Maltreatment of seniors and persons in vulnerable situations: CPA responsibilities

The Act to combat maltreatment of seniors and other persons of full age in vulnerable situations (Act to combat maltreatment) is intended to prevent situations of maltreatment, including material and financial abuse. It provides for mandatory reporting of certain cases of maltreatment of seniors or other adults in vulnerable situations. 

What does this mean for CPAs?

Under section 21 of the Act to combat maltreatment, CPAs are obliged to report certain cases of maltreatment encountered in the practice of the profession. This obligation applies even though CPAs and their clients are bound by professional secrecy

When is the reporting of maltreatment authorized and when is it compulsory?

CPAs must report a case of witnessed or suspected maltreatment if the victim is in one of the following categories:

  • under tutorship or curatorship or for whom a protection mandate has been homologated;
  • not under tutorship or curatorship or a homologated protection mandate, but their inability to care for themselves or administer their property has been established by a medical assessment; 
  • lodged in a residential and long-term care centre (CHSLD) (public or private under agreement);
  • taken in charge by an intermediate or family-type resource
  • lodged in a private seniors’ residence and in a vulnerable situation.

In such cases, you must lift your professional secrecy and report the situation in accordance with the Act, whether your client is a victim of abuse or the person or organization that is abusing vulnerable persons.

To whom must CPAs report situations of maltreatment?

A case of maltreatment covered by section 21 may be reported to persons designated by the following organizations: 

  • the public curator if the person is under protective supervision or their incapacity has been established by a medical assessment;
  • the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, whose mandate is to protect every aged person and every handicapped person against any form of exploitation;
  • the Autorité des marchés financiers, in cases of financial abuse committed by a person under its supervision, such as an insurance representative, claims adjuster, financial planner or mortgage broker;
  • a CISSSS or CIUSSS or the complaints commissioner of the institution where the mistreated person is lodged; 
  • a police force

To find out which organization is best equipped to receive a report of maltreatment, contact the Elder Mistreatment helpline

What happens if a CPA fails to report a situation covered by section 21 of the Act?

A person who is obliged to report a situation of maltreatment but does not do so is liable to a fine of $2,500 to $25,000. For a subsequent offence, the amounts are doubled.

Moreover, individuals or organizations operating an institution or a resource housing seniors or vulnerable persons are liable to significant fines of up to $250,000 if found guilty of maltreatment. A CPA employed by such an organization who participated directly or indirectly in maltreatment covered by the Act may be personally liable to substantial penalties.

What can CPAs do if thew witness a case of maltreatment not covered by section 21?

In any other circumstances not covered by section 21 of the Act to combat maltreatment, CPAs must determine whether they can lift professional secrecy and report a situation under section 60.4 of the Professional Code. This provision applies when it is a matter of: 

  • preventing an act of violence likely to cause a “physical or psychological injury that is significantly detrimental to the physical integrity or the health or well-being of a person or an identifiable group of persons” and 
  • the situation generates a sense of urgency

The situation is reported to the person concerned or a person who can come to his or her aid. It may be one of the persons listed above or a trusted person in the victim`s circle of family and friends who could come to his or her aid.

In all cases, it is important to keep in mind that seniors and persons in vulnerable situations are entitled to dignity and respect. Whenever possible, CPAs should inform them of any steps they intend to take that will affect them. This will preserve the existing bonds of trust. 

Are professionals protected?

The Order’s insurance fund does not cover criminal penalties that may apply to CPAs who fail to report a situation of maltreatment they are obliged to report. 

However, CPAs may consult a lawyer designated by the insurance fund to check their obligations of professional secrecy within the framework of the application of the Act to combat maltreatment and any other whistleblowing legislation on breaches and wrongdoings. Such consultation is covered by the Order’s insurance fund to a maximum of $10,000. 

Under the Act to combat maltreatment, no proceedings may be brought against a person who, in good faith, has reported maltreatment, regardless of the conclusions issued following examination.  The Act therefore provides immunity for whistleblowers, who are also protected against reprisals. 

If proceedings are nonetheless brought against a CPA whistleblower or the CPA is informed that such proceedings are being prepared, that CPA should immediately contact the Order’s professional liability insurance fund by writing to assuranceresponsabilite@cpaquebec.ca.  

Resources

The Elder Mistreatment Helpline

The Elder Mistreatment Helpline is an anonymous, confidential and free service that can assist CPAs and others in identifying indications of maltreatment, answer their questions and direct them to the appropriate resources. 

Telephone: 1 888 489-ABUS, ext. 2287

Upcoming training

Training will soon be available online on the VIVO platform to help CPAs detect and prevent cases of material and financial abuse and better understand their reporting obligations in situations of maltreatment. 

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