A human rights commission with a broad mandate is well placed to promote and protect the human rights interests of older persons and others because of age, especially groups who are particularly vulnerable, marginalized and hard to reach, because it can rely on a full range of compliance and promotion functions and powers in a manner not available to government and non-government institutions.
At the same time, it is recognized that other democratic institutions also have responsibility and an important role to play in the protection and promotion of human rights, including government, the judiciary, law enforcement, and civil society organizations as well as the general public. The independent and neutral nature of a human rights commission affords it a unique and vital role in encouraging cooperation among such institutions, organizations and individuals, both domestically and internationally.
The receptivity of the general public to the Commission’s comments on mandatory retirement is largely influenced by demographics: a significant proportion of Ontario’s population is entering their 50s and 60s. The issue was no doubt ready to be raised and, in many ways, the Commission was a catalyst through its research, consultation, policy development, education campaigns, monitoring and public reporting. Non-governmental organizations, such as CARP, frequently refer to the Commission’s reports and recommendations and, as a result, governments and civil society are responding with positive change. The general public has a better understanding of the issues. Meanwhile, individuals who continue to experience discrimination because of their age can still rely on the Commission’s complaints mechanism to help resolve matters.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s multi-year initiative to address ageism has successfully drawn public attention to cultural and attitudinal barriers and consequences underlying the prevalent myths around the notion of aging. The Commission’s approach has initiated positive public debate as well as legislative change and non-legislative action, and hopefully has helped to begin to reverse the discrimination that limits the ability of older citizens to fully enjoy the opportunities available to other individuals in the province.