Elder Abuse Advocacy

Lawyers, you have a critical role to play

Elder Abuse Advocacy

In March 2022, the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse launched Future Us, a pan-Canadian engagement strategy that identifies ways for everyone to contribute to elder abuse prevention and response. Lawyers can play a pivotal role.

Institutions and communities need elder abuse policy. Policy-drafting often falls to lawyers. Agencies require policies that align with provincial laws and identify protocol if someone thinks an older person — patient, client, housing resident, co-worker, or volunteer — is being abused. Often staff and volunteers want to help but do not know what to do. They experience vicarious trauma, particularly when they feel helpless and do not know how to escalate the matter or make an appropriate referral.

Governments need your input. In 2022, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights released a report following their study of elder abuse. Many lawyers made submissions, including through the CBA. Currently, the Government of BC is considering reform of Part 3 of the Adult Guardianship Act, which contains BC’s adult protection provisions. Please consider extending your support so that CBABC can participate in these types of submissions. You can also ask locally elected officials to use their power and influence to support Future Us goals and make elder abuse a priority. 

Not-for-profits need your support. They help individuals and work toward system change daily. Organizations like CanAge and Seniors First BC provide much needed advocacy for older people and their families. Elder abuse networks lead prevention efforts at local, regional, and national levels. They provide critical infrastructure for public education, knowledge mobilization, research and ongoing engagement across sectors and communities. In our province, you can support the BC Association of Community Response Networks.

There are various ways for lawyers to support these organizations. Many are recruiting Board members. BC also has an inter-agency Council to Reduce Elder Abuse. CBABC has a seat at that table and needs a new volunteer. Contact CBABC if you are interested. Charitable donations are also very helpful; not-for-profits accomplish a lot on a shoestring budget and too often struggle to keep their doors open.

The justice system needs resources. BC has a 93-page integrated cross-agency Violence Against Women in Relationships Policy. In comparison, the BC Crown Counsel policy on elder abuse is less than two pages. The CCEL is consulting with stakeholders on the key elements of a model inter-agency policy on supporting vulnerable witnesses and victims with capacity issues because mental capacity is often a challenge when it comes to elder abuse prosecution. If you work in this area, the CCEL would love to hear your thoughts.

Finally, you can join the call for a United Nations Convention on the Human Rights of Older People. A UN Convention is necessary to enshrine older people’s rights. With a convention, and the assistance of a Special Rapporteur, governments can have an explicit legal framework, guidance, and support that would enable them to ensure that older people’s rights are realised in our aging societies.

The Future Us Roadmap provides many more suggestions for how you can contribute.

In 2022, the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging found that one in ten older adults across Canada experience some form of elder mistreatment each year. Our population is aging, and our infrastructure is not prepared. People are the core of Future Us, and elder abuse initiatives need both leadership and solid support behind the scenes. There is a role for you and a place for your skills.