The Northwest Territories has the second highest rate of police-reported elder abuse in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
In a December report called Family Violence: A Statistical Profile, the Northwest Territories was reported to have 1,490 incidents of family violence per 100,000 people between 2017 and 2018.
The NWT was only the second worst next to Nunavut which was reported to have 1,644 per 100,000 between those two years.
The NWT, however, saw the sharpest increase of reported violence against seniors.
“Family violence against seniors increased four per cent (in Canada) between 2017 and 2018, with the Northwest Territories recording the largest increase (+27%),” reads the report. “Non-family violence against seniors increased two per cent between 2017 and 2018.”
Suzette Montreuil, executive director of the NWT Senior Society, said there are typically five to six types of elder abuse that the society recognizes, which include financial abuse as the most common. The Department of Health and Social Services also recognizes “financial abuse” as the most prevalent form of abuse to elders and/or seniors and that this can mean forms of “misuse or withholding funds and assets.”
Other types include emotional or psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.
“Incidents in southern Canada are much fewer with Ontario with 53 per 100,000 and Prince Edward Island with 49,” she said of the elder abuse rates. “It gives you an idea of how much bigger we are. It’s crazy.”
Her organization monitors elder abuse rates in the NWT and holds GNWT funded events called Creating Safe Community Workshops throughout the year and invites are sent to communities to arrange dates.
Band council members, community health representatives, community wellness people, front-line elder care workers, and health and social services workers and other officials are among those typically involved, she said.
The last one was in Yellowknife and was held in support of the NWT Status of Women Council and its efforts to mark Family Violence Month in November at the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre.
Wanda Roberts has been a member of the NWT network for the prevention of elder abuse and also a board member of the Canada Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse since 2011.
“I don’t think it is necessarily that (elder abuse rates) are more prevalent but I do think education has made people more aware and empowering people to report it,” she said. “Sometimes when certain behaviours are normalized, it isn’t seen as abuse. When they learn that abuse then they are more likely to report it and stand up to do something.”
Among those in attendance include partners that work closely with the NWT Senior Society on elder abuse, such as the RCMP.
Cpl. Jesse Aubin, a family violence co-ordinator with the police force is dedicated to addressing family and domestic violence. According to an email from the RCMP last week, this includes participating in “prevention, intervention and enforcement efforts” with community groups, such as the NWT Senior Society as well as government agencies.
Also involved were several RCMP detachments across the territory.
Police say the increase in elder abuse cases between 2017 and 2018 are in part due to people being more willing to report incidents. This is due to awareness campaigns that the police are involved with.
“NT RCMP could explain it by (it) being the direct result of more people choosing to report elder abuse to police,” stated Julie Plourde, the RCMP’s media relations officer, in an email last week.
“An increase in the number of police-reported elder abuse incidents could be an indicator that the awareness campaigns conducted by our partners have been successful. When incidents are reported, the RCMP can investigate, provide assistance and support, and guide victims towards proper services.”
She went on to add that the police seek to work and partner with community groups an agencies to address the issue.
Health and Social Services
The Department of Health and Social Services stated in an email this week that the territorial government has reviewed the report and is aware of the sharp increase in family violence.
“The department has reviewed Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, 2018 and will use the results along with other data sources to help inform a GNWT approach to addressing family violence in the NWT,” stated Damien Healy, department spokesperson. “In the meantime, the government will continue its efforts to prevent and reduce family violence in the NWT.”
Specifically, Healy stated that the territory has family violence shelters available to women and their dependents “including seniors and/or elders 365 days a year.”
The department also agrees with the RCMP and other bodies noted above that communicating the reality of elders abuse is important.
“As a preventative measure, the department’s What Will It Take? (WWIT) social media campaign is aimed at changing attitudes and beliefs about family violence,” Healy stated. “As part of the campaign, a (What Will It Take) workshop and video series, both with a focus on elder abuse, are available to help empower bystanders to step up and make a positive difference in their communities.”
Other measures have included ensuring that health care providers working in the GNWT’s continuing care programs – which include home and community care as well as long-term care are able to “recognize and support elders who are at risk of abuse, mistreatment or neglect.”