Stirring the Pot
CARP’s new legal expert looks to battle ageism by challenging discrimantory laws and policies
Introducing Laura Tamblyn Watts, CARP’s new legal expert
IN ORDER TO ENSURE that CARP continues to fulfill its mandate – to foster a new vision of aging in Canada – the organization recognized a need to ramp up its expertise in the fields of legal research and policy development.
And when Laura Tamblyn Watts expressed interest in taking on that highly challenging assignment, CARP jumped at the opportunity to hire someone who virtually pioneered this field.
An energetic, passionate and whip-smart lawyer, author, teacher, facilitator, media commentator, hockey-and-swimming mother of three, Tamblyn Watts brings with her a vast wealth of contacts, knowledge and experience to her new role as CARP’s first national director of law, policy and research.
Peter Muggeridge interviewed Tamblyn Watts on her second day on the job, asking her to explain why elder law has become such an important field and how she’ll be reaching out to hear the stories of CARP members from across Canada.
Peter Muggeridge You were an early adopter of elder law, a field that barely existed when you graduated from law school. How did you end up there? Laura Tamblyn Watts I’ve always been interested in issues of rights and causes. As a young lawyer, I also did some estate work and medical law work. Plus, I was very close to my grandfather. And from my high school and undergraduate years, I volunteered with the Alzheimer’s Society – that was very important to me. My interest in rights, discrimination, financial, estate law and my connection with older people – it all suddenly clicked together.
PM Was there a “eureka” moment? LTW Yes, I was at a conference on elder law and, as I heard an older person discuss their experiences, I was struck by lighting – this is what I wanted to do.
PM How do you define elder law? LTW There are entire books written on the subject. Some people say it’s about wills, estates, trusts, health, etc. I think of elder law as a lens that I put over my eyes. When look at any legal issue through this lens, I ask: “How does this impact older people?” Some advocates look at law and policy through a women’s lens or an indigenous lens. I look at it through an aging lens.
PM Are law schools paying enough attention to the legal issues of aging? LTW I teach a class in law and aging at the University of Toronto, but it’s an area that’s been shockingly under-taught. Police officers, doctors, nurses, social workers all need to know more in this area. But as society ages, we’re getting desperate for expertise in this space. It’s the same with medicine – few doctors want to be geriatricians. But we need more geriatricians.
PM Describe your experience in the field? LTW I helped found the Canadian Centre for Elder Law in B.C. and served as national director
for many years. When I moved to Toronto to be with my fiancé (Michael Tamblyn, one of the founders and current CEO of Kobo) I continued to work with CCEL on a number of major law reform projects that led to the development of recommendations that eventually got adopted into law.
PM Give us an example of how you changed a law to benefit older Canadians. LTW One of our big successes (which we accomplished with CARP’s input) was developing policies to help investment advisers better serve their older clients. First, we wanted advisers to be able to recognize elder financial abuse and, second, to help them understand how cognitive impairment can negatively affect older people’s investment decisions. Our recommendations were eventually approved by older investors, security regulators, government policy-makers, the investment industry and financial institutions – it was a big win across the board.
PM A quick Google search on you reveals hundreds of articles that quote you on a myriad of different elder-law subjects. How do you stay current with this rapidly evolving and complex sphere? LTW I’m a voracious reader – every day I go home and spend hours reading peer-reviewed articles, journals and social media. (I’ve used my digital reader in the bathtub so much that I think it led to my husband developing a waterproof Kobo.) Secondly, I lean on other experts in the field who are always eager to help. And lastly, I’m constantly challenging myself to learn more in new areas.
CARP Why did you make the move to CARP? LTW I was inspired by the potential of CARP. With 300,000 members in every community across Canada, I was deeply compelled by the opportunity to reach into that and build new relationships. I’ve already had several research organizations reach out to me and say we’re so excited about the opportunity to engage with CARP members.
PM You’re CARP’s first national director of law, policy and research. What’s your vision for this role? LTW I’m hoping to be a bridge and connector with organizations, researchers, government policy developers and businesses that want to consult with our members, who want to make sure they can get into the community to hear the experiences. I look forward to travelling across the country to make those relationships because the experience of an older person in Sandy Cove, N.S., will be different from somebody in Sudbury, Ont., and different from someone in downtown Vancouver.
PM CARP members are extremely interested in advocacy and policy issues. How will you tap into this engagement? LTW I look forward to hearing their stories. Many of the major law reform projects I’ve worked on have been initiated by having a cup of coffee with someone and listening to his or her specific issue. My No. 1 role will be figuring out how do we use these stories to drive change.
PM Any immediate priorities? LTW There are so many issues to get to, but some of my immediate policy goals would be: (a) ensure that older people have greater access to vaccines and boosters that have been tested on older people; (b) that long-term care facilities are safe and supportive of residents’ individual rights; (c) changing legislation and creating services to reduce physical and financial elder abuse; (d) creating a dialogue with financial institutions about awareness of issues of aging.
PM How will you measure success? LTW I will consider it a success if I can initiate good practice, good policy and good law to the degree in which it advances CARP’s platforms. In the next few years, as CARP matures and expands, I hope we’ll become the destination government, business and research organizations come to for our internal and external expertise.
PM What societal change would you like to see happen during your time at CARP? LTW Right now, society puts so much time, effort, resources and money into the issues of youth. I think it’s time we spent more on aging because that’s what we spend most of our lives doing. I’d like to change society so that people have a great experience during their entire lifespan.
“Every day I go home and spend hours reading peer-reviewed articles, journals and social media”