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Insurance industry urged to avoid using enumerated grounds of discrimination and genetic testing information for measuring risk

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February 14, 2002

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For immediate publication

Toronto - The Ontario Human Rights Commission today released a report on consultations it conducted on human rights issues in insurance.

In accordance with the Commission's mandate, the objective of the consultation was to promote awareness, understanding and advancement of human rights in the area of insurance and to examine alternatives to current practices by obtaining input from experts and regulators in the insurance industry as well as from consumers. Access to insurance in our society raises significant issues about distributive justice and fairness in the public sphere, issues that have received scant attention in Canada and in Ontario.

Ontario's Human Rights Code permits sound and accepted insurance industry practices that make distinctions using the grounds of age, sex, marital status, same-sex partnership status, family status or disability in order to achieve the legitimate business objective of charging premiums commensurate with risk. At the same time, the Supreme Court of Canada in its decision in Zurich Insurance Co. v. Ontario (Human Rights Comm.) (1992), 16 C.H.R.R. D/255 (S.C.C.) stated that, "the insurance industry must strive to avoid setting premiums based on enumerated grounds".

The Code does not permit any distinctions, whatsoever, on the basis of other grounds such as race, creed or place of origin. Distinctions using age, sex, marital status, same-sex partnership status, family status or disability are only permitted where there are no other effective measures. For these reasons, insurance practices should be scrutinized and the industry must continue to look for alternative ways to assess risk and set premiums.

Chief Commissioner Keith Norton stated that, "It is time to give serious consideration to human rights issues in insurance." He further added that, "In particular, genetic testing and related information should not be used to deny insurance or invoke exclusionary periods on the basis of a "pre-existing condition". Rather, what should be taken into account is a person's current abilities or the situation's current risks, not disabilities or risks which may arise in the future.

The Commission was encouraged by the positive contribution of participants during the consultation and looks forward to continuing this constructive dialogue between industry, consumer and regulatory representatives. The Report is available on the Commission Web site.

By way of background, the Commission released a discussion paper on insurance issues in 1999 to initiate its consultation with industry stakeholders.

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François Larsen