Op-ed: Settling the age-old question of discrimination

Columnist Michael Prentice is taking the side of a major bank in its dispute with a retired Ottawa professor who claims he was unfairly denied travel insurance. On this issue, he argues, the “big guy” is in the right
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Editor's Note

After this article was originally published, the Ottawa professor at the centre of the case wrote OBJ to refute the author's argument. Read his full response here.

I rarely take the side of “the big guy” in a dispute with “a little guy.” But in this case I am sticking up for the Bank of Nova Scotia in a dispute with a dissatisfied customer who claims he was unfairly denied travel-delay insurance.

The customer – a retired university teacher and administrator in Ottawa – is taking the bank to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, claiming age discrimination. The 78-year-old retiree has the backing of CARP, formerly known as the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. I won’t identify the complainant, because this column is not about him; it’s about the issue he has placed before the human-rights panel.

First, the facts: In February 2016, the man was on vacation in South America when a storm caused cancellation of his flight home. Due to the delay in getting home, he incurred extra costs, including a hotel stay. He estimates these costs at between $2,000 and $2,400. The man has a ScotiaGold Passport Visa credit card. Among the card’s benefits, it provides travel interruption or cancellation insurance – but only to cardholders under the age of 65.

The man complained to the bank that this was discrimination on the basis of age. He told the Ottawa Citizen: “The bank’s lawyer sent a letter saying it’s not a lot of money and we’ll give you $2,400 on condition that I drop the complaint. That’s not my concern.” 

The man has now hired a lawyer, and the case is expected to go before the human-rights panel later this year.

I am not a lawyer, and the human-rights panel could rule either way in this case. But my sympathy is with the bank.

It is incumbent on anyone making an expensive trip, either at home or abroad, to ensure that he or she is adequately insured if anything goes wrong.

It is incumbent on anyone making an expensive trip, either at home or abroad, to ensure that he or she is adequately insured if anything goes wrong. Contrary to some media accounts, the Bank of Nova Scotia’s brochures state very clearly that persons aged 65 or over are not covered for medical or travel-delay insurance with the ScotiaGold Passport Visa card.

The credit card even offers a discount of $45 a year for seniors. Card-holders under 65 pay $110 a year while those 65 and over pay $65. That has to say something. What it seems to say is that working-age people are paying that extra $45 a year for medical and travel insurance.

People of retirement age and beyond must pay a lot more for medical insurance when travelling abroad than younger people pay. No sensible person would argue that is age discrimination. It’s common sense.

But on the separate issue of whether or not to offer travel-interruption insurance to seniors, surely that's the business of the Bank of Nova Scotia, is it not? The bank appears to believe that seniors are more likely than younger people to make claims when they incur unexpected expenses while travelling. And they could be right.

I believe the Bank of Nova Scotia was generous in offering to pay the retired professor’s extra costs resulting from his flight cancellation. It shows it pays to seek compensation when things go wrong.
 
Michael Prentice is OBJ’s columnist on retail and consumer issues. He can be reached at news@obj.ca.