Elder abuse: Cowichan’s quiet little secret

Cowichan’s quiet little secret of elder abuse is being exposed and confronted by public guardian and trustee David Marr.

The guy with legal powers to help seniors suffering various forms of intentional or accidental abuse by relatives, friends, neighbors — or even professionals — now has weekly storefront office space at the Cowichan Seniors Resource and Support Society.

“I’ll be there every second Wednesday for the day,” consultant Marr told the News Leader Pictorial of his coverage area bridging Ladysmith south and the Gulf Islands.

“I’ll be doing some presentations to agencies in the community and hopefully some offer ideas for seniors, families and others who might want options for planning.”

Marr’s specialty is abuse arising from financial and legal matters, but he can also act to stop physical and mental abuse among Cowichan’s growing seniors population.

“We have the legislation giving me warrant to investigate if a person’s vulnerable, and to safeguard their finances.

“Financial abuse can lead to finding physical abuse,” he explained.

“Our referrals come from everywhere, including hospitals, health authorities, some from banks, the person’s neighbor, and family.

“Self-referrals are often the most rewarding.

Job one is ensuring elder safety, Marr said of the public guardian’s outreach role into places such as Cowichan.

“It’s a huge coup for the valley having David working out of here,” said Jacquie Smith, executive director of the Cowichan seniors resource society at Duncan city hall.

Addressing abuse also means getting past the secret shame of what may be a private habit, she indicated.

That’s why Smith offered Marr working space after he spoke at the recent society-hosted North Island regional meeting for the B.C. Association of Community Response Networks at Duncan’s Clements Centre.

“We all hate what’s going on (abuse), and we all love what we do so I made it easy for him to come up here,” said Smith who just finished a training session with the B.C. Centre for Elder Advocacy & Support.

“Abuse means children refusing to take mom and dad to church, to not giving them their meds or financing.”

Marr said public guardian and trustee brass want agents more accessible to communities “for more face to face awareness.”

“Going to Duncan is another move in that direction.”

He slated to speak about elder safety during a June 23 picnic at Providence Farm in recognition of June 15 the international Seniors Abuse Awareness Day.

To Marr, it’s about being proactive about abuse before things get ugly.

“People start slipping and relatives may be at a distance, and things could get to an extreme case.”

Marr cited the recent case where a valley senior died after living for years with his wife amid squalor and cat waste.

“Abuse is the word that’s most common used, but there’s also neglect and self-neglect.”

Marr seconded advice from Smith about neighbors and families making seemingly nosey pokes into seniors’ business by asking local agencies, police or doctors to investigate potential abuse.

And Marr stressed elder abuse can span all cultures.

“It’s usually when there’s a problem that we tend to get involved but most of the time people are cared for properly.

“While there’s no legal requirement for the average citizen to report abuse, anyone can refer or contact our office if it’s about financial and legal abuse, or neglect.”

Physical and mental abuse sparks action by the Vancouver Island Health Authority, he said, noting VIHA can legally order folks removed from abusive situations.

But forms of abuse are a mixed bag, he said.

“Sometimes it’s people not really known to the person, third party abusers.

“There’s also family conflict or active abuse by family members where there’s common neglect and no one around to help them.”

First contact with seniors, their families and others offers Marr clues about the form of abuse, if present.

“Is this financial and legal? Or is it regards to a person’s safety and health? If so, we link them to VIHA agencies.

Financial and legal abuse can mean “there’s no one managing their affairs, or someone’s incapable and their affairs are in a mess,” Marr said. “It can also be someone’s managing their affairs, but that person is also having problems.”

Direct abuse by evil people isn’t usually the case, he said.

“It’s hard to say how much is not brought to our attention,” he said, noting there’s no ongoing B.C. government monitoring of misuse of power of attorney.

“For us to get involved, it’s not good enough to say ‘My brother has power of attorney for my parents and he’s just left on vacation to Cancun, and his wife just bought a new car.’

“There has to be an issue that’s concrete and fairly specific.”

One common indicator of a senior in financial trouble is reports about them not paying their bills, he said.

Ultimately, Marr advised proactive options and Samaritan action to prevent any form of elder abuse.

“Just because families are supportive doesn’t mean things aren’t going on.”

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Suspected abuse can be reported to the RCMP at 250-748-5522, community policing at 701-9145 or the Cowichan Seniors Resource and Support Society at 250-748-2133.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse includes actions that cause physical, mental, financial or sexual harm to an older adult.

Neglect includes situations where a person or organization fails to provide services or necessary care for an older adult.

Elder abuse and neglect can be broadly categorized into five categories: Physical: causing pain, injury or harm to health; Financial: illegal or improper use of funds or assets, such as theft or fraud; Psychological: infliction of mental anguish or suffering; Sexual: non-consensual sexual activity or harassing sexual comments; Neglect: refusal or failure to provide services or necessary care.

Source: A Practical Guide To Elder Abuse and Neglect Law in Canada. Contact, the Canadian Centre for Elder Law, Vancouver. Call (604) 822-0564. E-mail: Website:

Local extent unclear

School’s out on whether incidents of elder abuse are higher in Cowichan compared to other regions.

“Ask me in a few more months of coming up there,” said David Marr of BC’s public guardian and trustee system.

But Jacquie Smith of the Cowichan Seniors Resource and Support Society is worried abuse is prevalent in the Warm Land because of our high concentration of seniors.

“Ten per cent of seniors are suffering abuse of one type or another,” she said of provincial statistics, extrapolating that percentage from Cowichan’s 40,000-some folks age 55 and older.

“That means 4,000 people here could be abused.”

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