Isabelle’s New Year beginnings at the Canadian Centre for Elder Law

11 January 2017

By Elizabeth Pinsent

With a New Year often come new beginnings. My exciting new beginning for 2017 is that I am now part of a vibrant team of passionate people working hard to reform the law to improve the lives of older Canadians.

When the opportunity to join the CCEL as a community engagement coordinator came up, I felt I could play a role and make a difference.

I became exposed to issues faced by seniors and the importance of the law to protect their rights when I was a child growing up in a small town in the South of France. On many occasions, I watched my father provide legal advice—often on a volunteer basis—to seniors who were struggling with a range of family, health care, and financial issues.

More than once, I witnessed how these difficult situations were turned around simply because of the knowledge my father shared. Our house was always an open door, and it was wonderful to see the sense of relief on the faces of so many visitors. Not only did I experience a true sense of community, but I also realized the power of information.

This is one of the reasons why I decided to become a journalist, a position where I would have the opportunity to help people be better informed and empowered.

I completed my master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York where I specialized in photo-journalism. During my time there, I chose to learn how to report on poverty and powerlessness, and spent most of my time in the forgotten neighbourhoods of the South Bronx, telling stories about the Latino and the African-American communities.

I became so intrigued by the challenges of inner-city distress and urban revitalization that I decided to pursue another master’s degree in City Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I learned new community development skills in Boston’s low-income neighbourhoods.

Later on, after moving to British Columbia, I pursued a career as writer and photographer, focusing on environmental science, endangered species, and marine ecosystems. I have worked many years in the environmental sector to seek better legal protection for wildlife at risk in British Columbia; I have engaged school students to advance environmental education; and also collaborated with scientists to raise the public profile of endangered species that people did not take notice of and yet play a key role in the ecosystem, such as the Oregon spotted frog or mountain caribou.

While they seem diverse, all these experiences are really about community engagement leading to social change. The objectives of the CCEL align with this long-term commitment, and the fact that CCEL team members combine research, law reform, information, and education in their work is something I strongly believe in. I look forward to working with an organization that continually seeks better laws and policies to improve the lives of seniors.

2017 is a special year to join the CCEL, as its “parent” body, the British Columbia Law Institute, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It will be a great time not only to learn from the organization’s impressive achievements over the past two decades, but also an exciting opportunity for a newcomer to join the journey and contribute to the projects that are currently being developed by the team in this New Year. I will be specifically supporting some of the initiatives led by Krista James, including the new phase of the older women’s dialogue project, and the health care consent, aging and dementia project.

I can’t wait to meet CCEL’s partners and community members, and here are some of the events that are already on my agenda for the next few weeks:

  • Thursday, January 26:  I will participate in the first celebration event for the 20th anniversary of the British Columbia Law Institute in Victoria.
  • Thursday, February 2: I will be at the Social Justice Law Forum, where law students have the opportunity to meet lawyers and organizations committed to social justice. The event is held at UBC downtown campus from 6 to 8 pm.
  • Friday, April 7: Find me at the CCEL’s information table at the 14th Annual Geriatric Services Conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre. This year’s theme, Going Beyond: Explore. Engage. Evolve, holds great promise.

If you plan to attend any of these gatherings, please stop by and say Hello, I would love to meet you!  If your organization is interested in a presentation on the work we do at the CCEL, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at or by phone at 604-822-0633.

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