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Reflections From the 2019 Canadian Elder Law Conference

December 05, 2019

On November 14 & 15th, the Canadian Centre for Elder Law, in collaboration with the Continuing Legal Education Society of BC, hosted the 2019 Canadian Elder Law Conference, entitled: Bridging the Gap: Elder Law for Everyone. I would like to thank the Canadian Centre for Elder Law and its national director - Krista James, CLEBC, and conference sponsors who provided me with a bursary allowing me to attend.

Conference organizers did a fantastic job showcasing the multifaceted nature of elder law. Each session was engaging and informative addressing a different area of the field: balancing risk and self-determination in abuse, neglect and self-neglect response; advance planning for older adults with intellectual disabilities; the role of indigenous elders in justice; elder abuse; a debate on whether cannabis should be allowed in care facilities; and a panel on human rights for people living with dementia, to name a few.

I particularly enjoyed the Honourable Thomas A. Cromwell’s opening address on the second day. Speaking about access to justice issues for older adults, Hon. Cromwell underscored that access to justice is comprised of several facets, including physical, intellectual, cultural and linguistic access. Diverse barriers exist for older adults and their support systems in accessing justice. For example, the physical layout of the courtroom, finding childcare, and access to interpretation services and/or plain language information. Another highlight of mine was listening to Dr. Deborah O’Connor’s (co-director of UBC’s Centre for Research on Personhood in Dementia), presentation on understanding and assessing (in)capacity. When understanding (in)capacity, Dr. O'Connor stressed the importance of acknowledging context:

  • Capacity is variable: someone can be capable in some areas but not others
  • Communication issues are not grounds for determining someone’s capability
  • Risk/vulnerability do not equal incapacity
  • Capacity is not static and is sensitive to medical issues, situational issues, and relational (power) issues (undue influence)

The conference was also timely given that Part 3 of the Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act - Care Facility Admission - came into force on November 4th, 2019. Discussing these new legislative provisions during one of the panels was an invaluable learning opportunity. Given that these new provisions directly impact older adults’ livelihoods, I hope there will be ongoing professional and public education about the new legal requirements for care facility admission.

Elder Law for Everyone was truly at the forefront of this year’s conference. I found the sessions to be largely applicable for any professional working with older adults (e.g. social work, nursing, advocacy groups). I have a background in social work and am currently completing my MA in Gerontology with a research focus on the legal options for advance care planning in BC*. The knowledge I gained at this year’s conference has been extremely useful in my research and social work practice. It was also great having speakers from diverse backgrounds presenting on the various areas of elder law as each presenter brought a unique lens from their own practice and research. These cross-sector discussions further underlined how these laws and policies impact all of us who work with older adults and the importance of participating at conferences such as this one. Thank you to all the conference organizers. Looking forward to the next conference in 2021!

Alexis Haig is a MA in Gerontology candidate. Her thesis explores how people appointed as representatives in BC Representation Agreements for older adults with dementia experience health care and personal care decision-making in their role.