Time For Action: Advancing the Rights of Older Persons in Ontario is the final Report on the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s extensive research and consultation on human rights issues facing older Ontarians.
Currently, there are approximately 1.5 million older persons in Ontario. By the year 2021, Ontario will be home to three million people over the age of 65. As revealed in this Report, this significant and growing proportion of our province’s population faces significant barriers because of ageism and age-based discrimination. There is an urgent need for action to eliminate ageism and age discrimination so that older persons can fully participate in our communities, enjoy the same rights afforded to others and can live their later years with dignity. A new approach to aging is needed, one that promotes the dignity and worth of older persons and ensures their independence, security, full-participation and self-fulfillment.
The Report presents an overview of what the Commission heard from over 100 organizations and individuals from across the province. It outlines recommendations for government and community action derived from the suggestions of the consultees, as well as “Commission Commitments”, - steps that the Commission will take toward eliminating ageism and age discrimination in the province of Ontario.
Dignity, Independence, Participation, Fairness & Security
Dignity, independence, participation, fairness and security are identified throughout the Report as guiding principles central to any consideration of the issues related to older persons. These principles mirror the words of the preamble to the Ontario Human Rights Code and reflect the intent of its human rights protections. The Report highlights that these principles will be used in the Commission’s upcoming policy work on aging and it recommends that private and public sector organizations integrate these principles into their policies and programs.
Ageism can give rise to individual acts of discrimination, but can also have a broader impact on policies, programs and legislation that affect large sectors of society. The Report identifies that barriers faced by older persons are often “socially constructed”, that is, they are not a direct result of the aging process but rather the result of society’s response to aging. It highlights that negative stereotypes and assumptions, failing to respond to the needs of older persons and, to design systems and structures that are inclusive of older persons are forms of ageism.
The Report’s recommendations emphasize the need to evaluate policies and programs to ensure they do not rely on or promote age-based stereotypes, as well as the need for education at all levels aimed at creating a positive perception of, and supportive environment for, older persons. It also outlines that the Commission will develop and implement a broad public awareness campaign that addresses ageism and age discrimination.
Age & Intersectionality
The Report highlights the unique and compound effect of aging on certain groups such as older women, older persons with disabilities, gay and lesbian older persons and older persons from diverse linguistic, religious, ethnic or racial backgrounds. It makes recommendations for community and government partners aimed at helping them to ensure that their policies and programs will not result in marginalization, disadvantage and discrimination for these particular groups.
Employment is fundamental to equal participation and opportunity in society and is central to a person’s sense of dignity and self-worth. The Report identifies age discrimination in employment, particularly in the form of mandatory retirement, and negative assumptions and stereotypes about older workers, as a serious concern. The Report describes experiences of age-based discrimination in the workplace, resulting in financial hardship, psychological and emotional distress and a sense of loss and outrage.
The Report emphasizes that mandatory retirement is discriminatory. It recommends that the Ontario Human Rights Code be amended to eliminate the defence of mandatory retirement at age 65 and to provide protections against age discrimination to workers over 65. Additionally, it asks employers to ensure that workplaces are free of ageist stereotypes, provide for equal opportunity and that workplace policies and procedures do not have an adverse effect on older workers. Finally, the Report highlights that the Commission will engage in public awareness activities to educate employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities under the Code and to encourage positive employment environments for older workers.
Affordable and accessible housing and the ability to age in one’s chosen surroundings are crucial to quality of life of older persons. The inadequacy of current affordable and accessible housing options, and the lack of social housing available in Ontario is discussed in detail throughout the Report. Additionally, the principle of “aging in place” is highlighted as a central concept with respect to housing options for older persons. Accordingly, the Report recommends that all levels of government cooperate to develop a strategy for affordable housing for older persons; ensure that the social housing supply in Ontario meets the current and future needs of older persons and other vulnerable persons in Ontario; that the provincial government amend the Building Code Act, 1992 to incorporate the best principles of barrier-free design; and that developers and builders design and implement barrier-free housing. It also highlights that the Commission will address the human rights issues facing older persons in its upcoming work on housing and human rights.
Health Care, Institutions & Services
Barriers to health care, institutions and services serve to adversely affect the dignity, self-worth, independence and full-participation of older persons. A number of barriers in the current health care system are discussed throughout the Report including the insufficient funding and resulting inadequacy of community-based care, the shortage of care professionals, and health care related costs. Physical barriers such as building accessibility and social barriers, such as restrictive attitudes within the health care system, are also addressed. Additionally, barriers in general services, particularly those in the area of transportation services, are highlighted.
Accordingly, the Report recommends that health care institutions, facilities and services be made accessible to all older persons, particularly those with disabilities; that the provincial government take further steps to regulate rest and retirement homes; and that medical schools and other health-related training centres take steps to ensure that graduates receive appropriate levels of training on the needs of older persons. In addition, it highlights that the Commission will work with faculties of medicine and other programs that educate professionals who work with older persons, to ensure that education on ageism and age discrimination is included within their curricula and will continue to work with service providers to promote accessibility throughout the province.
Elder abuse is a human rights issue requiring an effective and strong response by governments and communities throughout Ontario. The Report outlines the many forms of elder abuse and discusses ageism, social and economic vulnerability, caregiver stress, lack of regulation in care facilities, the shortage of long-term care beds, and inadequate accessible and affordable housing as contributors to elder abuse.
The Report recommends that mechanisms currently in place to address other forms of familial abuse be extended to apply to elder abuse and that provincial and municipal governments take steps to support specialized programs, including shelters, for victims of elder abuse. The Report also highlights that the Commission will continue to monitor the outcomes of the Round Table for Ontario’s Elder Abuse Strategy.
Elder care is a growing need requiring creative responses by government. Caregivers, largely female, are fulfilling an important societal role and should not have to bear the responsibility alone. The Report highlights that legislation, programming and funding as well as a commitment by employers to workplace flexibility are required to ensure that caregivers are supported as they balance the demands of care and employment.
On this basis, the Report recommends that the Ministry of Labour extend the new leave provisions of the Employment Standards Act, 2000, to smaller workplaces (including those of less than fifty employees) and that all levels of government and employers consider providing various forms of support to caregivers in the workplace. It also highlights that the Commission will engage in further work on the issue of elder care and will hear complaints from employees, who face discrimination on the basis of "family status", "marital status" and "same-sex partnership status" as they care for aging or ailing parents, spouses or same-sex partners
The issues identified in this Report raise significant human rights concerns to which the Commission and broader society must respond. The Commission is committed to working with government and community partners to ensure that these and future actions will afford older persons in this province a life free of discrimination and one full of dignity, independence, participation, fairness and security. It is with this in mind that the Commission respectfully sets forth this Report for consideration by all Ontarians.