Online or hard to access: Researchers say Montreal's senior consultations miss the mark

The City of Montreal's consultation process for its seniors action plan excludes the very people it's supposed to serve, according to Concordia University researchers.

Valérie Plante's plan to create an 'age friendly city' not so senior friendly, say Concordia researchers

Michel St-Jean is almost completely blind and said the city should have cleared snow sooner. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

The City of Montreal's plan to hold a consultation on its seniors action plan excludes the very people it's supposed to serve, according to two Concordia University researchers.

In an open letter to Mayor Valérie Plante, two professors write that the consultations — offered online or in meetings organized in certain neighbourhoods — are inaccessible to the seniors who would benefit most from the services.

"We believe it will exclude the voices of seniors, especially those of seniors who are already most marginalized," write Dr. Kim Sawchuk and Dr. Shannon Hebblethwaite.

Sawchuck and Hebblethwaite are the directors of two Concordia-based projects studying aging: Ageing, Communication, Technologies (ACT) and the engAGE: Centre for Research on Aging, respectively.

They point out that the public meetings organized to get feedback one the 2018-2020 plan to make the city "age friendly," are all being held in February, "one of the coldest months of the year," and that the online surveys are only in French. 

Tough-to-access and lack of English

Their letter points out that of the meeting locations near metro stations, three out of four stations do not have elevators. The station that does have an elevator is an 11-minute walk from where the consultation will be held.

"The seniors with whom we work have already expressed concerns that the weather and road conditions would prevent them from participating," wrote Sawchuk and Hebblethwaite. "Aren't the seniors with reduced mobility among those who are most acutely in need of an age friendly city?"

They also take issue with the process's lack of English. They cite a 2006 report by the federal Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, showing English-speaking seniors in Montreal are at a higher risk of isolation.

"Why are older anglophones and immigrants being systematically disregarded in this consultation process?" the letter asks.

One English consultation was added to the docket, city councillor for CDN-NDG Peter McQueen announced Friday in a tweet apologizing for the oversight.

The consultation is scheduled to take place at the Cummings Centre at 5151 Côte Ste-Catherine Road on Feb. 26, from 2 to 4 p.m.

To sign up, seniors are invited to call 514-342-1234 ext 7365.

Not 'non-digital' alternatives

Another barrier lies in the medium used to host the surveys itself — the Internet — which the researchers say is used much less by seniors, especially those who are marginalized.

"We haven't seen non-digital alternatives for filling out the survey," the letter says.

Rosannie Filato, the member of the city's executive committee in charge of the consultations, told CBC that they were designed to reach as many people as possible.

"We're in Quebec, so most of our information is in French," Filato said. "It's specified at the bottom that they can call in and speak both in French and English to our consultant."

Sawchuk and Hebblethwaite are asking the city to extend its consultations into the spring "and to take concrete, remedial steps to address the issues we have raised above."

With files from Antoni Nerestant