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Policy on discrimination against older people because of age

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Approved by the OHRC: March 26, 2002
Revised by OHRC: February 1, 2007 
(Please note: minor revisions were made in December 2009 to address legislative amendments resulting from the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2006, which came into effect on June 30, 2008.)

Available in other accessible formats upon request

1. Introduction

The Code states that it is public policy in Ontario to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of every person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination. The provisions of the Code are aimed at creating a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person so that each person feels a part of the community and feels able to contribute to the community.

The Code prohibits discrimination because of age in the social areas of employment, services, goods, facilities, housing accommodation, contracts and membership in trade and vocational associations. The Code’s protection against age discrimination extends to all persons over the age of 18.

Most of the claims filed regarding age discrimination are in the area of employment with services constituting the next largest area.[2] However, it is likely that incidents of age discrimination, particularly in job seeking and in services such as health care, remain unreported.[3]

This policy is the outcome of extensive research and consultation on issues of discrimination faced by older persons in Ontario.[4] In 2000, the Ontario Human Rights Commission published a Discussion Paper, Discrimination and Age: Human Rights Issues Facing Older Persons in Ontario which set the stage for a province-wide public consultation. In June 2001, the OHRC released its Consultation Report, Time For Action: Advancing Human Rights for Older Ontarians (“Time for Action”). The Report was intended to be a broad examination of all issues that may have an impact on the dignity and worth of older adults and may affect the enjoyment of equal rights and opportunities. As such, it contained a number of recommendations for government and community action. The OHRC also outlined several measures that it would take to address age discrimination, including developing this public policy statement.

Several conclusions resulted from the OHRC’s research and consultation and form the basis of this policy:

  • Age discrimination is not seen as something that is as serious as other forms of discrimination despite the fact that it can have the same economic, social and psychological impact as any other form of discrimination.
  • Society has accepted age-based criteria as a way in which to structure policies and programs and to make decisions about people in areas such as employment and services.
  • Despite the fact that the population is aging, many aspects of society have been designed in a way that is not inclusive of older persons.
  • Preconceived notions, myths and stereotypes about the aging process and older persons persist and give rise to discriminatory treatment.
  • Age often works in “intersection” or combination with other grounds of discrimination to produce unique forms of disadvantage. For example, women experience aging differently than men and older persons with disabilities face compounded disadvantage.
  • Employers, service providers and others with responsibilities under the Code are looking for more information and guidance on meeting their human rights obligations vis-à-vis older persons. A shortage of skilled workers in certain fields means creative strategies are being sought by employers to attract and retain older workers.

This policy sets out the OHRC’s position on discrimination against older persons as it relates to the provisions of the Code. It deals only with issues that fall within Parts I and II of the Code and that could form the basis of a human rights claim. Time for Action contains a broader examination of social policy and other issues which must be addressed through positive action by government and community partners. In addition, the OHRC is engaged in, and will continue to undertake, initiatives to address broader human rights issues related to age. The purpose of this policy is to:

  • help the public understand how the Code protects persons against discrimination as they age
  • make older persons aware of their right to equal treatment in employment, housing accommodation, goods, services, and facilities, contracts and membership in trade unions, without discrimination
  • assist employers and providers of services and housing to understand their responsibilities under the Code
  • assist the OHRC in dealing with issues relating to age discrimination
  • provide a resource for educational initiatives and development of internal policies and procedures.

The analysis and examples used in this policy are based on the OHRC’s research on age discrimination, principles and recommendations developed by the United Nations to guide countries in the promotion of the rights of older persons[5], cases that have come before the OHRC, tribunal and court decisions and the input of individuals and organizations in the OHRC’s consultation process.

[2] In 2005-2006, age was listed as a ground in 211 of 2,399 claims (8.8%) filed; Ontario Human Rights Commission, Annual Report 2005-2006 (Toronto: Queen’s Printer, 2006). Please note that claims can cite multiple grounds; for example, age could be cited with sex or race.
[3] This observation is based on information received from individuals and organizations during the OHRC’s consultation on age discrimination and on data gathered in the OHRC’s research (e.g. unemployment rates for older workers).
[4] Age discrimination experienced by younger persons was not included as it raises separate issues requiring their own study.
[5] This includes the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing, Report of the World Assembly on Ageing, Vienna, 26 July – 6 August 1982 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.82.I.16), the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, General Assembly Resolution 48/91 of 16 December 1991, online: UN Programme on Ageing <> and General Comment No. 6: The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Older Persons, United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, E/C.12/1995/16/Rev.1 (1995).

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