June 15 is Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It’s an opportunity to recall just how badly COVID-19 hit our elders. 

Our elders were badly neglected during the pandemic. For example, soldiers found fungi, mould, and cockroaches in Canadian long-term care homes. They witnessed “feces and vomit on floors and on the walls.” They found that residents in care homes had died of dehydration when, in the words of one soldier, “all they needed was water and a wipe down.”

We would be wrong to think these indignities were purely a product of the pandemic. 

Teamster members in long-term care homes have for years borne witness to the pain and distress in the eyes of our parents and grandparents. Worse still, care workers were powerless to do anything about it, as the abuse suffered by elderly people was systemic in nature.

By systemic, I am referring to the decisions made over the past years and decades by governments and long-term care home managers. These decisions were the root causes of the problems that blew up in our faces during the first wave of the pandemic. 

I have lost track of how many times our members have said they were understaffed, that caregiver/resident ratios were off and that working conditions were pushing people to quit. But frontline workers have absolutely no control over big picture issues like these. 

Our members are accountable for their actions and can be sent to prison if found guilty of abuse. Why shouldn’t the same be true for the managers and politicians whose policies lead to catastrophe? Why aren’t they punished the same way we punish the common worker?   

The pandemic represents a historic opportunity to change the way we talk about elder abuse. The abuse suffered at the hands of individuals is disgusting and wrong, but so is systemic abuse at the hands of companies and politicians. 

Our parents and grandparents, the people who built this country, deserve that we tackle this problem once and for all. 

François Laporte
President of Teamsters Canada
Vice President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters