October 14, 1999
As part of its mandate under the Ontario Human Rights Code to promote awareness and understanding of human rights, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has initiated a research project to examine human rights issues in the insurance industry.
Insurance practices routinely make distinctions based on, among other things, gender, age, marital status and disability. While many of these distinctions are based on valid business practices, others raise questions and concerns. These concerns relate to the existence of non-discriminatory alternatives to current practices and about respect for human rights. These concerns are based, in part, on a 1992 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada where the Court encouraged the industry to begin looking more closely at non-discriminatory alternatives to their current practices.
As a first step in initiating dialogue on this issue, the Commission is pleased to present the attached Discussion Paper on Human Rights Issues in Insurance. The Paper, along with an Executive Summary, is being sent to a range of experts, members of the insurance industry and government for feedback and comment.
The Paper is intended to be a point of departure for discussion from individuals, organizations and government with expertise or a particular interest in the intersection between various aspects of insurance law and practice and human rights. Through this document, it is hoped that the industry, consumers and regulators can reach a better understanding of this complex issue and explore ways to encourage the protection of human rights.
To this end, the Commission would like to be informed of your views on the issues raised in the Discussion Paper. We are especially interested in alternatives to current practices that would both respond to the need for reasonable and genuine business practices such as risk assessment on the one hand, and the consumer’s right to access insurance products with dignity, free from discrimination, on the other.
While you are free to respond to these general issues alone, particular groups and individuals may have expertise on the following issues and questions, on which we would also appreciate your feedback.
- Are you aware of insurance practices in Ontario, including risk assessment and underwriting, that may directly or adversely affect persons because of personal characteristics such as age, sex, sexual orientation, religion, marital status, being in a parent-child relationship or because of disability, race or ethnic background?
- What examples exist, whether in Ontario or other jurisdictions, where criteria are used to measure risk that do not rely on these personal characteristics?
- Are you aware of examples of risk assessment criteria that do not rely on a “correlation” alone but rather on a “causation” effect between the risk classification variable and the nature of the insurance product? For example, even though age may correlate highly with number of accidents, an insured motorist should be able to see the “causal” connection between how they are rated and the effect their driving ability has on their auto insurance premium.
- What is the insurance industry currently doing to move away from practices, including risk assessment criteria, that may result in unequal treatment based on personal characteristics that is prohibited by the Code?
- How could the insurance industry and other relevant organizations begin moving away from practices that may result in unequal treatment?
- What mechanisms would you recommend be established to promote dialogue on issues related to human rights in insurance on an ongoing basis?
- Are there any other matters related to human rights and insurance that you would like to raise?
I invite you or your designate to comment on the Discussion Paper as well as any of the questions above at your earliest convenience prior to November 22, 1999. The Commission will be using the outcome of this consultation on insurance issues to further promote understanding and acceptance of and compliance with the Human Rights Code.
Electronic text of the Discussion Paper can be found on the Commission Web site at www.ohrc.on.ca. All materials are available both in English and French, and alternative formats upon request.
You can forward your feedback to the Commission, attention “Insurance Paper Consultation”, in several ways:
Ontario Human Rights Commission
Policy and Education Branch
180 Dundas Street West
Toronto ON M7A 2R9
Attention: “Insurance Paper Consultation”
If you have any specific disability accommodation requirements or need to speak to someone about the Paper or the consultation process, or if you would be interested in participating in a focus group being planned for December 7, 1999, to discuss matters raised in the Paper, please contact Jeff Poirier, Senior Policy Analyst, by telephone at 416-314-4539 or by e-mail or fax as above.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of this matter.
Yours very truly,
Keith C. Norton, Q.C., B.A., LL.B.