The consequences for mistreating animals are worse than for mistreating seniors, a well-known Quebec patient’s rights advocate is arguing.

Paul Brunet with the Council for the Protection of Patients didn't mince words Tuesday morning when he spoke before hearings began on Bill 115, the proposed legislation to fight elder abuse.

The bill tabled last fall doesn’t go far enough, said Brunet.

“This government adopted last year a very severe fine for people who mistreat animals, but unfortunately in the bill for people who abuse the elderly, we don’t see any fines, so we think that the government must be more serious,” he said.

He argued that fines to protect animals can go as high as $65,000, yet Bill 115 doesn't include penalties.

"As we speak now, it is worse to badly treat an animal that it would be to an elderly in the wrong fashion. So something is wrong," said Brunet.

The Minister for Seniors said that comparison is unfair.

"We have people that wake up every day, go to work every day to be at the service of our elderly. So it's very bad to say that we treat them like animals, or we treat them less than we treat animals," said Francine Charbonneau.

Brunet is not alone criticizing the bill.

The CAQ also said it doesn't have teeth. The party wants to make it mandatory to denounce abuse: for example, employees who witness abuse at a seniors’ residence would be legally obligated to report it.

Mandatory denunciation was included in an earlier version of proposed legislation–Bill 399–tabled by the Liberals three years ago, and the CAQ is wondering why it has now been excluded.

"I don't understand the backtracking," said Francois Paradis. "We can't afford to be timid."

Charbonneau said she is concerned about too many cases ending up in front of the courts, some of which could be false alarms and not real abuse.

"We have to take care of our elderly, and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to put in place a bill that makes sure that everybody takes their responsibility," said Charbonneau.

The hearings continue until Friday.

How can we protect an elderly friend or relative?

Brunet said better training of personnel and better supervision, but added that family and friends play a crucial role in the well-being of the elderly.

“It has been proven that the more the relatives and friends go and visit the elderly and vulnerable, the less they are subjected to negligence or even mistreatment.  Go and visit your family member in a long-term facility or hospital. You’re going to help the therapy of the patient and make sure they will never be at risk for negligence or mistreatment,” he said.