One Voice Coalition wants Senior Healthcare & Services in English

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One Voice Coalition – We often hear about the isolation of seniors. It is also a constant refrain in the Anglophone community that English-speaking Quebecers don’t have the ear of their governments. In the view of a good many in Montreal, Francois Legault’s CAQ Government has shown itself to be particularly tone-deaf to the needs of cultural minorities. How much more so then, is the isolation of English-speaking seniors, when the vulnerabilities associated with aging play out against the backdrop of the politics of language? 

Chair Yoga at the LaSalle
Chair Yoga at the LaSalle D & D 50 + Center

“One Voice”, a coalition of groups representing Anglophone seniors aims to improve access to healthcare and decrease social isolation. The umbrella organization includes the Almage Senior Center, Contactivity, Extra Miles Senior Visiting Program, LaSalle D & D 50 +, NDG Boomer Cafe,  NDG Senior Center, New Hope Senior Center, SASMAD, Seniors Action Quebec, St. Columba House, Ste. Antoine 50 + Senior Center, Volunteer West Island,  West Island Citizen’s Advocacy (WICA), and The Yellow Door. 

The groups have come together to share best practices and advocate for improved access to healthcare and services for English-speaking seniors. “We believe you can combat isolation if you band together,” Diane Doonan says. “We have workshops, we share best practices, and we invite guest speakers.” Doonan has been an advocate for seniors for many years, running a seniors’ center and setting up programs for the 50 + population. “It is my passion,” she says. Doonan is currently Vice-President of the LaSalle D & D 50 + Centre which provides a wide range of activities for active seniors. While the center is located in the Borough of LaSalle in southwest Montreal its programs are open to everyone 50 years and over. 

Tribute to Catholic Action from LaSalle D & D 50 + Center 

“Poverty and isolation go hand-in-hand,” Doonan says. “If you live in poverty, you are at a much higher risk to have health problems.” While it might be obvious that poverty increases health risks, this isn’t necessarily apparent when seniors are financially secure. “Boredom can lead to serious health problems too.” It is all a vicious cycle: isolation, poverty, and more health challenges. These compounding problems increase the risk of elder abuse leading in turn to premature death. Seniors who have lost a spouse are, particularly at risk, she notes. It’s not uncommon for them to withdraw from their circle of friends in the wake of the death of their life partner. So, outreach to seniors is a pressing concern and Anglophones must be reached in English.

The One Voice Coalition was spearheaded by Catholic Action which operates under the auspices of the English-Speaking Catholic Council (ESCC). One Voice was formed at the behest of the Father Dowd Foundation which provides funding to many community groups in Greater Montreal. Catholic Action facilitates collaboration and provides resources to help combat isolation, poverty, and elder abuse, while providing food security, all with an accent on outreach to marginalized groups. “We have an expert pool. We use our gifts to serve our neighbours, and we serve all,” says Catholic Action’s Executive Director Judy Wong. “Last year, I did a lot of work with Muslims.” 

In 2019 the CAQ Government brought in legislation prohibiting any person in a position of authority in the public sector from wearing religious garb or religious symbols on the job. This measure has hit Muslim women who wear the hijab pretty hard, effectively preventing them from working at their chosen profession if they choose to maintain the outward signs of their religious identity. Many of the CAQ’s critics believe that the animus towards religious minorities is anchored in a broader disregard for the English-speaking population, located primarily in the Montreal region where it doesn’t have any real support and nothing to lose politically from exclusionary policies.

Improving access to services for English-speaking seniors is always a top priority for the coalition, be it healthcare, social services, recreation, or legal services. In the wake of the passage of Bill 21 last year, One Voice has heightened its focus on legal services. The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), an English-rights advocacy organization, will be making a presentation to the coalition about the right to receive legal services in English. “We need access to justice in English,” Wong says. 

Wong says that older Anglophones find navigating the maze of government services particularly daunting. “They are the least bilingual,” she says. Something as simple as obtaining information over the phone is no mean feat. “You dial 1 for English, you still get French. You have to go a couple of levels before you get English.” Doonan says that the access plan to healthcare isn’t even available in English. Plans are in motion to draw up a letter to the Regional Access Committee on Healthcare to address these pressing concerns. 

Feature image: One Voice Coalition – Anglo Seniors umbrella group

By: Deborah Rankin – [email protected]

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