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3. The intersection of age with other grounds of discrimination

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The experience of age discrimination may differ based on other components of a person’s identity. For example, certain groups of older persons may experience unique barriers as a result of the intersection of age with gender, disability, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, culture and language. Please see Time for Action for a more detailed discussion of “age and intersectionality” and the particular barriers faced by certain groups.

This understanding of the complexity of how people experience age discrimination means that, where appropriate to the circumstances of the alleged discrimination, all relevant grounds must be considered along with age.

Example: A 55-year-old woman alleges that she was refused a job as a waitress because she didn’t fit the image that the restaurant is trying to promote. The evidence reveals that the restaurant employs many younger women as waitresses as well as older men as waiters and maître d’s. The fact that older persons (men) are employed and younger women are employed does not necessarily defeat her claim of discrimination as there may be unique stereotypes attributed to older women with regard to image or attractiveness.

It may be necessary to examine any stereotypes as well as the historical, social and political context associated with the particular combination of grounds.

Example: A 72-year-old man has recently immigrated to Canada. He has difficulty finding a physician in his community as there is already a shortage of doctors and he is perceived as a patient who will require a lot of time due to his age and the fact that he is not fluent in English or French. He finds he must attend drop-in clinics and when he complains of feeling depressed, he is told that it is to be expected considering his age and the fact that he has recently moved to Canada. He is not sent for further assessment.[6]

In some cases persons may be put at a ‘double disadvantage’ as a result of age combined with other grounds of discrimination.

Example: Empirical evidence confirms that older persons and persons with disabilities all face higher unemployment rates. As well, members of racialized groups are more likely to be underemployed. Therefore, an older African Canadian person who is developing a disability will likely face compounded disadvantage in a job search.[7]

As a society, we must be aware of the unique ways in which people may experience disadvantage. In seeking to understand rights and responsibilities, in addition to this policy dealing with age discrimination, where other grounds of discrimination may be at play, other OHRC policies such as the Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate may be relevant.

[6] This example is based on information received during the age consultation about the difficulty that older patients face in accessing medical services, which can be compounded by language barriers. In addition, empirical evidence suggests that many family doctors fail to treat older patients for depression, anxiety disorders and dementia and tend to “normalize” these conditions; see Ontario Human Rights Commission, Discrimination and Age: Human Rights Issues Facing Older Persons in Ontario (May 2000), online: Ontario Human Rights Commission homepage <>. Studies on immigration and health have found that serious communication problems lead ethnic elderly populations to receive deficient treatment, extended hospital stays, unnecessary testing, premature discharge and problematic follow-up. (D. Kinnon, Canadian Research on Immigration and Health (Ottawa: Health Canada, 1999)).
[7] See Ontario Human Rights Commission, Time for Action: Advancing Human Rights for Older Ontarians (Toronto: Queen’s Printer, June 2001) at 24, also available online at and also In Unison: A Canadian Approach to Disability Issues: A Vision Paper (Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Social Services, 1998) which notes, “persons with disabilities have a lower rate of employment as well as a lower participation rate in the labour force than those without disabilities” (at 36). Similarly, Canadian Race Relations Foundation, Unequal Access: A Canadian Profile of Racial Differences in Education, Employment and Income (Prepared for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation by the Canadian Council on Social Development, 2000) describes barriers to employment faced by “visible minorities”.

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