Thousands of middle-aged Canadians who have the opportunity of taking early retirement may
soon have the legal right to make another choice—to work after they reach the mandatory retirement age of 65. Three provinces—Manitoba, Quebec and New Brunswick—already protect that right either in provincial human rights codes or through legislation. But after April 17, when Section 15 of the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms comes into force, the right to work past age 65 may eventually be extended to all Canadians. According to Mark Berlin, a policy analyst with the human rights directorate of the federal secretary of state’s department, one section of Section 15 “will probably make mandatory retirement unconstitutional.”
Section 15 guarantees, in part, that no Canadian can be discriminated against because of age. The Charter covers individuals only in their dealings with federal and provincial governments. But legal experts anticipate that court decisions based on Section 15 will eventually alter traditional and legal definitions of retirement age in the private sector as well.
Enforced retirement has been under attack for more than a decade. In 1979 the Senate Committee on Retirement and Age Policies estimated that the number of pensioners in Canada would climb to 3.4 million from 2.1 million by the turn of the century, and it added that “those who believe that [funds to pay] the costs of maintaining the elderly
in the next 25 or 50 years will materialize out of thin air are deluding themselves.” Among the report’s recommendations: an end to mandatory retirement so that Canadians could remain in the work force longer and earn the means to provide a greater share of their own retirement needs.
Human rights advocates—including many older Canadians—have lobbied governments to abolish age discrimination, but mandatory retirement has many defenders. Said Clifford Pilkey, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour: “I do not think Canadian society should insist that people have to work to age 75 to have a decent standard of living.” Economists say that the abolition of mandatory retirement could result in later pension eligibility. And many employers have argued that a standard retirement age is essential in designing pension plans.
In the United States, where eligibility for government old-age pensions and benefits will rise to age 67 between the years 2000 and 2027, mandatory retirement at 65 was phased out six years ago. But U.S. department of labor studies indicate that most Americans still prefer to retire at or before age 65. In Canada studies by Ottawa indicate that only a small minority of the federal civil servants would want to continue working past age 65. Still, the economic realities of an aging population may eventually make retirement at an older age than 65 more a necessity than a right.
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