International Year of Older Persons

discussion: Cultural Issues

Emerging Issues From Toronto Focus Groups

To date, three focus groups have been held with seniors from specific cultural backgrounds: 

  • First Nations
  • Cantonese
  • Portuguese

General Issues

  • The concerns of seniors from cultural backgrounds are not being heard by governments.
  • There is limited information available to people of diverse cultural backgrounds in forms they readily understand.


  • Seniors need more geared to income public transportation.


  • Since English is the mainstream language in Toronto, free ESL classes need to be offered.
  • Opportunities to learn and use languages of one’s culture need to be encouraged, so as not to repeat the mistake of a long-term policy against use of native languages which "decimated a proud culture of peace loving, generous people."


  • The end of government funding for new geared to income housing has resulted in long waits by people who badly need housing.
  • There are some retirement homes and sometimes nursing homes that have staff who use the language spoken by residents, but, since these are few in number, usually filled, and often in other areas of the city. Often, the food served is foreign to the residents.
  • Seniors without their own incomes often have to live with families, and some are treated badly.

Income and Pensions

  • Immigrants are encouraged to come to Canada if they are sponsored, but there is often no way for them to support themselves once they are here, and sponsors (even their children) do not always continue to support them. These people often live in poor conditions and without hope.
  • Immigration policy does not match pension eligibility policy, geared to income housing policy, health care eligibility policy, welfare policy, and other areas of policy. Policy in these areas does not appear to be coordinated, leaving seniors (especially immigrants from other countries) the losers.

Employment and Welfare

  • Do not have equal opportunities in employment (last hired, first fired).
  • Shelters and services are full or closing due to cutbacks in funding.
  • Need an address to receive welfare, but this does not always match the situations of seniors.

Health Care

  • There are qualified family doctors who speak many of the languages of the seniors — although this is by no means always the case — but not always close to where they live.
  • Specialists and personnel in emergency departments do not typically speak any language other than English. Translation is sometimes available, but the patients often have to wait many hours for a translator. Thus, patients who do not speak English feel they get poor service, and that there is discrimination.
  • Some seniors are distrustful of doctors, and even of western medicine.
  • Some family doctors charge a "registration fee" for patients. This is difficult for seniors on low or no incomes such as recent immigrants who do not quality for OAS of GIS.
  • The special health issues associated with a cultural group (e.g., diabetes among First Nations People) require more attention.


Comment on Issues