Responding to Elder Abuse and Neglect

Elder abuse includes actions that cause physical, mental, 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.  While financial exploitation is a form of elder abuse, we deal with it as a separate category (see here) given its pervasiveness and unique aspects.

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
  • se{“type”:”block”,”srcClientIds”:[“40202e4e-fd70-415a-be23-69d32efed54d”],”srcRootClientId”:””}xual: non-consensual sexual activity or harassing sexual comments
  • neglect: refusal or failure to provide services or necessary care
  • self-neglect: failure to provide for their own essential needs that causes or is reasonably likely to cause within a short period of time, serious physical or mental harm or substantial damage or loss in respect of the adult’s financial affairs

[from the Adult Guardianship Act].

I{“type”:”block”,”srcClientIds”:[“40202e4e-fd70-415a-be23-69d32efed54d”],”srcRootClientId”:””}nstitutional abuse or neglect

Institutional abuse and neglect is another category unto itself.  Older adults living in institutional care facilities may experience abuse that is a single incident of poor professional practice or part of a larger pattern of ill treatment. This may include:

  • Inadequate care and nutrition
  • Low standards of nursing care
  • Inappropriate or aggressive staff-client interactions
  • Overcrowding
  • Substandard or unsanitary living conditions
  • Misuse of physical restraints or medications
  • Ineffective policies to meet residents’ needs
  • Low levels of supervision.

From Elder Abuse is Wrong – Government of Canada

See our e-manual on Legal Issues in Residential Care for more information about and responses to Institutional Abuse.

Guiding Principles

The following principles from the Canadian Centre for Elder Law’s publication entitled A Practical Guide to Elder Abuse and Neglect Law in Canada are meant to help professionals and volunteers understand and effectively respond to the rights of older adults who are abused, neglected or at risk:

1. Talk to the older adult

Ask questions. Talk to the older person about his or her experience. Help the person to identify resources that could be helpful.{“type”:”block”,”srcClientIds”:[“40202e4e-fd70-415a-be23-69d32efed54d”],”srcRootClientId”:””}

2. Respect personal values

Respect the personal values, priorities, goals and lifestyle choices of an older adult. Identify support networks and solutions that suit the older adult’s individuality.

3. Recognize the right to make decisions

Mentally capable older adults have the right to make decisions, including choices others might consider risky or unwise.

4. Seek consent or permission

In most situations, you should get consent from an older adult before taking action.

5. Respect confidentiality and privacy rights

Get consent before sharing another person’s private information, including confidential personal or health information.

6. Avoid ageism

Prevent ageist assumptions or discriminatory thinking based on age from affecting your judgment. Avoid stereotypes about older people and show respect for the inherent dignity of all human beings, regardless of age.

7. Recognize the value of independence and autonomy

Where this is consistent with the adult’s wishes, assist the adult to identify the least intrusive way to access support or assistance.

8. Know that abuse and neglect can happen anywhere and by anyone

Abuse and neglect of older adults can occur in a variety of circumstances from home care to family violence.

9. Respect rights

An appropriate response to abuse, neglect, or risk of abuse or neglect should respect the legal rights of the older adult, while addressing the need for support, assistance, or protection in practical ways.

10. Get informed

Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for inaction when someone’s safety is at stake .If you work with older adults you need to educate yourself about elder abuse.


911 Calls

991 - emergencyThe safety of the older adult is of paramount importance in any abuse and neglect situation.  911 should always be called if immediate safety is an issue.If you are unsure how serious an incident is, police advise to still call 911 and they will advise whether or not to call the non-emergency number (e.g. 604-717-3321 for Vancouver)

Safety Plan

Safety-Planning-382-1-lssA safety plan may include a change to an element of an older adult’s environment or their relationship which could result in the elimination of the role of the abuser or context of the abuse. Consider:

  • Home visits, telephone contact, contact with other family and friends, regular appointments
  • Secure assets (e.g. hide emergency money somewhere outside home.)
  • Give copies of important documents and keys to trusted friends or family members
  • Plan escape by packing a bag of extra clothing, medicine and personal aids (glasses, hearing aids)
  • Keep phone numbers of friends, relatives, shelters or other trusted individuals handy.

Understanding and Responding to Elder Abuse E-BookSee our ebook Understanding and Responding to Elder Abuse Section C.4 for more information on assisting older adults to take action.

[see below for more information on this resource]

Roads to SafetyThe new plain language handbook Roads to Safety is also a comprehensive resource covering legal issues that older women may face when they have experienced violence.

It explains rights and options, using stories to illustrate the legal information

[see below for more information on this resource].

Assault Charges & Peace Bonds

An older adult can lay assault charges, or apply for a peace bond.  More information on this is available from the Dial-a-Law script # 217 – Applying for a Peace Bond and Filing Assault Charges

Family Law – Protection Orders

Part 9 – Protection from Family Violence of the Family Law Act deals with protecting “at risk family members” from family violence.   Either an at-risk older adult or someone on their behalf may seek a section 183 protection order under this Part.  Looking at the definition of “family member” in s. 1 of the Act, the older adult could get a protection order against:

  • their spouse, including common-law spouse;
  • the biological parent or guardian of their children;
  • any person who lives with them and is related to their spouse (in-laws); and
  • their own children, whether their children live with them or

The definition of “family violence” is broad enough to cover any form of influence or abuse of an older adult by a related person above.  The court considers not just physical violence, but where there is a pattern of emotional or psychological abuse that constitutes “a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour” toward the older adult.  The psychological and emotional abuse of  an at-risk family member includes unreasonable restrictions on, or prevention of, a family member’s financial or personal autonomy.

“family violence” includes

(a) physical abuse of a family member, including forced confinement or deprivation of the necessities of life, but not including the use of reasonable force to protect oneself or others from harm,

(b) sexual abuse of a family member,

(c) attempts to physically or sexually abuse a family member,

(d) psychological or emotional abuse of a family member, including

(i) intimidation, harassment, coercion or threats, including threats respecting other persons, pets or property,

(ii) unreasonable restrictions on, or prevention of, a family member’s financial or personal autonomy,

(iii) stalking or following of the family member, and

(iv) intentional damage to property, and

(e) in the case of a child, direct or indirect exposure to family violence;

Note that a person can still seek a family law protection order even if there is a concurrent criminal proceeding relating to the same incident (FLA, s. 184(4) (d)).

Note as well that there must be a family relationship – a section 183 protection order could not be sought against a third party caregiver. Protection would have to be by other means, such as a peace bond (see comparison chart below) or notice of trespass.  This is in part to “avoid the implication that the caregiver is a family member (in particular, a common law spouse) and thus has certain rights to support and property.”  – quoted from the CLE BC Practice Point “The Incapable Spouse – Part X – CLE- BC.

Protection Orders & Peace Bonds Compared

Family Law Protection Orders

Peace Bonds


Family Law Protection Orders

The process is initiated by a family member at risk from family violence or by a person on his or her behalf, at the B.C. Provincial Court or the B.C. Supreme Court under the Family Law Act.

Peace Bonds

The process is initiated by a complainant who reports an incident to the RCMP or the local police.  The police officer will send a report to Crown counsel, who, in turn, will see if there is enough evidence to apply for a peace bond.  If there is, Crown counsel will lay an information under the Criminal Code.


Family Law Protection Orders

An order can only be made against a “family member”, which includes:

–       Married or common-law partner

–       Parent or guardian of the person’s child

–       A person who is related to and lives with the person or any of the above-stated persons

–       The person’s child

Peace Bonds

A peace bond can be obtained with regard to  any person, also known as the ‘respondent’ (does not have to be a “family member”).


Family Law Protection Orders

An order can be made for the protection of:

–       The applicant

–       The applicant’s child

–       Any family member of the applicant

Peace Bonds

A peace bond can be made for the protection of:

–       The complainant

–       The complainant’s married or common law partner

–       The complainant’s child

–       The complainant’s property


Family Law Protection Orders

To obtain an order, the applicant must show that his or her safety and security is or is likely at risk from family violence carried out by another family member (FLA, section 182).  Family violence is defined under section 1, which includes physical and sexual abuse, attempts to same, as well as emotional and psychological abuse.  The fact that a family member has a history of returning to the residence of the violent family member does not preclude the making of a protection order against the latter member.

Peace Bonds

To obtain a peace bond, Crown counsel must show that the complainant fears for his or her safety, and the safety of his or her spouse and child.  Courts do not grant peace bonds for non-violent harassment (R v. Balfour, 1984 Carswell BC 2522).  The fact that a complainant has a history of returning to the residence of the respondent (i.e. be a spouse or family member) may show that he or she does not fear for his or her safety, resulting in denial of a peace bond.


Family Law Protection Orders

An application for a protection order may be heard with or without notice or on short notice.

Peace Bonds

Once an information is laid by Crown counsel, the police officer will issue an arrest warrant or summons to the respondent, who will have to appear and respond to the peace bond application in court.


Family Law Protection Orders

The applicant may apply to court for a protection order with or without a lawyer, although a lawyer is recommended.  The applicant has to pay the lawyer’s fees unless he or she is eligible for legal aid.

Peace Bonds

The complainant does not need a lawyer to apply for peace bonds because Crown counsel will be in charge of the process.  However, Crown counsel acts for the interests of the government, not the complainant.


Family Law Protection Orders

A protection order is a court order, a breach of which is a criminal offense under section 127 of the Criminal Code.  The order is contained in the Protection Order Registry for ease of police enforcement.

Peace Bonds

A peace bond is a court order, a breach of which is a criminal offense under section 127 of the Criminal Code.  The peace bond is contained in the Protection Order Registry for ease of police enforcement.


Family Law Protection Orders

protection order lasts up to one year unless the judge orders otherwise (FLA, section 183(4)).

Peace Bonds

A protection order lasts up to one year unless the judge orders otherwise.


Family Law Protection Orders

There is no fee to apply for a protection order at the Provincial Court. NOTE – there is a fee to apply to the Supreme Court.

Peace Bonds

There is no fee to apply for peace bonds.


Family Law Protection Orders

A family law protection order from the B.C. courts can only be enforced by local police and the RCMP in B.C. as the FLA is a provincial statute.  If the family member for whom the protection order is granted moves to another province, he or she will have to register the order or apply for a new order at the new location.

Peace Bonds

A peace bond can be enforced by police and the RCMP anywhere in Canada because the Criminal Code is a federal statute.

Application to Family Court

The PCFR Form 1 titled “Application to Obtain an Order” with accompanying instructions can be downloaded at Application to Obtain An Order – Family Court.  The form is straightforward, and you can fill it online and then print it.  You fill out the applicant’s information (name, date of birth, address, phone and email) and the opposing party’s information (name, address).  You are applying for protection orders (check that box).

Under part 1, “Orders and Agreements”, check the appropriate box.

Part 2 may not apply if you are not asking for orders regarding guardianship, parenting arrangements and contact time with children.

It is good practice to attach another sheet and label that as “Schedule A”, where you tell the judge

  1. The orders you are seeking – You can use the sample in Appendix B (Schedule 5 of the Notice of Family Claim) or Appendix C (Part 1 of the Notice of Application titled “Orders Sought”)
  2. The facts in support of your application – You can use the sample in Appendix C (Part 2 of the Notice of Application titled “Factual Basis”)


Isolation can be a significant factor in abuse and neglect situations. If the older adult is better connected, the abuse or neglect or self-neglect may abate or stop.  The older person or caregiver may be isolated and lack social contacts or support. The following are the different types of isolation:

  • Physical isolation – for example, leaving an older adult who requires care alone for significant periods of time.
  • Social isolation – for example, not allowing an older adult to see friends or engage in social activities such as attending community centre events.
  • Emotional isolation – for example, not engaging with the older adult or responding to their emotional needs.

Check with your local seniors’ centre or find a Community Response Network in your community for community resources to overcome social isolation.  Some elder abuse can be described as ‘bullying’ behaviours.  Most bullying stops when it is brought out into the light of day.


Seniors First BC Resources

Understanding and Responding to Elder Abuse E-BookThis online ‘e-book’ contains:

  • a good review of elder abuse: what it is; types; risk factors; how to identify it; about abusers; barriers to asking for help; family stressors and elder abuse.
  • BC government programs and community services available for older adults who are abused and neglected;
  • guide to working with older adults who have been abused including communication techniques and sensitivity to cultural factors
  • assisting to take action- safety planning and the criminal justice system; and,
  • list of resources

Elder Abuse Assessment and Intervention - Reference GuideA one pager that sets out:

  • what to look for (indicators of abuse or neglect);
  • interview strategy;
  • possible interventions including:
    • education
    • a safety plan and
    • coordination and
  • consultation help phone numbers.

Criminal and Non-Criminal Abuse and Neglect Wheel

A graphic setting out various criminal and non-criminal forms of abuse and neglect.

Useful for discussing when the criminal justice system is and is not a remedy.

Community and Justice System Working Together as Partners Under the Adult Guardianship Act

A graphic setting out the various players in the community and in the justice system who might respond to abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults


Canadian Centre for Elder Law Resources

Practical Guide to Elder Abuse and Neglect Law in Canada- July 2011 - CCELA more legal guide is produced by the Canadian Centre for Elder law entitled A Practical Guide to Elder Abuse and Neglect Law in Canada.  The guide provides the following

  • defines elder abuse and gives examples,
  • sets out guiding principles for responding effectively (see above),
  • discusses the law and whether elder abuse and neglect is a crime,
  • Discusses Ageism, Elder Abuse and Human Rights Law
  • Mental Capacity and Consent
  • Professional Confidentiality and Solicitor-Client Privilege
  • Mandatory Reporting of Elder Abuse
  • Reviews the law in each of the provinces and territories
  • Lists resources for each of the provinces and territories

  • Roads to SafetyRoads to SafetyRoads to Safety is a new legal handbook for older women in BC that covers legal issues that older women may face when they have experienced violence. It explains rights and options, using stories to illustrate the legal information.  It was developed by West Coast LEAF and the Canadian Centre for Elder Law. It is available on Clicklaw at: Roads to Safety.[Note – this is a 97 page pdf download]

As a companion piece to Roads to Safety, they have also produced multilingual wallet cards listing sources of support and information for older women.

A PowerPoint reviewing: What is elder abuse and neglect?; When and how should you respond?;  How do you identify the best response? and, Who to call for more information or to report abuse?

Moving From Scrutiny to Strategy: An Analysis of Key Canadian Elder Abuse and Neglect Cases – 2011

This discussion paper includes not just an analysis of a number of abuse and neglect cases, but also: clarifys the meaning of key terms; overview of laws governing abuse and neglect in Canada; impact of mental capacity; disclosure of private confidential information; the role of the health care provider; and, the social dynamics of elder abuse and neglect.

Public Guardian and Trustee Resources:

A review of Part 3 of the Adult Guardianship Act.  A discussion of the roles of DAs, how the PGT works with DAs, and Community Response Networks.

Information about how the PGT assesses the situations of vulnerable adults.


Decision TreeA flow-chart (or ‘decision tree’) setting out options in responding to abuse and neglect situations.  Includes a chart on the reverse setting out roles of police, Designated Authorities and the PGT: governing legislation; why would you call/:where should you call?: what can you expect?; and, actions may include…

There are  five videos about the decisions reviewed in the decision tree:

Vancouver Coastal Health Authority

vch-react-manualVancouver Coastal Health’s ReACT program has created material that describes elder abuse, neglect and self neglect.

Their website lists the indicators for abuse.

These indicators and the re:act manual are for Vancouver Coastal Health employees but are a good reference for anyone helping older adults.


Information on financial help (OAS/GIS?CPP, Allowance, Welfare, SAFER, EI, VA, tax credits etc), elder abuse, and financial and medical affairs (this last section deals with wills, powers of attorney, mental incapacity, transferring a home to a child, and lending money to family members).

BC Government Resources:

Fact Sheets:

Canadian Government Resources:

From the Family Violence Initiative of the Department of Justice Canada. A booklet for older adults who may be suffering from abuse by someone they trust.  Also available in html on this webpage: Elder Abuse is Wrong – webpage