Two months ago, Camille Parent was a vacuum cleaner store owner in Peterborough, Ont., with a hand in civic issues and charitable causes.
But a jarring video he captured with a hidden camera of his dementia-stricken mother being mistreated by workers at her nursing home transformed the 54-year-old Mr. Parent virtually overnight into an accidental advocate for the elderly.
Since excerpts of the video got national media attention in May, he has fielded calls and e-mails almost daily from people with horror stories of elder abuse and seeking his advice.
“I’m getting calls from all over Ontario, all over Canada,” Mr. Parent said in a recent interview from his shop. “I didn’t realize how much people need help.”
Mr. Parent, a novice to the world of long-term care, acknowledges he is no expert. But the transition into his new role has been eased by his history of civic involvement, a keen awareness of the power of media, and a flare for the dramatic.
When he thought the Catholic Health Corporation of Ontario was too lenient with the operators of his mother’s home, St. Joseph’s at Fleming, Mr. Parent made local headlines by publicly disavowing his Catholic faith and quitting a Catholic school board committee and the Knights of Columbus.
“I guess I was a little upset,” said Mr. Parent, his amiable eyes framed by a receding hairline and a bristly, black goatee.
When Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews visited a Toronto nursing home in June to announce she would double the number of inspectors for long-term-care facilities, Mr. Parent showed up and derided the development as “smoke and mirrors” to a room of reporters.
Citing “strict privacy rules,” ministry spokesman Sheamus Murphy declined to discuss the ministry’s relationship with Mr. Parent. Mr. Murphy noted, though, that the ministry last week suspended new admissions to St. Joseph’s out of concern for residents’ care.
Four St. Joseph’s workers were fired, and police are weighing an assault charge. One worker on the video appeared to taunt Mr. Parent’s mother with a feces-soiled cloth.
Mr. Parent has attracted the attention of established elder-rights activists.
Lois Sampson, a founder of Seniors at Risk, a national elder-rights group based in Vancouver, has enlisted Mr. Parent’s help in removing a man from an Ontario hospital where his family believes he is being mistreated.
“He is very good at getting information and providing it to others,” Ms. Sampson said. “As an advocate, I think he’s doing a remarkable job.”
This week, he sat for an interview with Televisa, the largest television news broadcaster in Mexico.
Mr. Parent describes many of the people who reach out to him as “just wanting to talk.” Others, he said, want help navigating the bureaucracy of the health-care system. Some want a hidden camera.
He concedes he does not have all the answers. But he does have hidden cameras. This week, he began selling the same model he used in his mother’s room for $200 apiece – the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.
A businessman by trade, Mr. Parent has dabbled through the years in advocacy, rabble-rousing, and showmanship for a good cause.
In 2007, he successfully lobbied the provincial government for a group home to house his developmentally disabled brother, who had spent nearly his entire life in a government facility that is now closed.
Last year, the mayor of Peterborough was suspended from the local police services board after Mr. Parent filed a complaint with the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.
Over the Victoria Day weekend, a charitable group Mr. Parent founded, Peterborough Cares, co-ordinated a fundraiser in which his wife, Penny, camped out on the roof of a Canadian Tire.
Mr. Parent recently started Ontario Cares, which is devoted to stopping elder abuse and improving long-term-care facilities.
“I’m an advocate for almost anybody,” Mr. Parent said. “I will advocate for the right reasons. I just have that compassion to help people that need help.”