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Ann Soden

CIASP was a defining time in my life.

I became a person of the world, an adventurer, one who had traveled and had lived amongst people who had no concept of Canada (except that it must be many, many mountains away) nor had even, in some instances, seen white people before. I had had a privilege few others would have. If my life or abilities were cut short, I had, at least, made a tiny contribution to community development and international good will of which I could be proud.

I gained confidence in my survival techniques, spirit of adventure and ruggedness. I learned and honed skills and values I have applied all my life: resourcefulness and resilience; commitment, and caring, inclusiveness and perspective; sensitivity to the world and the plight of others; realization of our basic communality; and passion for life, new horizons, and new cultures. I learned about the true poor and how the poorest of the poor can be happy and proud. I learned the value of grassroots organizations and the limitations of importing foreign aid and customs. I learned how to organize conferences and fundraisers. I learned that to those to whom much is given, much is expected. I learned the importance of leaving each place a little better for having been there. I learned that in giving to others, one discovers oneself. I learned that we get back so much more than we give.

I learned many lessons of tolerance, patience, generosity, humility, appreciation of nature and of life taught to us by our Mexico friends: the beauty of an earthen floor well sweptthat pride of doing ones best and making the best of what little one has and literally raising it to a different level. All these have stayed with and guided me always.

How enriched we were!

The lessons are endless, but best of all are the rich memories of our wonderful Mexican brothers and sisters: Don Flavio of La Arena on his fine horse, wearing an embroidered sombrero; his grandchildren Zainaida, Placido and Incarnacion, now in their 50s and great-grandparents, I expect, if, God willing, they are still alive. I remember the fabulous refried frioles con huevos, served with coarse salt, scooped up by mountains of hot tortillas; the sweet sugar cane, pilon and galletas; our Mexican house mother washing our hair with sweet leaves, and teaching us to sculpt red earthen clay pots; walking six hours over mountains to a marriage where we were the honored guests and had to partake [or embarrass our host] in eating chicken marinated for days in hot chili; the singing at the missa of "Somos Cristianos y Somos Mexicanos, viva, viva Jesu, nuestro rey" and the "Sanctus"; the strains of Mexican guitars on cool nights; visiting the camposanto and the grateful looks when we "cured" granos (sometimes), or toothaches with oil of cloves and backaches with aspirin; being called "Anita Blanca" my first year, and "Donna Anita", my second year when I become in the eyes of our Mexican hosts, a real Mexican; arri-ti-ti-a! and tardes; being sent home with chickens and eggs because the Mexicans thought it was very sad that my mum had none in Canada; the people from our rancho who accompanied us to the highway and nearby town when we left and slept in their first bed and sheets and took their first bath and shower; getting sick and being given "aquadiente" by our Canadian priest and thinking I was going to die for a couple a days from the effects of this "remedy"; being ordered to Pisaflores to recuperate under the watchful eye of the Pauline Proulx; the young Doctor from Mexico City doing his required stage in the country and assisting him in a surgery, without anesthetic, to remove a massive cyst in a mans face, while this man bit on a piece of wood; teaching young teenage girls how to teach writing and reading to youngsters in the rancho during those many months when the itinerant teacher was not in residence; trying to convince, without success, the men of the neighboring ranchos to pool a few pesos to purchase a coffeebean shucking machine in order to get a better price at market and they refusing because they did not understand the notion of a cooperative and because, they explained, they were poor and would always be poor; narrowly escaping being bitten by a viper which passed behind my foot, as I walked on a path; walking in the pouring rain on mountain paths at night and galloping down streams and across rivers with the same priest; wonderful comradery with all the great CIASP workers; sleeping on the floor and in the luggage rack on our bus ride to Mexico; the convent where we stayed; the Ballet Folklorico, the Museum of Anthropology and Acapulco; the death of the first black girl to join our ranks- a beautiful, selfless girl who suffered in silence in a far-off rancho not wanting to call attention to herself until it was too late; who hailed from the working-class district of St. Henri, Montreal, the first of her family to attend university; who was about to graduate and marry and whose Caribbean mother feared for her safe return but relented because her daughter wanted so much to go to Mexico and because we leaders had insisted on the safety of this venture, never suspecting, in our youth and idealism, that sometimes things can go wrong, even when you are doing good.



How do you summarize almost forty years since Mexico? I worked at Expo67 following graduation from Marianopolis College of the Université de Montréal and went to study and work in France for a year. I traveled throughout Europe and worked in Israel on a Kibbutz during the summer of its twentieth anniversary of statehood. I returned to become a schoolteacher, with a very activist approach, involving many members of the community in my classes, particularly retirees, with field trips for individual students or groups attached to every new subject studied. We did elaborate art projects from making useful crafts, to sculpting and fusing scraps of plastic from a local factory, designing plays, newspapers, conducting courses in first aid and survival and a whole course on animation and filmmaking. I wanted the kids to love to learn, to become resourceful problem solvers, passionate and open to the world. It was the age of free-form and self-expression and I fitted in perfectly-with the help of a wonderfully supportive principal.

During this time, I got married and later moved to Japan to live with my first husband, Barry. We were married only a few years but remain very special friends. Our lives have been enriched by living in Japan and incorporating the best of the values, philosophy and refinement of the Japanese into our lifestyles. We were lucky enough to travel throughout Southeast Asia. Barrys life forever changed when he established an import business and Torontos premier chain of Japanese restaurants.

I came back from Japan and worked as an educational consultant for the Quebec Minister of Education developing educational multimedia for schools, all stemming from my filmmaking course while I was a teacher. I had entered teaching to support Barry who was studying at the time. I hadnt wanted to teach but have never regretted my experience. I forever gained respect for dedicated teachers and have returned to teaching which I now do regularly to lawyers, judges, children and older people and most recently, to health, social work and accounting professionals nationally and internationally in conferences on Elder Law.

But as a child I wanted to be a missionary. I loved exotic, foreign countries and had a very social work/community development bent. I devoured National Geographic and one of my favorite films was "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness", the story of a lay missionary in China. I didnt want to be a nun, however, but in my youth thought the two were synonymous.

CIASP made me realize I could be a lay missionary. I tried to join Cuso to go to India in 1967 but they wanted me to go to Peru instead because of my Spanish. That was Expo year and my father encouraged me not to miss this world class opportunity. Since I couldnt go to India as wanted (Ive now traveled far and wide but never to India, my childhood dream!) I declined Peru and chose Expo. During the next ten years, I put my social work values and directions on hold while I traveled, taught and worked in education.

Finally, in my late twenties, I stopped to take stock of my life and future. I didnt think I would marry again and felt I had to depend entirely on myself. With that take-charge realization everything became clear. I decided I would address social issues and problems either through social work or law, my fathers profession. After taking an evening course in law and working for a short time on a community social work project, I decided that law would provide not only a means to be of service but would also be an effective tool to advocate and bring about legislative change, if necessary, and to pursue social justice. I went back to school at 29. How I enjoyed and appreciated every minute of law school and met my wonderful and supportive husband, Serge Bouharevich, and as my Mum called him, that "precious and perfect man", while doing community work with the older person.

Serge is an industrial or corporate (non-commercial) filmmaker making training, motivational and documentary videos. We had our first child, Alexandra ("Ali") in 1983, two days after I completed my law articling.

I had been working for a large mainstream commercial law firm since my first year of law school and just continued thereafter as a commercial real estate and environmental lawyer specializing in property development. My altruistic objectives were again put on the back burner by force of circumstances (marriage, babies and mortgage). With nose to the grindstone I worked hard, rising to partner and had another wonderful child, Yuri, in 1987.

But in 1993 during a recession, I struck out to practice on my own leaving the social-climbing, the competition and the politics of the large law firm for a kinder and more rational quality of life as my own boss. I have loved every minute and never looked back, although I am very grateful for the invaluable training and the wonderful clients I came to be responsible for during my years with the firm, most of whom are still with me. I formed a business consultancy company, The Evden Group Inc., to provide ancillary lease management and administration services to my commercial real estate law practice and while I am a sole practitioner, I employ a network of lawyers and experts to offer a full-service practice to my clients.

I have had the opportunity to co-found with another lawyer, what is now a very successful Quebec institute which promotes public and private sector partnerships for the delivery of government services (LInstitut pour le partenariat public-privé.) I have also co-founded with another lawyer, The Business Practice Institute, an awards and scholarship programme, which promotes business for social responsibility. I am a director of the Villa Maria Foundation, legal advisor to The Priory School of Montreal and the Thomas More Institute and am a Trustee of Concordia Universitys Canadian Irish Studies Foundation, all educational institutions. In addition, I have worked with the Bar of Montreal for several years on Youth Law and youth offender issues having given many conferences to Montreal students. I am co-president and founder of "Place aux Jeunes" a youth program on rights and responsibilities of youth which encourages legal and moral alternatives to violence, intimidation, vandalism and discrimination and fosters responsible citizenship.

I have always believed that all lawyers have a duty to give back to the community and the profession. When I started my own firm, I pledged to donate at least some percentage of my time to pro bono work and community development. I started in right away handling pro bono property law matters, my forte. I had forgotten about older people, as such, over the years, until someone asked me to sit on Board of Directors of a regional seniors council. I jumped at the idea. The poor recruiter had never seen anyone so enthusiastic for volunteer work! "No. no you dont understand," I said, "this is meant to be. This is my destiny. Now tell me, Ive been away from older people for years and I now have new skills. I cant wait to learn more about legal issues and problems of the elderly which must come up all the time. What are they?" Well, apart from requests about Wills from time to time, the organization said they didnt have any issues which came up. I couldnt believe it. So, I cast the net further, probing every available lunch hour, every organization, university, health center, the Law Societies and Bars, first in Montreal, then in Quebec and then in every province. No one was addressing Elder Law issues in a comprehensive way, only piecemeal, within traditional areas of law. It was hit and miss. Older clients sometimes got lucky and other times not, in terms of competent and compassionate lawyers to address their concerns and needs. There was one Legal Advocacy for the Elderly, in Toronto, a publicly-funded, carve-out from the general Ontario Legal Aid system. They were very busy. I approached them because I wanted to spearhead with them the formation of the national bank of lawyers capable of addressing legal and social issues affecting this population. "You organize us, Ann!", they said, being far too busy to be involved. And I did.

After five years of writing articles, organizing conferences and launching a national legal text, my proposal for a National Elder Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association passed unanimously. There was a lot of laying the groundwork and educating along the way, however. People confused Elder Law with Wills and Estates and existing Senior Lawyers issues. Why treat older people any differently than the rest of the population? Wasnt that discriminatory and paternalistic? I welcomed every challenge because I knew I was right and doing something which would not only open new avenues of practice for Canadian lawyers but would provide older clients with more complete and competent responses to and representation of their needs. The public interest would, as well, be served through law and policy reform and through improving access to legal services for older Canadians, generally, and, in particular, for our vulnerable, poor and incapable. I had found my niche.

One older lady stopped me as I came down from the podium after speaking passionately on an issue very early on in my inquiry about Canadian elder legal issues. On those days I was usually the only lawyer attending conferences along with social workers and health professionals. She caught my arm and said very sweetly, "You must have had a wonderful grandmother." And I had had the best and thought, at that moment, how Grandma would be proud.

It has been privilege to have made a small but unique contribution to my profession, the law and particularly to the Canadian public. The story of my development of Elder Law in Canada and my brochure is available on my website at www.elderlawcanada.ca.

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