Madam Chair, and honourable members, I will start by quoting the following: ...it would be very regrettable if the older among us, after long lives of supporting others, should be left beyond the reach of legal protection in their declining years by reason of investigative difficulty. There is a large difference between judicious care in the search for truth and a presumption that such cases are hopeless.
Mr. Justice Jack Watson of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench made these comments in the case of Clifford Morin. A senior himself while caring for his elderly mother, Morin was alleged to have assaulted, confined, and threatened her out of frustrations arising from her care.
Initiated by my predecessor, Detective George Doerksen of the Edmonton Elder Abuse Intervention Team, in 2004, this matter lingered before the courts for five years before a decision of guilt was rendered in 2009 for the counts of confinement and uttering threats. Morin's mother passed away prior to the case's conclusion because of her already advanced age and infirmity.
I have been a member of the Edmonton Elder Abuse Intervention Team since 2009. In this capacity I'm responsible for the investigations of complex or high-risk cases of elder abuse in collaboration with our partners of 12 years: the City of Edmonton, Catholic Social Services, Covenant Health, Community Geriatric Psychiatry, and the Victorian Order of Nurses. As much as I represent the Edmonton Police Service and our partners today, I feel it is my greater obligation to represent the seniors we serve, many of whom are women who are unable to share their stories with you today on their own.
I am neither an academic nor a statistician, and I will not speak from these perspectives. I'm an investigator who is a street policeman in my heart. In this role I have been able to meet seniors, of whom I will speak, in their homes and almost always in the midst of difficult times. To them I owe a sincere debt of gratitude, as they have been my patient educators and have provided me with the insight that allows me to speak with you today.
I'd like to share four short stories of five women, stories that have touched me personally and that I hope will assist you in understanding the nature, diversity, and complexity of abuse that many elderly Canadian women face on a daily basis. While I will focus my comments on the abuse of women, it is important to mention that many elderly men are likewise victimized and have stories similar to the ones I will share here.
This is a story of two women from different backgrounds whose lives intersected as a result of abuse. Of first nations heritage, Mrs. C is a woman who, along with her siblings, survived the experience of Canada's residential schools. As an adult, she suffered a brain injury that limited her memory and cognition and resulted in her becoming a ward of the province. Because of the demands of her care, Mrs. C. was placed in a care setting in which for several years reports of physical abuse were made by her family, which were dismissed or ignored. Mrs. C remained in the care of her alleged abuser and, as later investigation confirmed, continued to be abused.
At the same time, Mrs. T, a resident of the same home who had suffered from a severe physical disability from childhood, which had confined her to a wheelchair and rendered her effectively non-verbal, but still cognitively intact, witnessed the repeated abuse of Mrs. C while also being told that if she revealed what she witnessed, she would never be allowed to leave the home.
While charges were ultimately laid, both women wear the emotional scars of this abuse.
To this day, Mrs. K speaks no English. She emigrated with her family from Asia approximately 25 years ago. Her husband, after they had settled on the west coast, became ill and died within a few years of their arrival in Canada. Pursuing opportunities in Alberta, her adult sons established a business financed largely by the support of their mother, who took out loans in excess of $100,000 at a high interest rate from members of her own cultural community. Mrs. K's sons ultimately defaulted on their debt to their mother and in the process denied her access to their families and to her grandchildren. Mrs. K as a result suffered significant shame within her own community. In an effort to persuade her sons to repay their debt, she travelled to a rural location where she confronted her eldest son about the loan. In an ensuing argument, Mrs. K was threatened with a firearm and severely assaulted.
During the resultant police investigation, the stress and shame of the circumstances resulted in Mrs. K's being hospitalized after suffering an emotional breakdown. In order to ensure her safety and the safety of other involved persons, charges were pursued against her son, most of which were dismissed when Mrs. K refused to testify at trial.
On a spring night, Mrs. W was sleeping in the bed of a retirement residence in downtown Edmonton. In the early morning hours, a male gained entry to her suite, where he brutally attacked and sexually assaulted her. While surviving her attack, Mrs. W died in hospital, becoming one of Edmonton's 43 homicides this year. Mrs. W had never met her attacker.
The last example is that of Mrs. M. At age 20, shortly after an arranged marriage, Mrs. M emigrated to Canada with her husband from Europe and settled in Edmonton, where she raised her family. Throughout her marriage, Mrs. M was the victim of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse perpetrated by her husband. Aware of the abuse her mother was suffering and her refusal to leave the relationship, Mrs. M's only daughter severed her ties with the family as an adult. In her 70s, with the abuse not abating, Mrs. M accessed the services of a seniors shelter in Edmonton. Despite the supports offered by the shelter staff and our own team, because of the pressure exerted by her son, a citizen with some status in the community and who limited her access to her grandchildren, Mrs. M chose to return to the abusive marriage, where she remains today.
Violence perpetrated by a spouse remains the most common form of violence perpetrated against elderly women. These examples represent the primary abuse dynamics that I have observed personally during my tenure at the Elder Abuse Intervention Team—abuse in an institutional setting or care setting, abuse by a family member or a person in a position of trust, a crime by a stranger, or abuse by an intimate partner. Within these primary dynamics, Canadian seniors fall victim to all forms of elder abuse, including physical, sexual, psychological, and financial abuse and neglect.
While awareness of elder abuse is growing, it is acknowledged within law enforcement, the social sciences, and health care that elder abuse is 20 to 30 years behind domestic violence and child abuse. Elder abuse is often compared with both fields. However, it's important to recognize that it is a distinct area of study that requires a response that is tailored to the needs of the victims. It has been my experience that the dynamics and response considerations of elder abuse are as complex as or more complex than these related fields.
The overarching consideration in addressing cases of elder abuse are the values of autonomy and protection. Seniors value their autonomy. They're often reluctant to initiate a response against a family member, spouse, or person they trust. Frequently, the barriers imposed by seniors themselves are the single most significant obstacle to pursuing a successful intervention or prosecution. Professionals in government must balance the desire for autonomy against the need to protect the senior on a case-by-case basis within a complicated and often ambiguous and inadequate legislative framework.
Complicating this response is the fact that inter-agency information-sharing between organizations involved with both the abuser and the abused is often inadequate and restrictive, to the point that the moral imperative to act to protect vulnerable persons is not recognized or is ignored. Likewise, it has become evident to me that bias against the elderly is prevalent within society and in the attitudes of many professionals working with seniors.
I will conclude by suggesting that while awareness and educational programs in the area of elder abuse are undoubtedly an important component in responding to this issue, as a front-line service provider I cannot over-emphasize the importance of a collateral response and intervention capacity. Too frequently, valuable awareness and educational programs have the unintended consequence of further stressing responders who are already beyond their capacity, ultimately letting down both victims and family when advertised services fail to meet expectations.
Elder abuse is a complicated problem. Criminal investigation and prosecution of elder abuse are some of the most difficult files that I've handled as a police officer, but also some of the most rewarding.
On behalf of the Edmonton Police Service, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.