and direct adverse reactions to the drugs themselves, which can sometimes be fatal,” Juurlink said.

“Physicians who care for patients in long-term-care facilities should resist the urge to prescribe these drugs as freely as it seems they are. These drugs carry risks, and we have to afford (the patients) the respect they deserve.”

When the Star asked Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews if she planned to advise doctors to prescribe the drugs more carefully, she said she is “committed to working with” doctors to improve care for nursing home residents.

In one case reported in the Star last week, an 85-year-old woman with dementia was on risperidone and other drugs to help control her wandering — an unapproved use — in a long-term-care home when she took a bad fall and died. (Risperidone, an antipsychotic, is approved to treat only dementia patients with severe psychosis or aggression.) The Ontario coroner’s office said the drugs that were inappropriately prescribed for her played a role.

The Health Ministry report also found that 10,220 seniors, or about 11 per cent of all seniors in long-term-care homes, are on both an antipsychotic and a sedative.

“You don’t have to think very hard to appreciate why that can be a dangerous thing to do,” Juurlink said.

Gomes added: “Both the antipsychotics and sedatives are flagged as drugs that are concerning with use in elderly populations because they can lead to harm. The fact that there are elderly people getting both of these products is particularly concerning to me.”

Fifteen per cent of all nursing home residents aged 65 to 79 are taking both an antipsychotic and a sedative at the same time.

The antipsychotic medications at issue, including olanzapine, quetiapine and at least 10 others, are not approved by Health Canada for elderly people with dementia. Pharmaceutical companies have issued the strongest possible caution, known as a black-box warning, on their labelling.

“Elderly patients with dementia treated with atypical antipsychotic drugs are at an increased risk of death compared to placebo,” a typical warning says, adding that these patients face a 60-per-cent increased risk of death compared with similar patients who are not taking these drugs.

At one nursing home east of Ottawa, the Star found, 73 per cent of the residents are on the drugs.

In another of the cases probed by the Star, antipsychotic medication was apparently given to a senior without consent.

Ethel Geraldine Anderson, known as Aunt Gerry to her loved ones, is among such cases reported in the Star investigation. Anderson’s niece said “they tried to quiet her down” with doses of olanzapine in the Wellesley St. nursing home where Anderson was living. Four months later, she was dead.

The Health Ministry report showed that the older a nursing home resident is, the less likely she or he is to be put on an antipsychotic or sedative. Gomes said the data she analyzed does not say why, but she speculated that residents over age 85 may be frailer and less likely to act in an aggressive manner.

The data analyzed by Gomes and Juurlink does not say why the drugs were prescribed or what conditions the seniors were diagnosed with, though it is widely known among caregivers that more than 60 per cent of all Ontario nursing home residents suffer from dementia.

When antipsychotics are prescribed to seniors with dementia, it’s known as an “off-label” use, meaning a drug is being prescribed for a condition or age group for which it hasn’t been approved. It’s legal for doctors to do this, and they do so with little oversight.

In the case of sedatives, the product labelling associated with several of the drugs studied by Gomes and Juurlink say the drugs should be used with caution among the elderly.

“We all have loved ones in long-term-care homes, and we all want nothing but the best possible care for them,” Health Minister Matthews said. “I take very seriously my responsibility to ensure long-term-care residents get the care they deserve.”

Few NB seniors helped by property tax policy

David Alward’s property tax policy helping 60 seniors

Department of Finance will not say whether the program will be reviewed early

By Robert Jones, CBC News Posted: Apr 14, 2014 7:00 AM AT Last Updated: Apr 14, 2014 10:00 PM AT

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick for 24 years. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.
A Progressive Conservative election pledge to deliver property tax relief to more than 60,000 New Brunswick seniors has instead helped only 60, a CBC News investigation shows.


Terry Bond

Terry Bond, 68, said he can’t figure what he did to deserve years of increases to his property tax assessment. (CBC)

The original election promise — to exempt homes owned by those older than 65 from property tax assessment increases for the life of the owner — was abandoned by the Alward government shortly after its election victory andreplaced with a cheaper scheme.

Provincial government records, obtained by CBC News, show the cheaper alternative has been unpopular with seniors, attracting few takers among the vast majority of homeowners originally promised relief.

And with a promised review of the “effectiveness” of the unpopular program still two years away the provincial government won’t say if its willing to make any changes sooner.

Meanwhile, most seniors continue to cope with property tax increases entirely on their own.

A wave of assessment hikes this spring hit almost every home owned by a senior in the village of Welsford. Jim Hector, 73, said he still can’t figure what he did to deserve his assessment increase.

“People whose taxes have gone up and who haven’t improved their homes, why do the taxes go up?” asked Hector. His assessment also increased last year and the year before.

Around the corner from Hector on Welsford Station Road, Maxine Cooper, 84-year-old widow, had the same experience.

A bride of 26 when she moved into her house 58 years ago, Cooper has seen both churches in her community close in recent years and a new highway bypass threaten local businesses. Still her assessment jumped $3,300 this year on top of $5,700 last year and $4,000 the year before that.

“It’s hard to understand what’s causing it,” she said

Terry Bond, Cooper’s 68-year-old neighbour, is equally mystified.

“I don’t think it’s because I put a few bucks into my house,” said Bond, who added the yearly increases have been adding up.

“It just means you do without something else.”

Election promise changed

All three Welsford seniors had been assured during the last provincial election that assessment increases would be ending for them.

The Progressive Conservatives made a number of promises specifically to older voters in that campaign, all unveiled by Alward at a Moncton rally two weeks before the vote

The centrepiece of that event and the key pitch to seniors was a proposal to provide universal property tax relief to every resident of a certain age.

“A new Progressive Conservative government will permanently freeze property tax assessments for all homeowners over 65 years of age,” said Alward as local candidates behind him cheered and clapped, including future cabinet ministers Sue Stultz and Marie-Claude Blais.

It was a big promise. According to the 2011 National Household Survey, New Brunswick has one of the highest home ownership rates among seniors in Canada with 60,130 dwellings belonging to people over the age of 65.

But it was a popular idea and elevated to what the Progressive Conservatives called a “10 by 10” commitment — 10 promises they promised to implement within 10 weeks of being sworn in.

However, after the election, Finance Minister Blaine Higgs was alarmed at departmental estimates showing the plan could cost $173 million over the first 10 years. He quickly killed it and offered seniors property assessment deferrals instead.

The deferrals let taxes caused by assessment increases on seniors’ homes go unpaid indefinitely with the provincial government taking a lien on the property to collect the debt later, plus interest, when the senior dies or otherwise moves out.

Unpaid taxes are not allowed grow to more than 75 per cent of the value of the home. The interest rate on the debt, originally set at 3.25 per cent has since been raised to 3.76 per cent.

Despite obvious differences, Alward told CBC News shortly after its introduction, the assessment deferral fulfilled his campaign promise to seniors word for word.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“I feel very good about the commitment that we made and about the commitment that’s been kept. … Please have a look and you’ll feel very good about it as we do.”

Program has few subscribers

But seniors have not been as enthusiastic about the program.

Many seniors in the southern community of Welsford are experiencing increases to their property tax assessments. In the 2010 election campaign, Premier David Alward promised to freeze property tax assessments for seniors. (CBC)

According to finance department records, obtained by CBC News under the province’s right to information legislation, the program has attracted few subscribers.

Just 60 seniors out of more than 60,000 who are eligible have applied for the tax deferrals in three years, including 39 seniors in year one, 16 last year and 5 this year. Records show the total tax deferred after two years (third year numbers are not yet available) was $9,061.72

Higgs originally said he understood that property tax increases for seniors was a serious problem for many.  He promised to evaluate the deferral program in 2016 to determine its “effectiveness” and promised to make “adjustments as necessary” to ensure it was providing help.

“It was clear that we needed property tax relief for those seniors who required it,” Higgs said at the time.

However, he declined an interview request with CBC News about whether 60 subscribers in three years meant the program was not reaching those who he believed required it.

Meanwhile, most seniors, such as Jim Hector, continue to deal with assessment increases on their own, just as they did before the election.

“I didn’t believe it then,” he says of the campaign promise to permanently freeze his assessment.

“And I certainly don’t believe it now. They make promises that they can’t keep and they make promises they just refuse to keep.”

Older residents angered over cost-cutting decision by Canada Post

Canadian mail service to scrap all home deliveries

Older residents angered over cost-cutting decision by Canada Post to make first G20 country without door-to-door service
Canada Post dog protest Ottowa

A dog carries a protest sign in Ottawa against Canada Post plans to cut all home deliveries, not only in remote areas but all major cities. Photograph: Chris Wattie /Reuters

Labrador City in eastern Canada is about as remote as it gets. This 7,000-strong mining community is surrounded by mountains, forests and lakes, with its nearest neighbour, the town of Baie-Comeau, an eight-hour drive away.

In winter – which lasts for eight months of the year – temperatures drop below -30C and snow settles two metres high.

With the country’s vast land mass, a significant proportion of Canadians live in far-flung areas such Labrador City – making door-to-door mail deliveries a particular problem for postal authorities, and particularly expensive.

In an attempt to cut costs, Canada Post has announced plans to scrap all home deliveries, making Canada the first country in the G20 to be without a door-to-door service. Once the cuts are implemented, only some business addresses will get post through the letter box – not even residents of cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal will receive mail at home.

Already a significant proportion of Canadians have to collect their post from communal collection points, often quite far from their homes in parks or on the streets. Beginning this autumn, Canada Post will roll out a five-year plan to institute community mailboxes across the country.

The company says the reforms, which include a hike in the price of a stamp and the shedding of 8,000 jobs, are necessary because email is taking over from letters as a way to communicate. Yet some aspects of its businesses are on the rise, as online shopping has lead to a dramatic increase in parcel mail delivery. Even before the cuts, Canada Post, a self-funding crown corporation, is still reporting huge profits.

The company says the community mail boxes are more convenient for the delivery of large parcels that cannot fit through letter boxes. But critics say they can be hard to access, particularly for the elderly or disabled, and especially during winter. The boxes have also been known to become magnets for thieves and vandals.

The boss of Canada Post, Deepak Chopra, defended the move, saying the boxes would give senior citizens some exercise. “Seniors are telling me that ‘I want to be healthy, I want to be active in my life,'” Chopra said, brushing off the criticisms.

His comments angered older Canadians, including elderly rights advocate Bill Van Gorder “It’s putting another pressure on our older citizens who are trying very hard to stay in their own homes,” said Van Gorder, 71.

Susan Dixon, the mother of a young son with cerebral palsy, launched a petition against the move that has so far garnered over 140,000 signatures. Dixon has challenged Canada Post bosses to spend a week in a wheelchair – and pick up their mail from community boxes.

“See how they like it,” she said. “I think their perspective would completely change.”

The cuts have also been condemned by Canada’s opposition parties, who say there was not sufficient consultation, and the mayors of Canada’s biggest cities.

Postal union chief Denis Lemelin said that “to cut, cut and cut” was not the way to reform the postal service, describing the cancellation of home delivery in Canada as the end of an era.

Labrador City’s mayor, Karen Oldford, expressed concerns that even if elderly and disabled people can get to the outdoor mail boxes, they will need to battle through the snow.

Oldford said using email as an excuse to cancel home deliveries in remote areas was nonsense. “There is still no broadband access in our communities,” she said.

Certain immigrants appear to face ‘unreasonable’ hurdles with OAS

Certain immigrants appear to face ‘unreasonable’ hurdles with OAS, critics say
Certain immigrants appear to face 'unreasonable' hurdles with OAS, critics say

Branko Sucic poses for a photo outside his home in London, Ont., on April 9, 2014. Sucic has been waiting a long time for his Old Age Security pension. His daughter says the 78-year-old has been faced with a barrage of government demands for decades-old documents ever since first applying for the payments in 2004, but 10 years later she feels he’s no closer to getting what he deserves. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

Branko Sucic has been waiting a long time for his Old Age Security pension.

His daughter says the 78-year-old has been faced with a barrage of government demands for decades-old documents ever since first applying for the payments in 2004, but 10 years later she feels he’s no closer to getting what he deserves.

“He could die by the time this goes through,” said Marianne Rukavina, whose father immigrated to Canada in 1970. “This is so wrong…and I just want to make it right.”

Sucic, however, doesn’t seem to be alone — some advocates for seniors and immigrants claim certain applicants who came to Canada from other countries appear to be treated unfairly when they apply for OAS.

“This is more particular to people who have come into the country some time through their life and moved in and out of the country apparently,” said Susan Eng, a Toronto lawyer and vice-president for advocacy at CARP, a group that defends seniors’ interests.

“I think it’s a practical problem of barriers that are very difficult for people to overcome. If you ask the average citizen whether or not they kept their travel documents from 20 years ago to prove how long they spent some place they would have a hard time coming up with them.”

Service Canada says OAS payments are available to most people aged 65 or older who meet legal status and residence requirements. Applicants living in Canada typically need to be Canadian citizens or legal residents at the time their application is approved and must have lived in Canada for at least 10 years after turning 18.

To satisfy requirements, all applicants must provide “supporting documentary evidence” to prove all the dates they entered and exited the country.

“It is important to establish periods of Canadian residence because, not only does residence determine eligibility to the OAS pension, it can also affect the amount of pension the applicant will receive,” said Eric Morrissette, a spokesman with Employment and Social Development Canada. “An application for an OAS pension cannot be approved until all eligibility requirements have been met.”

Those dissatisfied with decisions from Service Canada can request a reconsideration of their case but it must be made in writing within 90 days of being notified of the decision.

Sucic’s daughter can’t believe how onerous the process has been for her father, who grew up in what is now Croatia. He left the country for Italy in the late 50s with his wife, before moving to Australia in 1959, where he became a citizen of that country.

He then brought his family to Canada in 1970, where he lived and worked until December 1993, when he moved back to Croatia to support his extended family during the war in former Yugoslavia. He returned to Canada in 1997 and has lived here ever since.

With three failed applications behind them and a fourth underway, Rukavina has now made it her mission to ensure her father succeeds.

In their latest communication with Sucic, Service Canada asked for his exact residences from birth until present, Rukavina said, including her father’s “current address” in Australia, despite the fact that he hasn’t been back to the country since 1970.

“This is absolutely insane, the amount of documentation wasted, sent, not acknowledged — the things that they’ve asked for they have received,” said Rukavina, who has also raised the case with the office of the minister for employment and social development.

“If this is happening to my dad, there’s other people out there that this is happening to.”

Ed Janicki would have been in the same situation if not for an old luggage tag he found while rummaging through his mother’s possessions.

The 67-year-old came to Canada with his family at the age of three from a refugee camp in Germany. Although he got his citizenship in 1955, served in the military and worked in Canada all his life, Service Canada demanded he show proof of his original arrival at a port in Halifax.

Janicki didn’t find any landing papers, but he did find the luggage tag from the family’s journey to Canada which was stamped with the date they landed.

The government accepted the tag as a landing record and allowed his OAS application to proceed, but Janicki wonders what would have happened if that tag hadn’t been saved.

“It just doesn’t make any sense the way this government treats some of the immigrants,” he said. “You spend your whole life working, you spend your whole life giving taxes and then they’re going to say we’re going to make you jump through a hoop.”

Avvy Go, director of Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic in Toronto, said she sees such cases at least a few times a year.

“The OAS issue affects, I think, certain immigrant populations more so than others,” she said. “A lot of times we feel that people are being denied in an unreasonable manner.”

Defining the scope of the problem, however, is tough because there are no official figures available on rejected applications for the OAS pension. The anecdotal evidence that is available though, is enough for advocates to ask questions, said Go.

She recounts a case where a husband and a wife who had immigrated to Canada and had exactly the same residency records applied for OAS only to have one spouse denied while the other’s application was accepted.

“They start out with an assumption that certain people are not actually living in Canada and are taking advantage of our benefits,” said Go. “This assumption of immigrants and seniors, questioning whether their tie is with Canada or their home country, that really is the issue behind these cases.”

    Ranks of homeless seniors growing in Metro Vancouver

    Ranks of homeless seniors growing in Metro Vancouver

    Ranks of homeless seniors growing in Metro Vancouver

    Elmer Cardinal, 71 looks at family photos on the fridge in the Burnaby apartment he obtained through the Seniors Services Society after finding himself homeless in Vancouver.

    Photograph by: Ric Ernst , PROVINCE

    After working hard all his life, senior Elmer Cardinal couldn’t find a home.

    The 71-year-old native of Peace River, Alta., had lived and worked in both Alberta and B.C. as a heavy equipment operator, a logger and an art dealer, but when he returned to B.C. after spending time in Halifax, he found himself homeless.

    “I had to sleep on (a friend’s) couch and that was the worst thing I ever slept on,” said Cardinal, who had to leave his belongings at Vancouver airport, racking up a $700 bill.

    Cardinal is not alone. The number of homeless seniors in B.C. is rising, with more than 200 people aged 55 and older counted in the last Metro Vancouver homeless census in 2011.

    Last month, 900 volunteers conducted another 24-hour count, with preliminary results expected in a few weeks. Several service providers told The Province they expect to see the number of seniors go up.

    “Anecdotally, we are seeing an increase in seniors at shelters,” said Rebecca Bell, manager of the Greater Vancouver Shelter Strategy Society.

    Homeless seniors — who are defined as people aged 55 and up because life on the street has an aging impact — fall into two categories: those who have “aged into” being homeless seniors, and those who find themselves homeless for the first time in their late 50s or 60s.

    “We’re seeing more of both,” said Bell.

    The loss of a job, lack of affordable rental housing, or the loss of a spouse can be contributing factors to senior homelessness, she said. The increase is particularly concerning because many seniors require services not offered in emergency shelters, such as physical assistance or mental health services. Some may have trouble accessing support.

    “There’s quite a lot to be done in this area,” said Bell.

    Cardinal’s friend saw a notice about the Seniors Services Society and called for help.

    “It saved my life, to be honest with you,” Cardinal said.

    The Seniors Services Society has 20 subsidized suites in a variety of buildings in Burnaby that it sublets to people like Cardinal as they look for permanent accommodation.

    Cardinal spent six months in 2010 in such a suite before he was able to get into his own bachelor apartment, for which he now pays $520.

    He knows of other seniors looking for housing and thinks something has to be done.

    “People like myself were pioneers of B.C.,” said Cardinal, who worked on the W.A.C. Bennett Dam. “Seniors that are my age contributed so much to B.C.”

    The Seniors Services Society may not be able to continue helping people like Cardinal because it’s losing $300,000 in funding from the United Way. About $200,000 of that was dedicated to the temporary housing program that Cardinal used.

    Kara-Leigh Bloch, executive director of the society, said her organization turned away 200 applicants in 2012 and 263 last year.

    One applicant rejected this year was a woman who didn’t want her real name revealed and asked to be called Teresa.

    She got into a dispute with her landlords, and police were eventually called to remove her from what she said was a “violent situation.”

    They took her to the Lookout Society’s nearby Yukon Shelter, where she has been since the second week of February.

    “I have to be out of here by the 22nd of April,” she said.

    As for what she will do, Teresa said “I don’t have a clue.”

    She has applied for Canada Pension Plan benefits, along with Old Age Security and social assistance.

    She has been too ashamed to appeal to friends, but admits that may be her last resort.

    “I think there has to be a lot more attention paid to seniors because they’re falling through the cracks,” she said.

    Need for Health Care Strategy for Seniors

    The Canadian Medical Association (see below) has joined the Canadian Health Coalition in calling for a Seniors Health Strategy. The CHC held a conference on this issue and documents are available at

    As the Canada Health Care Accord expired at the end of March 2014, many such Dr. Jeff Turnbull have called for federal leadership to deal with the increasingly critical health issues such as an aging population.


    Statement by Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, President, Canadian Medical Association – End of the 2004 Canada Health Accord calls out need for strategy on seniors’ health care

    OTTAWAMarch 31, 2014 /CNW/ – The 10-year Canada Health Accord has now wrapped up and there are many who are pointing to its demise as a death knell for Canada’s health care system. Still others question whether the $41-billion agreement represented smart spending for the benefit of the Canadian health care system. Regardless, the accord did help focus federal, provincial and territorial governments to work together on the same roadmap to quality, patient-centred health care. We must all come together now to face our biggest challenge: ensuring adequate care is available for our rapidly aging population. The clock is ticking. The leading edge of the baby boom generation will reach the age of 75 in 2021. Annual average per capita health costs will jump by more than one third (36%) once these seniors enter the 75-79 age group and costs will continue to escalate after that.

    Canadians and their governments must realize that no amount of spending — and no amount of cost cutting — will meet this challenge unless our governments learn to work together again for the benefit of Canadians’ health and wellness. This means Ottawa, as the fifth largest provider/purchaser of health care services, must take a central role.

    Our governments — federal, provincial and territorial — must resume working together for the welfare of Canadians. A panCanadian strategy for seniors health care would be a very good place to start.

    SOURCE Canadian Medical Association


    Immigrant Seniors targeted with GIS changes

    Immigrant seniors will not be able to get  the guaranteed income supplement (GIS) unless they have been in the country for 20 years or more. This time frame change doubles the time from 10 to 20 years and hits at low income seniors who must rely on continued family sponsorship. Why should immigrant seniors have different rights? For other Canadians 10 years of residency is enough to apply for OAS and GIS.

    The new measure which was never previously discussed or ever mentioned as a possibility was buried in the Bill C-31 the monster 380 page Budget Implementation Bill tabled on March 28, 2014 on a Friday afternoon.

    Guaranteed Income Supplement changes take burden off taxpayers, Kenney says


    FIRST POSTED: FRIDAY, MARCH 28, 2014 05:04 PM EDT | UPDATED: FRIDAY, MARCH 28, 2014 05:53 PM EDT

    OTTAWA — Immigrant families, not taxpayers, should be on the hook to support family reunifications in Canada, said Employment Minister Jason Kenney.

    Kenney was defending his government’s policy Friday that makes it harder for elderly immigrants to receive taxpayer subsidies.

    The Guaranteed Income Supplement is provided to the poorest Canadians in old age. Immigrants who arrive under the parents and grandparents program has traditionally been able to qualify for GIS after living here 10 years. Through that program, the immigrant is sponsored by a family member who signs a declaration saying they bear financial responsibility for the relative for 10 years.

    The measure, brought in through the budget implementation bill, proposes to extend the sponsorship period from 10 to 20 years and disallows immigrants from applying for GIS while they are sponsored.

    “We’re all for family reunification but you should be responsible as a family unit and not expect taxpayers to provide income support to people who have frankly in most cases not paid taxes to Canada,” Kenney said. “I think everyone agrees with that.”

    NDP MP Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe says that puts a burden on families who may not be able to afford it.

    “Family reunification shouldn’t be a luxury,” she said. “If a family has to pay for 10 more years, it’s more difficult for them to spend money in the community.”

    The measure won’t be applied retroactively and the government anticipates a savings of $700 million annually, but only after being in place for several years.