On January 6, 2017, the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta granted an Application to include age as a protected ground under sections 4 and 5 of the Alberta Human Rights Act (the “Act”).
Under the current Act, discrimination is prohibited in employment applications and practices (sections 7 and 8), but protection against age discrimination was noticeably missing from prohibitions against discrimination in respect of goods, services, accommodations and tenancies as provided in sections 4 and 5 of the Act. Every other jurisdiction in Canada already extends these protections.
By Originating Notice of Motion filed early in 2016, advocate Ruth Maria Adria and the Elder Advocates of Alberta Society sought an Order declaring that these omissions violated section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by depriving senior citizens of their right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination. The Society asked the court to read-in the word “age” into sections 4 and 5 of the Act. This essentially follows the argument and remedy accepted by the Supreme Court of Canada in Vriend v. Alberta,  1 S.C.R. 493, in which the applicant argued that the omission from the Act of sexual orientation as a protected ground violated the applicant’s Charter rights. In other words, it is not open to provinces to exclude human rights protections to certain groups that are protected under the Charter (excepting ameliorative provisions).
The Province of Alberta did not oppose the Application, but even without opposition, the application took nearly a year to be heard.
Although it did not oppose the Application, the Province asked the Court for a 12-month delay for the declaration to come into effect. Justice Paul Belzil granted the declaration requested by Ms. Adria. However, he also granted the Province’s request for a 12-month delay in order to allow the Province to work out certain exemptions before the change becomes law. It is certain that exemptions will include selling alcohol or cigarettes to minors as is the case in other jurisdictions, but it is not yet clear what other exemptions are under consideration.
The Alberta Human Rights Commission has confirmed that it will not accept complaints on the ground of age under sections 4 and 5 until such time as the Act is amended or January 6, 2018, whichever occurs first.
It is the Elder Advocates of Alberta Society’s intention to challenge driving laws relating to seniors, amongst other things, pursuant to the upcoming change in the Act. Although the Application was brought by the Elder Advocates group, this ruling will affect the rights of young people and families as well, perhaps most obviously in adult-only accommodations and services.