By David Madden

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). It was initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations in 2006, and serves as a day for the world to voice its opposition to the mistreatment of seniors. In Montreal, ACT’s community partner Respecting Elders: Communities Against Abuse (RECAA) uses the day to inclusively raise awareness of elder mistreatment and elder abuse, by way of theatre practices, creative interventions and hand-to-hand leafleting in the streets. RECAA is an organization of elders from Montreal’s cultural communities who work across age, gender and ethnic lines to promote a culture of respect for elders. In anticipation of WEAAD, ACT postdoctoral fellow David Madden spoke to RECAA’s Anne Caines about their activities over the years and why the day is important to them.  

DM: Why is WEAAD important for RECAA?

AC:  WEAAD is important for RECAA because our mandate is to raise awareness of elder mistreatment and elder abuse locally. WEAAD takes this awareness to another level, which is the global level. It links RECAA to the unfortunate issue of elder mistreatment worldwide and allows us to better understand how we are tackling it in relation to other countries and organizations.

We also gain more insights from other countries in terms of the ways they are identifying elder mistreatment and the ways they are working on issues related to elder mistreatment, whether at the level of prevention, social work, or city planning.

“Older persons should remain integrated in society, participate actively in the formulation and implementation of policies that directly affect their well-being and share their knowledge and skills with younger generations.”

United Nations principle for Older Persons resolution 46/91

DM:  Are there any countries in particular that RECAA looks to for leadership in raising awareness?

AC:  I would say that RECAA has always been looking at the global picture and also at the picture of our own place within this global framework. It’s really interesting to compare how other cities and other countries are looking at the issue. For example, I am impressed that the U.K. appointed a Minister for Loneliness, because the isolation has become so profound for both the young and old. Loneliness is one of the chief phenomena that is affecting most urban environments throughout the world. The WHO has taken this on through the Age Friendly Cities initiative. Ireland, as well, is not only strongly supporting Age Friendly Cities, it is also attempting to become an Age Friendly Country. It is worth noting that if you meet the challenges that elders face, you meet them for everyone. There are many cities in Canada, including Montreal, that bear the name of being an “Age Friendly City”. There is still much work to be done for them to earn the title.

Canada has a reputation for being an inclusive and multicultural society that is open to immigration, However there are many elders in Montreal and in Canada, more broadly, who are marginalized for a variety of challenges:  linguistic, cultural and/or socio-economic circumstances. RECAA cannot turn away from the migrations of the world. All of us come from different backgrounds and we’ve had very unique ways of coming to Montreal and to Canada. Isolation from information, resources and integration can make all of us vulnerable to abuse.

In order to reach out to elder immigrant communities we have been using a nonverbal form of  Forum Theatre and creating scenes that we think elders can easily recognize as forms of mistreatment. Our workshops are first and foremost a way of bringing elders together to speak about their experiences, identify mistreatment for themselves and then explore possible solutions.

RECAA member Sadeqa Siddiqui participating in a “flash mob” at a local Montreal mall for WEAAD.

DM:  Can you speak to some of the things RECAA has been doing throughout the years for WEAAD?

AC.: RECAA has done a variety of activities through the years to draw attention to WEAAD. We want to work on as many levels as possible. For example, in our early days, it was simply leafleting information throughout the streets of Montreal and on university campuses that offered summer courses. We still leaflet but have added “events” with our partners and community friends. In 2012, the Digital Literacy Project from the Atwater Library and ACT (then known as the Ageing, Communication, Media (ACM) project) joined us at the Galeries du Parc. While we presented a Forum to the general public, ACT photographed members describing in a word or two what they felt about elder mistreatment. The Digital Literacy Project helped us to sign the online United Nations petition for a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Elders. Another year, Lib Spry of Theatre Agile created a bit of vaudeville theatre entitled, We Are Old! We are Wonderful!. Then there was a “Flash Mob” scene where we danced to the  “Sound of our own Drum’’ in the open space near the Atwater metro. Our tableau was about what elders can suffer: “isolation” “neglect” and “disrespect.”  What we need to counter this is “community,” “love,” and “respect”. More recently we joined with partners and community groups throughout Montreal to demonstrate the inadequacies of our metro system to meet the needs of the physically challenged, frail elders and children in strollers. Our theme was that “elders can make waves to create an Age Friendly City.”  

DM:  What does RECAA have planned this year for WEAAD?

AC:  RECAA’s focus for this year is to connect and support groups that are scheduling events around June 15th.  We intend to use our online presence (our website and Facebook) to advertise the many events that will be taking place in and around Montreal.

The Table de concertation des aînés de l’île de Montréal (TCAÎM), will release a list of events at the end of this month which we will post.

In addition, RECAA will contribute information articles about elder abuse, resources for all Montrealers and introduce discussion on the new Bill 115 – An Act to combat maltreatment of seniors and other persons of full age in vulnerable situations – treating Elder Abuse. The debate surrounds the signalling of elder abuse and the new rules for surveillance cameras in nursing homes.

For more information check out our website and those listed below during this month and into the year. Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

David Madden is an artist and Postdoctoral Fellow with ACT at Concordia University