Frequently Asked Questions
Seniors First BC has compiled a series of answers to frequently asked questions we have received over the years. Please click on the questions below for answers. If you have a question for our Advocates please call our SAIL help line and we can assist you quickly. We appreciate that there are many types of abuse and it can be hard to understand what the appropriate actions are to help an Elder in need. Our Frequently Asked Questions page is a good place to start.
- What is Elder Abuse?
Elder Abuse is a major societal issue. Abuse means an action, or deliberate behaviour, by a person (s) in a position of trust, such as an adult child, family member, friend or care giver, that causes an adult:
- Physical, emotional or mental harm; and/or
- Damage to, or loss of, assets or property.
Many of these abuses are criminal offences under the Criminal Code of Canada, such as Theft, Forgery, Extortion, Assault, Intimidation, Threats, and Failure to Provide the Necessities of Life. Very few criminal offences against seniors are brought to the Criminal Justice System.
The main reason for abuse is the use of power and control by one person over another. In cases of financial abuse, the abuser has a false sense of entitlement to the senior’s money or possessions. The system can also be abusive. A relationship is abusive when a set of behaviour is used by a person(s) to establish dominance and control over another person.
There are several kinds of elder abuse. Please follow these links for more details:
For more information about elder abuse, you can download our Factsheet on Elder Abuse, which includes a definition of abuse, info on various types of elder abuse, and examples and scenarios of physical, emotional, psychological and financial abuse of seniors.
- Why don't all elders who are abused ask for help?
An older victim is often reluctant to seek help or report abuse because of:
- expected recrimination from the abuser;
- concern about consequences to their adult child or family;
- fear of being placed in a care facility, or institution;
- fear of having daily support withdrawn, and being unable to manage;
- being unaware of other support services in the community that are available to them;
- expectation that they will not be allowed to see their friends or grandchildren;
- being too ashamed to tell anyone that a family member is abusing them; and
- expectation of not being believed, or of being blamed for the abuse.
Additional cultural barriers to reporting abuse
Abuse can occur in any culture. Over the last few years about 10 percent of all immigrants coming to Canada have been over the age of 60. Older immigrants who may be facing abuse, experience further barriers in asking for help or reporting abuse, which are:
- isolation from friends (no one knows or can offer advice);
- racism and discrimination;
- fear of being deported if sponsor withdraws support;
- inability to speak or understand the language used in their new country;
- lack of knowledge of Canadian system;
- lack of knowledge of who they would seek help from;
- dependence on adult children and relatives for housing, financial, emotional and social support; and
- cultural belief that a family problem is a private matter.
Gender and elder abuse
Family violence affects both women and men. Women are more vulnerable because of their lower social, economic, and power status, women also often live longer than men.
- Who can help an older adult who's abused?
Below is an example of a typical situation around elder abuse — if it sounds familiar, keep reading to get info on who you can contact to get help, and what to expect when you make a report.
Q. My aunt is 85 years old and is physically disabled. She lives with her daughter who is her sole care-giver. Often, I go to visit her. I have a suspicion that she is being physically abused by her daughter. I have tried to talk to her about the abuse when the daughter is not around and get the feeling that my aunt wants assistance in dealing with this matter. What can I do? Where can I report this abuse? Is abuse of the elderly a crime?
There is no specific criminal offence called “senior abuse”. However, many acts of abuse against seniors fall under various criminal offences of the Criminal Code of Canada. For example, physical abuse of your aunt could be a form of assault or common assault.
The Adult Guardianship Act
Some seniors and other adults face more barriers than others when they need to ask for help or safely remove themselves from a situation. You may be able to get some help for your aunt under the Adult Guardianship Act which came into effect in British Columbia in 2000. Part 3 of this law covers adults who are abused or neglected and not able to seek support and assistance on their own due to:
- physical restraint;
- mental or physical disability; and/or
- illness or injury.
Under this legislation, the Public Guardian and Trustee has given responsibility to many local community services to look into situations of abuse, neglect and self-neglect. These services, called “designated agencies” will consult as much as possible with the person being abused or neglected about any actions taken on their behalf.
The Designated Agencies
The designated agencies are the five Health Authorities and Community Living Services of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. There is usually a designated agency in each area that one can call to report abuse of vulnerable adults in that community.
How to Find & Contact an Agency Close to You
For specific numbers for designated agencies in your community, you can contact the Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia, or get contact info for each community in BC directly from their website (www.trustee.bc.ca).
When on site, look for the link to “Helping an Adult Get Support and Reporting Abuse or Neglect“. The direct link to this page is: http://www.trustee.bc.ca/pdfs/STA/abuseneglect.htm. This page includes a link to an up-to-date PDF which lists the designated agencies for communities in BC and their contact info.
How a Report is Handled
When you call the designated agency in your community and report the abuse, then that designated agency has a mandate to look into your report. If the adult falls under one of the three criteria mentioned above (and is someone who is unable to seek assistance or make decisions about the abuse or neglect), then the designated agency looks into the report of abuse and will report to the police if a crime has been committed. In doing this, they will consult and involve the adult as much as possible.
If a report of abuse is made to the designated agency and the adult does not fall under the criteria under Part 3 of the Adult Guardianship Act, then the designated agency can still look into the report of abuse. In this case, even if they do conclude that a criminal offence has been committed, they are not required to make a report to the police. They may assist the individual by providing other options for assistance. They may suggest that the individual make a direct report to the police, or they may ask the individual to seek assistance and support from their local community by contacting the Community Response Network.
Community Response Network
A Community Response Network (CRN) is a group of people and organizations who have come together in the community to coordinate support and assistance for adults who are being abused. Most communities in B.C. have CRNs. To contact a CRN in your community, go to the CRN website at www.bccrns.ca. Once on site, you can read more about CRNs and use the “Contact a CRN” link to locate the CRN in your community. If you do not have access to the Internet, you can contact Seniors First BC to get the contact numbers for designated agencies and CRNs in your area.
- What does financial abuse look like?
Financial Abuse is damage to, or loss of Assets or Property. The abuser is usually a spouse or partner, family member (often adult child), care-giver, friend, or a trusted person in the senior’s life. Financial abuse is often accompanied by other forms of abuse, such as emotional abuse, physical abuse, or denial of rights. Three components are common for financial abuse to happen:
- Need or Greed – the abuser is under financial pressure.
- Opportunity – the abuser has access to funds or property.
- False Sense of Entitlement – “I deserve it; I am owed.”
Continuum of Financial Abuse
- Belief that seniors do not need money or have a future
- Theft of cash, credit cards, bank cards, mail
- Cashing in RRSP’s without permission
- Using the senior’s bank card to withdraw cash from the machine (often large sums) without their knowledge.
- Unpaid loans or repeated borrowing
- Using trickery or persuasion to get a senior’s money or possessions
- Taking or withholding a senior’s pension or insurance cheque
- Borrowing or taking a senior’s possessions without permission
- Selling the senior’s property or possessions without permission
- Forcing the senior to change his/her Will or give a Power of Attorney
- Misuse of Power of Attorney
- Refusing to pay senior’s bills, rent or mortgage
- Forging a senior’s name or altering a document
- Establishing a “joint account” and using the senior’s money without his/her knowledge or permission
- Theft from accounts in a financial institution
- Believing that a parent’s assets, money or property should be yours
- Forcing senior to sign over their car or house
- Leaving person destitute
Financial Abuse Scenarios
After obtaining a Power of Attorney from his grandfather, Robert began to sell some of the acres of land and some of the livestock. He promised his grandfather he would give him the money once the transaction was completed. Many months passed and Robert had not paid his grandfather. His grandfather asked Robert for the money several times, but did not receive it.
While her mother was in the hospital, Karen moved her mother’s silver tea service, some valuable books and a grand piano to her own home. When her mother returned from hospital she asked the police to assist her in recovering her stolen property. Karen stated that she had taken the goods for safe-keeping and that these items are heirlooms belonging, not just to the mother, but to the entire family.
A care-giver befriends a senior and persuades him or her to open a “joint-account” so that she can assist with bill paying and getting cash from the account as required. Within a few months the senior discovers that the account has very little money remaining. A considerable amount of money has been withdrawn. Because it is a joint account, either party can take money out of the account.
A mother frequently gives her adult son her pension cheque to be deposited into her account, asking him to bring back a specified amount of cash. While at the financial institution, her son uses his mother’s pension cheque for payment to his overdue credit card. He did not have his mother’s permission.
- What is a power of attorney or representative agreement?
Power of attorney
You can give another person, or a business like a trust company, the authority to manage your financial or business affairs with a power of attorney. This authority can be:
- specific, for example, only to do banking or cash pension cheques; or
- general, which means you are giving the person or business the power and responsibility to conduct all of your business and financial affairs.
Ask your attorney to keep records. Your attorney is acting as your agent and should be consulting with you or reporting to you about actions taken on your behalf.
Unlike a power of attorney, a representation agreement covers personal and health care decision-making as well as management of financial affairs. You may make a representation agreement with:
- standard powers that allows your representative to handle routine finances for you like banking, paying bills as well as making some health and personal care decisions if you are no longer able to do so.
- additional powers that give your representative the authority to buy and sell real estate for you, run your business or make some very serious health decisions like refusing life support and treatment.
The representative must consult with you before making decisions on your behalf, act honestly and keep records. You can also appoint a monitor to make sure that your representative is doing a good job on your behalf.
You are not giving up your right to make your own decisions or manage your own affairs when you make a representation agreement or power of attorney and can change or cancel these documents at any time as long as you are mentally capable of making that decision.
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Please also see our info sheet called Giving Other People Authority to Help You Manage Your Affairs for more information.