2.1 The definition of “age” in the Human Rights Code
Subsection 10(1) of the Code defines age as:
an age that is eighteen years or more.
Older persons can file a claim of age discrimination in all social areas including:
- services, goods and facilities (health care, social services, transit services, shops, restaurants, education etc.)
- housing (such as rental accommodation, condominium facilities, hotels and motels, residential care facilities and social housing)
- membership in occupational associations, trade unions and self-governing professions.
2.2 The terms “older” and “ageism” as used in this Policy
People may experience age discrimination at any time in their lives. However, persons who belong to, or are perceived to belong to, certain age groups tend to be more vulnerable to certain forms of discrimination. For example, younger persons may be more likely than middle-aged or older persons to be turned away from housing because of stereotypes around the desirability of younger tenants. As this policy focuses on the forms of age discrimination most commonly experienced by persons as they age, it has become necessary for the OHRC to adopt some terminology to describe the cohort that is at risk for experiencing these forms of age discrimination. It has chosen to do so by using the term “older” persons or workers. However, discrimination on the basis of age can be experienced by persons beginning as early as 40 to 45, particularly in employment. The term “older” is not meant to denote “old age” or stigmatise persons in any way. Rather it is simply being used as a relative concept meaning older than those who are less likely to face the particular types of discrimination being discussed.
It is important to remember that the concept of who is an “older” person may be a contextual one. For example, while older workers are generally those over age 45, if the average age in a workplace is 25, a 37-year-old job applicant may be turned away because of a perception that she is unable to fit in with the workplace culture. Therefore, in some situations, for example where the allegation pertains to negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging, it may be necessary to think not in terms of absolutes, but rather relative age. In other contexts, actual age may be relevant, for example, where a person’s age is used to determine eligibility for a program or service.
The terms ageism and age discrimination are both used in the OHRC’s work. Ageism refers to a socially constructed way of thinking about older persons based on negative stereotypes about aging as well as a tendency to structure society as though everyone is young. Ageism refers primarily to attitudinal barriers while age discrimination encompasses actions, namely treating someone in an unequal fashion due to age. Moreover, discrimination is a legal concept that has been defined in the Code and in court decisions and not every manifestation of ageism is age discrimination within the meaning of human rights law and policy. Ageism, however, is often the cause of age discrimination. It is therefore important from a human rights perspective to address both acts of age discrimination and also ageist attitudes that exist in society.
2.3 Other human rights concepts referenced in this Policy
The Code and human rights case law contain a number of complex concepts and legal standards. For those who are not familiar with the terminology, it can be very difficult to understand a discussion of rights issues when these terms are used. Please see the Glossary at the end of this policy for a summary of the meaning of some of the key concepts that are referenced throughout this policy.