Welcome to the ACT Podcast, a program on ageing, communication, and technologies. From telecommunications sales practices to elder abuse, each episode of this program will take a look at a different issue of importance to older adults, and bring you illuminating interviews and commentary. With each topic, we aim to inspire and engage our audience in starting a conversation on salient subjects that concern the senior community, as we all grow older in the modern environment.
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Episode 1- The impact of Abusive Sales Practices by the telecommunication industry
In this episode, we investigate instances of aggressive and misleading sales practices used by big telecom companies in Canada. If you’ve ever experienced these types of sales practices by telecommunication companies, you are not alone. Regardless of our age, most of us have had at least one frustrating experience with our phone, TV, or internet provider.
While not everyone experiences these frustrations with telecom providers in the same way- these interactions are particularly damaging to older adults. Telecom service providers have particularly preyed upon seniors by using aggressive and abusive sales practices. Since most of our essential daily services are moving online, having access to affordable telecom services should be seen not as a privilege, but as a right.
Welcome to the ACT Podcast, a program on ageing, communication, and technologies! ACT is a research project based in Montreal, Quebec. We consider what it means to age in an increasingly digital world. In each episode of this program, we take a look at a different issue of importance to older adults, and bring you illuminating interviews and commentary that aim to inspire and engage. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and Soundcloud.
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If there’s one thing that we all have in common, regardless of our age, it’s that we’ve probably had at least one frustrating experience with our phone, TV, or internet provider. These are huge companies with lots of clients and high profit margins. At the end of the day, their bottom line is their highest priority.
These frustrating experiences are only compounded by the fact that in Canada, the rates for telecom services are significantly higher than in other industrialized countries.
But not everyone experiences this frustration with telecom providers in the same way. Telecom service providers have particularly preyed upon seniors, using aggressive and abusive sales practices. Since most of our essential daily services are moving online, having access to affordable telecom services should be seen not as a privilege, but as a right. That’s the topic we’ll be discussing on today’s episode of the podcast.
A 2018 report from the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services found that Canadians’ complaints about internet, phone and TV companies had increased by 57 percent from the year before. Those complaints included problems with billing, services and sales transactions.
For older adults, this problem can have serious consequences on people’s financial and emotional well-being. All too often, seniors are at the receiving end of aggressive and misleading sales practices by telecommunications companies.
The problem has gotten so bad that the CRTC, or Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, launched an inquiry into abusive sales practices.
Over the course of this podcast, we’ll take a closer look at why this problem exists and what could be done to stop it.
For some older people, the abuse they suffer from telecoms sales representatives on the phone or at their door could leave them feeling isolated. Since it’s just one person on the phone with a large company, it may feel like an individual problem.
But of course, it’s not an individual problem—it’s systemic. We can understand a systemic issue as something that happens many times, and a problem that’s created and supported by structures and systems that put people in positions of vulnerability.
We spoke with Constance Lafontaine, the Associate Director of ACT, to find out how ACT first came across the issue, and started doing research on it.
We never set out to research this issue in particular. We’ve been working in a lot of low-income residences for seniors, and giving digital literacy workshops, and one of the things we encountered were people coming to the common rooms where we were holding our workshops and then asking us to explain their bills to them, their telecom bills, or asking us why they were getting certain charges. And for a lot of these people, getting $70 extra on their bill every month, as has been the case, can make the difference between eating sometimes and not eating. So we realized that this was a very serious issue for some seniors. And as the years continued, we noticed that this seemed to be getting more and more frequent. We talked to a lot of community partners we work with and they had also encountered this issue quite a bit.
And then a few years later, so going back to 2017 now, we decided to provide a report to the CRTC on something different—on the future of broadcasting policy in Canada and specifically asking seniors for their inputs on this. So we conducted interviews with seniors and we realized that when we ask them about technology, about policy and technology, they want to talk about service providers. And they start talking about the ways in which they’re being mistreated by their telecommunications service providers. So we realized that this was not only a very serious issue for some seniors, especially seniors who are living in poverty, but we realized that this is an issue that is affecting a lot of seniors, and it has unfortunately become quite normalized.
So seniors were coming to researchers at ACT and sharing their woes about their telecom bills. Gradually, the problem started to seem bigger and bigger, and also more systemic.
Anne Caines is an elder activist living in Montreal and she is the coordinator of RECAA, Respecting Elders Communities Against Abuse. She has also been outspoken on this issue. Similarly to Constance, she spoke about how this problem would come to light when groups of seniors got together to talk about their uses of communication technologies.
“Well, you really don’t think of the stories that are anecdotal until you’re sitting in a room and you’re part of a group that is asked questions about something else, and then suddenly this issue comes up. And we looked at each other and we realized that it didn’t matter who we were, we all had an experience of financial exploitation, or being offered something we didn’t need. And I’ll give you an example: RECAA was talking about the different programs that we’d like to see the CRTC promote – much more cultural diversity and much more access to different language programs. And it was all kind of a happy up discussion. But accidentally someone mentioned the use of not a smartphone, but just television, right? And that’s when things broke down into critical, critical stories that each had. Personally, somebody has told me, ‘Anne, I really don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t understand what they’ve given me. I therefore don’t even use my iPad. I don’t want to tell my daughter I’m not using it.’ Now, I hadn’t heard this before. So in the end, we would have to say to individual groups – bring your iPad, or if you have a problem, we’ll go to your place and we’ll look at your internet or your TV, because you shouldn’t be paying this much. Because you’re not even using this! But in each case, it was very similar – they had been told something that they didn’t quite understand, and it was rude to say they didn’t understand, or they felt embarrassed to say they were not up to what they should be up to.”
In March 2018, CBC reported that hundreds of people working in call centres for companies like Rogers or Bell were coming forward to say that they would often get penalized by their bosses if they helped to reduce their client’s monthly bill in any way. That’s pretty shocking, but it gives you a sense of the incentive for employees to dupe their clients, especially the ones they see as being more vulnerable, like seniors.
Media Clip 1:
Host: Today the federal government ordered an investigation into sales tactics by Canada’s largest telecom companies. It comes after months of stories from CBC’s Go Public documenting allegations of aggressive and misleading sales practices.
Media Clip 2:
Anchor: When you saw this increase, did you think they made a mistake?
John: Absolutely, I thought that was a mistake.
Anchor: Last spring, a door-to-door sales rep for Bell knocked on Johnmarco Menichello’s door. He says the rep guaranteed him a monthly price for TV, internet and home phone. He bought in, but a few months later, that guaranteed price went up.
John: I was just in shock.
Media Clip 3:
Anchor: …with Rogers and Bell at these hearings. The thing is, this is about much, much more than one complaint.
But this isn’t just about bad employees—after all, those workers are working within organizational frameworks that encourage them to treat consumers in particular ways. CBC reported that some telecom employees earn commission for every product and service they sell, such as a home security system or extra TV channels. But they lose the potential for commission every time they cancel a customer’s service.
Here’s Constance Lafontaine from ACT again.
It goes beyond a kind of mix up or just a mistake that might happen, that’s when you really start seeing proof that there have been abuses at certain points. And then it’s the reality when we conducted interviews with seniors about the future of telecommunication policy in Canada—we spoke to 53 people—and three quarters of them reported having issues with their telecommunications service providers. And by issues I mean having suffered misleading or aggressive sales practices. So this is when we start talking about a systemic problem.
Employees are put in a position to target seniors, to lie to seniors, to basically abuse seniors. They are often young employees who are incentivized through commissions-based systems or trained to really prey upon people who are at their most vulnerable in their dealing with telecommunication.
Anne Caines from RECAA has even framed this problem as an issue of elder mistreatment. She spells out what that means here.
RECAA’s mission is to raise awareness of elder mistreatment. And elder mistreatment initially to focus on the cultural communities where immigrants didn’t speak the official languages of French or English. And we had a definition of what elder mistreatment is, and that is anything that takes away an action or actions that result in the exploitation of an elder. And that could be physical, mental, psychological, sexual, and financial. And we really think that what has been happening with the telecommunication companies falls very much into the category of financial exploitation. And we can say that it is unintentional, but the actions do result in elder mistreatment as far as we’re concerned.
So, we know that this issue of abusive telecoms sales practices is bad, and that it can cause stress. We know that it can perpetuate financial hardships that many seniors live with, and we know that the problem is systemic.
But what do these practices actually look like when they happen?
To get a clearer picture, we’re going to hear from Laura Tamblyn-Watts. Laura is the Chief Public Policy Officer for CARP—the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, and she’s an expert on many elder law issues, including the one we’re talking about today.
We started by asking her to set the scene and describe these abusive sales practices. Here’s Laura.
So imagine, if you will, an older adult at dinnertime, and the phone rings—and very often they are at quite inconvenient times in the day, and that’s because the people phoning trying to get sales are often doing so at times where they think people will be home. It’s quite often at a dinner hour or a breakfast hour.
And they answer the phone, and they’re told at that time that there’s a great deal, and they’re calling from one of the telecom companies. Or sometimes they called and they hear that they just want to update some of their information. Either of us those can be a hook. At that point, they’ll check in often with regards to their own account, or if it’s an organization that they don’t have an account with, they’ll talk about some kind of great deal. And at that point, the pressure for sales are on. Now, remember, these things are often quite scripted. And their job is to sell, and there’s nothing wrong with either of those ideas upfront – people are allowed to sell, they’re allowed to have scripts. But what they are, is very high-pressure sales tactics that try to work around or over people saying “no” or that they’re not interested. And so what we see is older people getting caught up on the phone, not wanting to be rude – and often our older generation come from an era where politeness and certainly phone manners is very important – and they get caught.
Of course, when we’re talking about seniors in Canada, or in any country for that matter, it’s important to acknowledge that this is a very diverse population. They may not all experience these abusive sales practices in the same way. We asked Laura Tamblyn-Watts which group of seniors are the most impacted by this issue.
What we certainly see is that this can take advantage of our poorest and people with the most degree of frailty, or the most degree of intersectional challenge. What that can look like is in the first instance people who tend to be quite low-income or living on a very fixed income are particularly susceptible to this idea that telecom rates would be lower. And the sales practices being what they are can notably affect them and they can get hooked into higher rates and things they can’t get out of, which can have disastrous effects for their credit. For people who may be quite frail, very commonly older adults will have a challenge if they have physical frailty or physical mobility getting outside the home, and so what we know is that the internet can be enormously important for older people who suffer or have challenges with their physical health or well-being. And for that they may be using e-health, they may be looking into getting supports from caregivers on a long-distance basis, they may be looking to ensure that they have the highest possible speed of internet, etc. because it may actually be a bit of a lifeline for them. So the idea that higher speeds at even the same rates is very appealing or even better higher speeds at lower rates if we’re talking about internet.
And we see that people who perhaps come from diverse populations and have challenges with either English or French as their first language, whether that be on the phone or in written format, can be especially challenging. And so we know that in many different areas of this country literacy rates in English and French for older people can be quite low, so they may not be able to read and understand the information in front of them. They’re being assured by a smiling person perhaps at their door that all is well and all they need to do is sign. And so these types of very socially vulnerable types of seniors have more at risk and are more susceptible to being taken in.
So the CRTC looked into abusive or aggressive sales practices by big telecom companies at the demand of the Liberal government. It issued its report in February 2019. The report confirms that misleading and abusive sales practices are widespread in the industry, and that consumer protections need to be strengthened.
According to CBC reporting on the issue, the CRTC says it plans to follow up its report with measures to address the problems identified through the inquiry, but most of them will require additional regulatory proceedings.
One group that has been following the issue, and the CRTC inquiry process closely, is Open Media. Open Media is a non-profit that works to keep the internet open and accessible in Canada, and they often monitor the moves being made by big telecom companies, who of course don’t always act in our favour.
We spoke with Laura Tribe, the Executive Director of Open Media in Vancouver. She noted that one of the tricky things about this issue is that there’s no current legislation to stop big telecom from doing what they’re doing. And they need to be reigned in.
I think the thing right now that’s the real problem is there are no consequences for it. There are no punishments for misleading consumers and customers into purchasing. So what we’re really looking for is financial penalties for these companies, for these kinds of practices if it’s found. Some sort of recourse for customers to be able to complain. There are some complaints bodies that do exist, that we can take our concerns to, but I don’t know how many people actually know about them or know how to use or navigate those systems. So making it really easy for customers to know what to do when that happens.
If you’re unable to resolve a complaint with your Internet, phone or TV provider, you can file one with the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services, or CCTS. They’re an independent organization that helps resolve disputes between customers and companies. You can file a complaint at www.ccts-cprst.ca.
Because I think the biggest challenge that we see when it comes to issues with the big telecom companies is that people feel really hopeless. You’re one person up against a massive company and when you call and they put you on hold, or can’t answer your question, or just tell you “sorry, too bad,” what do you do next? And so really making it clear that if these things happen, there’s a very very simple and clear course of action that customers can take to make sure that there is justice for them. But also that there are penalties and ramifications for these companies taking these kinds of tactics.
We live in a society that is increasingly online. Services from taxes, to drivers insurance, to healthcare information are more available on the internet, but sometimes at the expense of being able to access them by mail, by phone, or in person.
Here’s Anne Caines from RECAA again.
Telecommunications is our lifeline for everybody now. I don’t know anybody that isn’t texting, you know, that isn’t depending on this, young and old. So therefore you really have to make it accessible and appropriate to the needs of our citizenship.
Laura Tribe from Open Media explains that the problem is not necessarily this shift to online culture, but rather its that we’re leaving many people behind, including many seniors. Also, people aren’t being shown how to use these digital services. It’s just assumed you’re gonna pick them up.
The things that people need to navigate their lives are increasingly available online, but we’re not necessarily seeing that same switch to make sure that the people that need to access them have that ability. So if your forms for your taxes are now available online, well, do you have the internet? Do you know how to use it? Do you know how to navigate PDF readers? All of the little pieces that go to making sure that you have not just the access to the technology but the digital literacy to know how to use them effectively so that they are actually improving your life, which is the intention of them, not to make it more complicated.
And so with seniors in particular, we’ve seen it go a few different ways. The first is that the technologies themselves are changing so quickly that if your main focus and requirement for your job is not to follow it, as it is for me, it can be really hard to understand how things are changing, what different tools or technologies to use, how to make sure that you’re up to speed.
But on the other side, there’s a lot of people who don’t have access to these technologies, don’t want them, but don’t realize that for example, in the case of the bad sales practices they’ve been sold it. So we’ve seen people who’ve decided they don’t need the internet, they don’t even know what it is, they don’t know how to work it, they don’t have a computer, and they’re still being sold internet services at home. Because when you don’t understand what those things are, when you don’t understand what it is that you’re paying for, the way that the technology works, the speeds that you actually need, it’s really easy to get caught up in a lot of the jargon that big telecom providers can use to make it sound like you maybe do need it, or maybe you’re not really sure but it sounds like a bundle and that’s gonna make my cable cheaper. Well, it might make your cable cheaper but you’re also paying an extra 30 to 40 dollars a month for internet that you don’t need. So unless you actually have the technical know-how to understand what it is that you’re being sold, whether that’s the type of service, the speed, the amount of data, all the different things that go along with that, the cell phone plan that you’re getting and what that actually means. Do you really need all of the different add-ons that are on your plan? If you don’t understand what they are, it’s really has a customer to be able navigate to make sure that you’re getting what is right for you. Because when you’re talking to these companies, their intention is to sell to you.
And so we see that particularly amplified with seniors because it hasn’t been their upbringing to navigate these systems in the same way as teenagers growing up with a data plan who know exactly how many videos they can watch before they’re going to hit their cap, things like that that are really integrated into our understanding of how the internet works now if that’s what you grew up with. But if you’re just using it to check email, maybe that’s not your reflex, and maybe you don’t understand what a data cap is and why it matters and what an overage fee is, and yet you become subject to them without your telecom provider initially making sure that you’re clear on what’s happening.
The issue that we’ve been exploring in this podcast can be a scary one. For seniors who are being overcharged on their telecom bills, it can make the difference between eating or going more into debt every month.
Thankfully, there are things that we can do about it, both at a personal and a policy level.
Here’s Laura Tamblyn-Watts from CARP again, offering some really good advice for what you can do if you think you’re being subject to abusive sales practices.
If you’re concerned about it, it’s very important to ask them to provide you the written information, so don’t just sign up over the phone or at the door. Sometimes they’ll say that these deals are only available on the phone or at the door, if that’s the case, you can be assured that this is a high-pressure tactic. So say that you’d like the information mailed to you. And then make sure that you ask specifically for a comparison between your own provider’s amounts and what you would be getting, and making sure you’re asking specific questions about whether or not the deal is an ongoing deal or whether it’s something that’s only got a promotional rate to it. The other piece that you want to really make sure of is: if there is a promotional deal for say, 1, 3 or 6 months, what’s the cost that it would leap to after that point? And make sure that you do a real comparison between the two. But again, it’s not easy, I think getting it in writing is probably the very best thing that you can do.
At the CRTC hearing last fall, Anne Caines and ACT urged the commission to impose a 60 day grace period on cable, phone and internet contracts. Here’s Anne explaining why that would be important concrete solution.
I think the 60-day period, or a period, is as concrete as you can get. Because I think right now it’s a limited 2 weeks or 15 days or something like that, which is really inadequate. Because before you know what you’ve got, you’ve got to start using it for a while to know whether it’s appropriate for your needs. And so I think there is no harm in saying that we all have that.
Communications technology and the telecommunications industry are changing rapidly. Prices seem to be all over the place and hard to predict. But as Constance Lafontaine from ACT points out, it’s always important to be firm, put your foot down, and try to get the best possible deal for yourself.
When we were doing some focus groups and some interviews with seniors, we realized that about half of them didn’t know that you could negotiate a contract. That was shocking to me personally because I’ve always known in all of my dealings with telecommunication providers, I’ve always tried to negotiate. But for a lot of people, they first acquired telecommunications technologies at a time when prices were much more regulated than they are know, like landlines. And so they’ve lived at a time when there was a kind of understanding that the price was fair and was fixed, and younger generations have never had that expectation that their telecommunication service providers were going to give them a fair price right off the bat. So that is also something that was really surprising, also surprising to seniors when we were telling them that they could negotiate.
Constance also thinks that we need to consider age diversity, and digital diversity, as we move forward with media policy in Canada. What is digital diversity, you may be asking?
Digital diversity: understanding that it’s not a given that all citizens will have the same knowledge of technologies. Also, it is not right to expect that people will learn new technologies just to keep up with whatever is most economical, most profitable, most expedient for either corporations or government. We have to understand that there are people who have lived a very long portion of their time with different technologies. And to expect them to learn new technologies to participate in democratic processes, for instance, in consultations, or to be able to just negotiate a fair deal with telecommunication services which should be a basic right, it’s completely unfair. And so we need to account for that and we need to set up measures that that create a system of respect for people who have different knowledges about digital technology.
Finally, we checked back in with Laura Tribe from Open Media, to talk activism. There are bigger groups in Canada, like Open Media, who are following this issue, and putting pressure on the Canadian government to make changes.
Well, Open Media has a few resources available, so we’re a good place to start. One of the things that we do at Open Media is try and monitor some of those things for you to make sure that if issues are coming up, we can cut through it to make sure that people in our community can know what’s happening and what it means to you and try to explain it. And we will try to respond to questions as they come up and make sure that it’s clear. So I think in terms of education, finding people that can explain it, whether that’s Open Media, whether that’s a bunch of other resources, I know that Concordia’s got some great resources, and there’s a lot of different groups working on that.
But I think the bigger issue is don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. You are fully capable of having and using a really loud voice to advocate for yourself. And whether that’s with your telecom company and not being afraid to sit on the phone or go into their stores and keep asking questions until you really know exactly what you’re getting and you’re confident in that decision, or to bring someone with you to make sure that they’re helping you understand it, because you have a right to understand what you’re spending your money on.
But additionally, you have a voice in the political space as well. The Minister of Innovation Navdeep Bains has a lot of say on these issues and has deferred some of these issues to the CRTC and we’ll wait and see what comes out of the sales practices hearing, but that only happened because he told them they had to study it. When we first went to the CRTC and groups were complaining about these issues, the CRTC said “not our problem.” And enough pressure was put on local government that the government finally said OK, you’re going to need to study this, because this is a problem, so those kinds of letters to whether it’s your MP or the minister in charge of this, go a lot farther than people realize. So I would really encourage people to take the time if you are frustrated and if you are concerned to both ask for help but also demand something better, because we’re not stuck with the status quo, we really can make a change and we’ve seen it happen on a lot of different issues and we’re really hoping this will be another one of them coming up.
As we’ve seen throughout the course of this episode, abusive telecoms sales practices are a real concern for seniors in Canada, but there is something we can do about it. Whether it’s getting informed, standing up for ourselves, or finding other friends or organizations who can stand up with us, we can turn this problem around. Organizations like the Canadian Association of Retired Persons and Open Media are monitoring these large companies, and providing useful info to Canadians of all ages so that they can know their rights, and stand up for dignity.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the ACT podcast! We’d like to thank all our guests, Anne Caines, Laura Tamblyn-Watts, Constance Lafontaine, and Laura Tribe. We’ll be back with more episode in the coming months, and you can also subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play. I’m Bipasha Sultana. This episode was written, recorded, and edited by Aaron Lakoff, and produced by Aaron Lakoff with the ACT Project. ACT is based at Concordia University and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Find us online at www.actproject.ca
Episode 2- The Struggles of Elder Abuse for Immigrants
In this episode, we learn about the experiences of what it’s like to age when starting over in a new country. We speak to several older activists living in Montreal, who are also immigrants, and raising their voices around the issue of elder abuse. We’ll hear from members of RECAA (Respecting Elders Communities Against Abuse) and ACCESS (Alliance des communautés culturelles pour l’égalité dans la santé et les services sociaux). Through their work, they are forging inspiring examples of how we can come together as communities, get active in the fight against discrimination, and how to be creative along the way.
Welcome to the ACT Podcast, a program on ageing, communication, and technologies! ACT is a research project that considers what it means to age in an increasingly digital world. In each episode of this program, we take a look at a different issue of importance to older adults, and bring you illuminating interviews and commentary that aim to inspire and engage. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and Soundcloud.
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On this episode, we learn about what it’s like to age after starting over in a new country. We’re going to meet several older activists living in Montreal, all of them immigrants, who are all raising their voices around the important issue of elder abuse. In doing so, they are forging inspiring examples of how we can come together as communities, get active in the fight against discrimination, and even how to be creative along the way.
[RECAA members introduce themselves]
I’m Aruna, I’m from India and I have been here in Montreal from the last one year.
My name is Louise Jack, and I’m from Saint Vincent, in the West Indies or recently it’s called the Caribbean. And I’ve been in Montreal for quite a number of years.
My name is Madhu Nambiar. I’ve been with RECAA for the last about 12 years, I’m originally from India.
We sat down with members of RECAA, which stands for Respecting Elders Communities Against Abuse. They’re a Montreal group of older activists that brings special attention to the abuse faced by seniors who have immigrated to Quebec.
My name is Sajida, Sajida Imam. I am with RECAA since last…now more than 3 years. And before I was an active member, but since three years I am more active with RECAA and their activities, and I’m enjoying it.
Elder abuse can happen within any ethnic or cultural community. But older immigrants face unique challenges when they’re settling in their new country, and that can expose them to particular forms of abuse.
We take a look at some of the efforts that one Canadian province—Quebec—has made to combat elder abuse, and why one advocate says it hasn’t been enough.
And we speak with elders about the shifts in attitude they say it will take to build a culture where all seniors are respected. Spoiler alert: it starts with young people.
As part of their work with RECAA, Aruna, Louise, Madhu and Sajida visit with different communities in Montreal and facilitate discussions about elder abuse.
To do that, they use a creative practice called forum theatre. They act out a situation that an older immigrant might experience within their family or community. But members of the audience do more than observe—they can jump into the performance themselves, changing the way that events unfold. It’s a non-verbal form of theatre. It’s also a way to get people talking about how elders are treated and how the whole community can work together to prevent abuse.
It’s fun going around to see that other communities, they have the problem. Sometimes they would not admit that it’s abuse, they call it all different names: some say mistreatment, it’s just communication that is needed. But in each community, there is something about elderly abuse which they didn’t think is elderly abuse, they call it something else.
RECAA defines elder abuse as actions that result in the physical, psychological and financial exploitation of elders. We asked the RECAA members to tell us what elder abuse looks like in immigrant communities.
For example, some couples they invite their parents from some country, could be South Asian countries, and they have children, and these grandmothers come here and takes care of the children, at the same time she cooks, she does so much around the house. But the children, they work, the parents they work they have small children and they don’t think that their older parents need to go out to have fun. They just take care of the house and they take care of the children, doing the laundry and cooking. But normally this is abuse. But the family who invited their parents, they don’t think this is abuse.
There are so many stories. I don’t know which one to tell you. I remember there was this young man, his mother was living by herself, and he would promise to take her out for a drive every Sunday. She would get dressed and get ready and he would never turn up. He always had some excuse. But that’s like a mild case. But there’s one where another mother—she was living by herself alone, and the daughter is not living in Montreal. The mother was not required to go to a home but the daughter said it’s too much for her, she made the decision for her. And what she did, while the mother was in the hospital, she made arrangements to sell the mother’s house. Yeah.
Here’s Madhu Nambiar again, who tells us a really difficult story of elder isolation and abuse.
A friend of mine he was actually teaching in the university and they brought their mother, thinking that she was alone, he was the only son, and he was married, and so they decided to bring her here. And the lady was so isolated, I mean they didn’t know how to deal with her first of all. They told her OK, we’ll take you for a trip to India, they took her, then she didn’t want to come back, they said “no, you have to come back, you have no place, you are going to live with us,” they brought her back.
She became so isolated and disconnected with her people, there was no solution. So we as a group of friends, we said we’ll have to find some solution. She did become psychotic, she lost her mind. The snow came, this was in the prairie provinces. She just lost it. So we consulted a psychiatrist, he said, “her problem is isolation. Otherwise I don’t think there’s anything else, she came from middle class. So take her home, find a good support system for her, that’s the place she belongs to.” So that’s what the couple did, they could afford it. After 6 months I checked with my friend, “how’s your mom doing?” “She’s fine, the doors are open, she has friends, she goes to the temple.” She’s fine, isolation was broken. So I think isolation and disconnect are a big problem with seniors I know who have come from other countries, cultures, yeah.
What is the difference between immigrant seniors and other seniors who are from here? The difference is that when the immigrant seniors are here, they do not know about the city, that becomes a problem because to go out on your own at that time is not easy, to find out things for yourself is not easy, so that becomes a problem. The seniors who are here…they know about the city, they can handle things. Whereas for immigrants, language is one thing, and then getting around the city and to know things is not easy. And like Madhu said, there is isolation because then you feel you are left out.
After hearing these stories from RECAA members, we wanted to learn more about the systemic challenges that seniors can face after immigrating to a country like Canada. So we reached out to Pascual Delgado.
Pascual works with ACCÉSSS, a group that advocates for equal rights for immigrant communities within Quebec’s health and social services agencies.
Aside from the things that normally affect the elderly people after the age of 55 or 60, you have certain vulnerability and weaknesses and fragility that comes just from the idea of aging that affect them physically, mentally and in terms of the environment, the community.
But when you look at cultural communities—people of ethnocultural origin or immigrant origin—you have to look at the nine characteristics which have a cumulative effect on the elderly.
We asked Pascual to break down some of those factors for us.
You have what we call cultural distance: the difference between an elderly person that comes from a culture very distant from North America or from the French culture. So there, cultural distance creates difficulty in terms of communication.
You have also the problem of immigration status, for example, many elderly of immigrant communities are sponsored immigrants. Under the Canadian law, many of them are also asylum seekers. That means in terms of services and rights, they are not at the same level as an immigrant who came in on permanent visa, as a permanent immigrant, they have specific problems that have to do with access to services.
We know that immigrants are more likely to live in poverty than the Canadian-born population. According to Statistics Canada figures from 2012, immigrants over the age of 65 were most likely to be chronically low income. That means living below the poverty line for at least five years. That higher likelihood of living in poverty is another factor that exposes immigrant elders to higher rates of abuse, Pascual tells us.
Then there’s the issue of language barriers.
A lot of seniors again do not have a complete understanding and functioning in the French language, which is an incredible barrier in Quebec if you want to receive services, but also even English.
In fact, most older adults who have immigrated to Quebec have English and not French as their first learned Canadian official language. This makes it more difficult for them to access provincial or local services. And, Pascual tells us, racism is common among institutions that provide health and social services in Quebec.
You have a basic misunderstanding about what Islam is, and then that translates into xenophobia or inability to relate to a senior. So we know a woman wearing hijab already has a problem with discrimination, but when you are like 60 or 70 years old and you are dressed in a certain way, you walk into a CLSC or a hospital, right away there is this inability to treat the person with the same equality and dignity as you would with a person who is quote unquote “Canadian.”
The more you have these characteristics, the more the person is more fragile and more vulnerable, and therefore, could be more open to elder abuse.
From the federal to the municipal levels, governments are recognizing elder abuse and making efforts to stop it.
It’s a crime that happens often but we rarely hear about. The victims usually suffer in silence but today, a 94-year old Toronto woman bravely spoke out telling her story of elder abuse. She let people she trusted into her home…
There’s something happening to her incapacitated mother behind the walls of her nursing home. So she installed a camera…
These are images from stories we brought you in the past about abuse of seniors. Bu there are thousands of more cases that we never hear about…
The government of Canada created a federal office dedicated to policies and programs that affect seniors in 2006. Some of their initiatives have included helping unemployed seniors find work, and funding projects that focus on social isolation and intergenerational learning.
In the summer of 2018, the city of Montreal unveiled its municipal action plan for seniors. The city’s objectives included improving city infrastructure to make it easier for seniors to get around, creating more opportunities for intergenerational activities and finding ways for older adults to be better included in their communities.
As for the provincial level, Quebec’s ministry of aging conducted a province-wide public consultation on issues that seniors face in 2007. Since then, Quebec has launched two five-year plans to combat elder mistreatment. The latest was started in 2017.
Pascual Delgado has participated in provincial efforts to combat elder abuse, advocating specifically for the concerns of older immigrants. But he was left disappointed by the outcome.
We asked Pascual what he sees as the outcome of the province-wide consultations and action plans in Quebec.
In 2011 I was named the president of the committee for the implementation of programs to fight elder abuse among the cultural community seniors, which I served for three years. And I worked hand-in-hand in collaboration with the government of Quebec. We went everywhere, we did consultations in every city, we met with the community organizations working with seniors.
Unfortunately after a lot of paper and a lot of consultations, a lot of data which was gathered over a period of three or four years, nothing much was done. We have to remember that every time there’s a change in government, the resources change, the allocation of resources. In many ways, you reinvent the wheel.
As the party in power changed in Quebec, Pascual found that the elder abuse file dropped in priority. In 2014, the Liberal party of Quebec came into power and introduced a policy of fiscal austerity.
One of the things which was seen perhaps as a luxury was the whole elder abuse file, which was barely pushed into the bottom of the corner. I resigned in 2014 when I saw what was going on. The fiscal austerity program has really affected the whole healthcare network. Many community organizations have either gone under or really trying to survive with very few resources, and ACCÉSSS is just one among many. So for the last four years, we’ve been in an uphill battle to try to get the idea of elder abuse back into the limelight.
We asked Pascual why he thinks the issue of elder abuse was so quick to drop in priority.
Really what we’re seeing is—because I’ve been around for a while—really drifting into a kind of neoliberal social Darwinism for all members of society, which basically proclaims that the rich and powerful are the ones who get to the top, everybody else will have to bite the bullet. When it comes to seniors, there’s no difference there.
We wanted to hear from the members of RECAA where they see solutions to the problem of elder abuse and isolation in immigrant communities.
We have to start in school, with the young people, integrating into each other’s company, and work from there.
I feel it is very important to make the younger generation sensitive about things. We went to a CEGEP and then we acted the same play there, and when the children responded and all, they were very happy to see these things and they said: OK, we’ll now take care of our grandmother, of our grandparents. So that kind of sensitivity has to be developed right from the childhood.
We learned that RECAA has offered its members support and friendship.
I have come here, and I joined RECAA, and I feel very comfortable. Because I got a new friend circle, and when I go to different communities, I see what is happening there. That really helps me, that gives me strength to see these kinds of problems and things are common everywhere. Come out of it with strength and see what you can do.
It’s the support that we get in this…even though we may not see each other every day, but we know there is a Sajida, there is Louise. Whenever I come back from vacation, I say: Louise! Sajida! How are you? I think the support system that RECAA provides is very important.
Starting a new life in a different country is never easy. From higher rates of poverty to language and cultural barriers, we’ve seen how old age raises the risk of isolation and abuse for immigrants.
Through educating their communities and advocating for political change, elders are articulating the changes they want to see to make Canada a more just and welcoming place for immigrants of all ages.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the ACT podcast! We’d like to thank all our guests: Aruna, Louise, Madhu, Sajida, and Pascual.
We’ll be back with more episodes in the coming months, and you can also subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or look out for more on the ACT website: actproject.ca. I’m Bipasha Sultana. This episode was written, recorded and edited by Aaron Lakoff, and produced by the ACT Project. ACT is based at Concordia University and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Find us online at www.actproject.ca.
Episode 3- Intersection between Ageing and Climate Change
In this episode, we dive into the intersection between climate change and ageing. We ask why older people are especially vulnerable to our changing climate, and we discuss some of the things that might be done to better protect them. This episode was prompted by the massive heat wave experienced in Quebec in the summer of 2018. The heat caused a deadly outcome – dozens of people lost their lives. The number of deaths is estimated to be more than 90 across the province, with over 50 of those from Montreal alone. This and other subjects will be discussed in this episode of the ACT podcast.
Welcome to the ACT Podcast, a program on ageing, communication, and technologies! ACT is a research project based at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. We consider what it means to age in an increasingly digital world. In each episode of this program, we take a look at a different issue of importance to older adults, and bring you illuminating interviews and commentary that aim to inspire and engage. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and Soundcloud.
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Our planet is getting hotter and we are experiencing the consequences. Across Canada, we experience unpredictable weather every year. We’re hitting heat-related records in the summer and we’re experiencing unpredictable swings in temperature throughout spring, fall, and winter. Forest fire season is interrupting flood season which means forest fires are starting early in the spring. In the past few years, fires have burned into the late autumn. The prairies are seeing longer and more intense droughts. Canadians across the country are feeling the effects and Canadians living in cities are not an exception.
Here in Quebec, a massive heat wave in the summer of 2018 had deadly outcomes for some people. Between June 30th to July 5th, average temperatures in many parts of the province hit 35 degrees celsius, sometimes even going into the 40s with the humidex. Global News described it as the hottest stretch of weather in more than a decade. As a result, dozens of people lost their lives. The number of deaths is estimated to be more than 90 across the province, with over 50 of those in Montreal alone.
Reports show that seniors suffered the most intensely during the 2018 heatwave. In fact, most people who lost their lives in the heatwave were over the age of 60. Global warming and extreme heat have become an increasing concern for older adults. A recent study by the World Health Organization predicts that heat exposure caused by climate change could lead to an additional 38,000 deaths among older people by the year 2030.
On this episode of the ACT Podcast, we look at how the problem of climate change intersects with ageing, and poses a serious threat to all of our futures. We ask why older people are especially vulnerable to our changing climate, and we discuss some of the things that might be done to better protect them.
Stay with us.
We begin today’s program with Dr. Stephen Katz. Dr. Katz is a professor of sociology at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. His research focuses on critical gerontology, ageing and biopolitics. He has a lot to say about climate change and ageing.
We started by asking him about the recent history of deadly heat waves, and how this trend will impact older people. Here’s Stephen Katz.
Well, the recent history of heat waves have shown that a disproportionate number of older people particularly suffer during heat waves. The evidence is in. Perhaps the first well-known case was the Chicago heat wave of 1995 where about 700 people died, most were older and poorer. The heat wave in France in 2003, a massive catastrophe with, I think, something like 14,000 people died during that heat wave, again mostly poor and older people. Hurricane Katrina, which was a hurricane but there was a tremendous humid and hot weather catastrophe that accompanied it, soaring temperatures. Something like 970 people died, almost 50% were 75 or older.
This goes on and on: the heat waves in the UK and other parts of Europe occuring now are having tremendous consequences for older people.
Montreal, as you know, there was a disproportionate number of people killed in the heat wave, I think it was in June, was it, this past year? Beginning of July. And on and on we go. The more that climate change is creating these huge, huge temperature fluctuations, the more older people are going to suffer.
But before we take stock of what all of this means on a social level, let’s take a step back and look at a more individual level: the body. We asked Stephen what exactly happens on an anatomical level in the bodies of elders as they cope with extreme heat.
Some of the things that happen to older people: one is the fact that they may be more prone to asthma, allergies, respiratory problems. They may have already have experienced cases of pneumonia, they are also more prone to stroke and maybe cardiac episodes. The side effects of medications, in terms of heat stroke and heat stress, have hardly been touched, haven’t even been really written about that much. So anatomically, I mean physiologically, we have those kinds of things to begin with, even though my interest is in external factors.
Heat waves have become almost expected in countries that are closer to the equator. But what about northern countries that don’t necessarily have a history with extreme heat patterns? We asked Stephen Katz how these trends might impact northern countries like Canada, the UK or Ireland.
In some northern countries, although California isn’t exactly normal, but certainly Perry Sound is in Ontario and British Columbia, is the effect of heat waves on wildland fires—out of control wildfires. We’ve kind of have gotten unfortunately used to them in the southwestern United States or Australia, but if you read the Globe and Mail this morning, we have uncontrollable fires burning in Canada, too. As they increase in size and destruction, they also affect the air.
And again the death toll includes a large number of older people from wildfires because of their frequent isolation, their inability to get away—many of them can’t just get in a car and take off. And then there’s smoke inhalation and air pollution that can be more devastating for many of them. So there’s a connecting point between heat waves, wildfires and the suffering and vulnerability of older people in northern countries more and more. That’s only one example. Air pollution from heat waves also causes more cases of pneumonia, more asthma, allergies, more respiratory problems, maybe hospitalization, emergencies. It just sort of unrolls in all these kinds of ways and the connecting points haven’t actually been put together.
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The very first time I came here in 1962, for Christmas vacation, one of my cousins was showing me around. Do you know that my purse got frozen and I couldn’t open it? So when we got back home, I said to my father: “here, even the purse is frozen!”
Clelia Bellot is an elderly woman who lives in Montreal.
I am originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Buenos Aires is a very humid city. But then I lived in other places, so I went through different stages of temperatures throughout my life. But I’ve been here in Montreal permanently since 1974, so I got more used to the cool than the hot!
We sat down with Clelia Bellot and Jennie Robertson. Both women are frequent visitors of Action Centre-Ville, a community centre that provides services and support to people aged 50 and older in downtown Montreal.
We wanted to know how the record-setting 2018 heat waves affected Clelia and Jennie, and how weather conditions affect them..
Sometimes we have one day of heat, but this time it was like a lot. It was very strange for all of us. And I also think that since I’m older then you feel that more: the cold is more cold, the heat is more warm, but, well, what can we do? We live here.
Clelia and Jennie told us that extreme heat is a challenge in their community. Older people they knew went to Action Centre-Ville or shopping centres to spend some time in air conditioning. They limited their physical effort by finishing errands in the early mornings and relaxing during the daytime, and they made sure to drink lots of water.
But ultimately, Clelia and Jennie said they adapted fairly easily to the heat. It’s not summer weather that concerns them most, but rather, weather extremes in all seasons.
I know we’re talking about the summer but I’d prefer in the winter that they do more to remove the ice from the sidewalks. That, for me, is more dangerous than the heat. I have to go out but I have to stay in, and I don’t trust my cleats, I have my boots. I find the winter is scarier.
It is, it is, for all of us.
It’s the drastic changes that are difficult to live with from day to day. Think of last week: one day was 25, and then the next day was 10 or something. That happens in all the seasons, whether it’s winter, summer, spring or fall, it’s drastic changes day by day. That’s harder to take than a heat wave. A heat wave is pretty nice!
You know what? I think that we are here, we live here, day by day. We are going to adapt. Us, when we came, like when I came here and I adapted to this winter that I never experienced before. And now, I wouldn’t change for anything. That is, like, our trademark: we adapt.
Like Clelia says, we can adapt to the cold with all our layers but ice is something else. And ice is something I don’t remember from my childhood or my young adulthood or middle-aged adulthood, it’s something for me quite recent that there’s so much ice. I’ll go out in all kinds of cold and snow, I love snow, but ice, that prevents me from going out.
So we know that climate change disproportionately impacts elders. But can we go deeper in our understanding of the problem? We reached out to Rose Marie Whalley, a retired teacher and life-long social justice activist in Montreal. We wanted to talk to her about the root causes of this inequity.
We started by asking Rose Marie how she and people she knew dealt with the heatwave.
I think it very much depends. I mean, I’m in a position of being very privileged, you know: I’m white, I’m old, I have money. I can run out and buy an air conditioner if I need to. But a lot of people are living in situations of poverty. I think the poorest group in our society, with single mothers of course, are older women living on their own. And they don’t necessarily have the means to do that.
While Rose Marie didn’t personally struggle with effects of the heat wave, she says many other older adults did.
Well, I think it speaks to the vulnerability of old people, and the vulnerability gets back to the very low status that we have in society. We’re a forgotten, rather resented group of people. We’re not considered like everybody else. I think that’s one of the things that happened. And the vulnerability is real. People don’t necessarily have the energy to make sure that they’re hydrated all the time, they’re taking medication that can really sort of tip the balance in terms of hydration, dehydration. And we need to be more loved and cherished by society in general, I think.
We asked Rose Marie why she thinks this attitude toward elderly people exists.
I think there’s a lot of resentment towards old people because we’re not working, we’re retired. Plus we have pensions, and look at the way in which younger people are having to struggle. So I think there is a lot of resentment, I think there’s a lot of lack of understanding. There’s this business of dividing people according to their age, which is a rather narrow way of doing it in our society, I think.
If social attitudes and structures have to change in order to protect older people from the harms of climate change, where do we begin? Where can we look for inspiration on approaching aging in a different way?
Here’s Rose Marie again.
I think we need mass nonviolent civil disobedience absolutely everyday, absolutely everywhere. That’s the only way that the government will in any way listen. If we’re doing things like blocking autoroutes, this kind of thing, I think we absolutely need to do that. And for that we need older people and younger people together. And we need old people to be respected, and young people to have the time to get to know us better. But that’s what I see as the only possible way.
As long as old people are not respected, then this will continue. And for all that the Indigenous communities have been totally devastated, their land has been taken etc. etc. by settlers, they have managed to keep intact that relationship of elders. Elders are very respected in Indigenous communities, and we could maybe look to them and imitate what they do. They’ve obviously kept that dignity, that respect for elders, and that’s what we need across the board, on many many topics—but when we’re talking about global warming and this horrible summer that people have been through, that would be one thing.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a report that said we have only 12 years to rein in global warming. The scientists warned that we must limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius. That means 1.5 degrees warmer than the world was before industrialization. If we fail to do this, our world is at significantly higher risk of extreme floods, droughts, famine and deadly heat.
We’ve seen how these extreme weather patterns impact seniors even more deeply than the rest of us. But as Rose Marie Whalley said, there is hope in taking action for systemic change. People can come together in environmental movements. They can draw leadership from Indigenous communities and worldviews, and form intergenerational bonds to support and respect elders.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the ACT podcast! We’d like to thank all our guests: Stephen Katz, Clelia Bellot, Jennie Robertson and Rose Marie Whalley. We’ll be back with more episodes in the coming months, and you can also subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or look out for more on the ACT website: actproject.ca. I’m Bipasha Sultana. This episode was written, recorded, and edited by Aaron Lakoff, and produced by the ACT Project. ACT is based at Concordia University and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Find us online at www.actproject.ca.