Nearly one year after a resident at a BC Housing facility in the northeastern community of McBride walked into the local RCMP detachment and alleged that other residents were being abused, charges have been laid against the former caretaker of the government-run complex.
Joe Doucet, who was hired as Beaverview Lodge's caretaker and maintenance manager in 2008, has been charged with uttering threats, intimidation and criminal harassment.
RCMP spokeswoman Constable Lesley Smith said Mr. Doucet is not accused of physical abuse, though she declined to discuss the specifics of the case.
She said the RCMP takes "very seriously" any accusation of elder abuse.
"Elder abuse is not always immediately recognized. The abuse can come in many forms, including financial, physical and psychological. Intimidation, threats and harassment are all examples of psychological abuse," Const. Smith said.
The investigation in McBride began last May, when one of Beaverview Lodge's residents met with police. The lodge is home to low-income seniors, as well as people with mental and physical disabilities. BC Housing is the provincial Crown agency that manages a range of subsidized housing options.
Const. Smith said several lodge residents eventually provided statements to police, though they feared doing so.
"That was very courageous of them," she said.
Mr. Doucet was arrested last month and released with a promise to appear. He cannot visit Beaverview Lodge or communicate with any of its residents.
A new caretaker has since been hired, the RCMP said.
No one at BC Housing would agree to an interview. Spokesman Seumas Gordon wrote in an e-mail that the agency terminated the employee immediately after it learned of the charges, then met with all of Beaverview Lodge's residents.
Charmaine Spencer, vice-president of the board of directors for the BC Centre for Elder Advocacy & Support, said the majority of caretakers hired by BC Housing go above and beyond to aid their residents.
But it's up to BC Housing, she said, to ensure that those in charge of the facilities are doing their jobs well.
"There is a responsibility on any employer, whether that be a non-profit board or BC Housing, to really take the time to make sure that they have a good match," said Ms. Spencer, who also works at Simon Fraser University's gerontology research centre.
She said it's very rare for charges to be laid in this kind of case; police often treat such matters as internal conflicts, which can leave residents feeling trapped.
"When people are in low-income housing, they don't have a lot of choices," she said. "You think of McBride, there's not a lot of different housing choices up there. If you have very low income, you're basically stuck in those very, very difficult circumstances."
McBride is located just west of the Alberta border and has a population of fewer than 600 people.