Like many Canadians, I was horrified to read the Canadian Armed Forces report on the medical conditions in five Ontario long-term care homes. Having been in the law and ageing field for 10 years, this type of institutional elder abuse and neglect is familiar to me; nevertheless, it is distressing to hear—each and every incident brings me tremendous sadness.
The individual victims of this broken trust are our parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. Many have loved ones desperately trying to access them. Others have been abandoned and forgotten, left to languish in nursing homes across the province; some have simply outlived their friends and partners, spending their final years slumped in rows of wheelchairs lining dim hallways and parked in overcrowded TV rooms.
While the conditions detailed in the military report pre-date COVID-19, the current public health crisis has pulled them from the shadows of society and put them into everyone’s plain view. No one can deny that some of our most vulnerable citizens are suffering cruel and inhumane treatment—treatment that not only shocks the conscience of ordinary Canadians, but also violates the rights guaranteed to people of all ages under our country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Every year, WEAAD provides an opportunity for reflection and action. These past few months, as I nurse my newborn son, I have thought about his future—as a teenager, young adult, and hopefully one day, an old man. I am overcome with maternal pang thinking about the possibility of him growing old in a nursing home. In a country like Canada, we can and must do better. It is well past time for action.
As such, over the coming weeks and months, in my personal capacity and as founder of Dementia Justice Canada, I will be uprooting elder abuse and planting the seeds of change by:
1. Supporting legal advocacy organizations like the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms who are willing and able to go to court to defend the Charter rights of long-term care residents.
2. Renewing our call for the Parliament of Canada to amend the National Strategy for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias Act to:
3. Continuing to encourage the federal Minister of Health to appoint a justice sector representative to the Ministerial Advisory Board on Dementia.
4. Renewing our call for a national dialogue on whether long-term care should be an insured service under the Canada Health Act.
5. Continuing to write op-eds on the rights and wellbeing of persons with dementia, particularly those who are in conflict with the criminal justice system. (See e.g., my recent article with co-author Eddy Elmer in The Hamilton Spectator, Releasing elderly inmates en masse in Canada is misguided).
Building on decades of progress by seniors advocates across the country and around the world, I look forward to advancing the elder rights movement through these small yet hopefully meaningful contributions. Older Canadians, particularly those who are vulnerable and often voiceless, deserve nothing less.
Heather Campbell Pope, BA (Hons.), LLB, LLM
Dementia Justice Canada
To learn more about World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, please visit the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse website.