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Language rights for elderly Ontarians a growing issue

The availability of legal services in languages other than English could become a growing issue as Ontario’s population continues to age, Brampton lawyer-linguist Suzanne Deliscar tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Deliscar, principal of Deliscar Professional Corporation, a law firm that offers services in English, French and Spanish, says many elderly people may struggle to express their wishes outside their mother tongue for the purposes of legal matters, including the preparation of wills, guardianship applications and powers of attorney.

“This is something we have to take seriously because if people can’t communicate in English, they’re going to have a hard time getting the legal services they need,” she says. “It’s definitely an issue we’re going to see more and more that needs to be addressed.

But it’s not just the provision of legal services where elderly individuals could find themselves disadvantaged if their first language is not English, Deliscar adds.  

“From the perspective of medical and long-term care needs, there may be demand for specialized homes based on language. I know there are some that cater to certain religious or language groups, but these are few and far between,” she says.

The Globe and Mail recently reported on an activist’s quest to boost French-language services for ageing Francophone adults in the Toronto area.

The article states that Sylvie Lavoie founded the Hélène Tremblay Lavoie Foundation in honour of her mother, who suffers from dementia and lost her ability to speak English as her condition worsened. That left the daughter with a struggle to find long-term care for her mother where staff could communicate in French, her mother tongue.   

Lavoie’s research indicates that there is just one long-term bed for every 3,400 Francophones in the Greater Toronto Area, compared with one for every 170 people in the general population. The newspaper also quoted a retired university professor who said that language access is more than just “a nice thing we can do” for elderly people. When caregivers can’t speak the same language as their patients, it puts their safety and mental health at risk, she added.

Deliscar says many people wrongly assume they will be able to easily obtain services in French throughout the province.

“Ontario is not officially bilingual, and there is no uniform provision of French services available across Ontario,” she says.

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