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June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Lawyers, Professionals and Leaders of All Kinds Must Act to Eliminate Systemic Elder Abuse


The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as "a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person". The WHO says that elder abuse can take various forms such as financial, physical, psychological and sexual. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect.

Older persons in Canada had an expectation of trust in regards to our long term care system. In the past three months, we have seen this trust breached in multiple and fatally harmful ways. It has been breached by governments, by owners and operators of long term care homes and retirement homes, by public hospitals, and by individuals working within these systems. The high number of deaths in care homes across Canada is a direct result of systemic elder abuse. 

The systemic elder abuse of hospital patients, and residents of long term care and retirement homes has been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is not new. The pandemic is a public health crisis that has exposed another, existing, ongoing public health crisis that older Canadians and their families have personally experienced for decades. Underfunding of long term care; failure to properly inspect and regulate homes; practices at hospitals that have discharged elderly patients to live in situations of hardship and risk; labour and other business practices by home operators that have valued profit over safety and quality of care, have all been long standing. 

In my March 30 blog on the Goddard Gamage website I wrote that it is our job as lawyers to apply an elder law lens in every area of law, and consider the potentially different and harmful ways in which older persons may be affected by the legal advice we give our clients about their business interests and personal matters. 

On June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, lawyers, other professionals and leaders of all kinds need to think about the positions of trust we occupy, and then act to eliminate systemic elder abuse.