Free to Fly

Today’s much-anticipated decision by a Canadian Human Rights tribunal is being hailed as a major victory for older workers.

In a ruling handed down on Nov. 8, the tribunal ordered that Air Canada must re-instate flying privileges for two of its pilots who had been forced to retire by the airline at age 60.

George Vilven, 67, and Neil Kelly, 65, had their careers terminated back in 2003 and 2005 respectively because of mandatory retirement provisions in Air Canada’s collective bargaining agreement that allowed the airline to ground its pilots at age 60. Vilven and Kelly argued that this practice was age-based discrimination and took their case to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

And today’s ruling marks the successful vindication of their seven-year legal odyssey. The pilots’ case revolved largely on the question of whether federally regulated industries (such as banking, communications and transportation) have the right to force workers out at an arbitrarily chosen age. The tribunal agreed, ruling that, in this specific case, Vilven and Kelly’s forced retirement violated their Charter rights. The body has ordered Air Canada to re-instate the pilots, pending their completion of a training course.

“This decision will be welcome news for all Canadians that one more element of age discrimination has been undone,” said Susan Eng, CARP’s VP of advocacy, whose group had backed the pilots from day one. “It’s especially important for people who must stay in the labour force for economic reasons or simply for the dignity of work,” added Eng.

The ruling, however, limited its scope to Vilven and Kelly. It did not order Air Canada to end its practice of terminating employees at age 60 nor did it repeal section 15[1][c] of the Canadian Human Rights Act which allows federally regulated industries to force workers to retire if they have “reached the normal age of retirement for employees working in positions similar to the position of that individual.”

CARP and the Fly-Past 60 Coalition, the group which represents older pilots, have called for legislative changes to repeal section 15[1][c] of the Charter. A Private Member’s Bill, C-481, to make that amendment, sponsored by Liberal MP, Raymonde Folco, is currently before Parliament. On November 15, the Bill will face a vote to determine whether it receives second reading and proceeds to Committee.

View the Canadian Human Rights tribunal decision on the Air Canada pilots here.

View Raymonde Folco’s Private Member’s Bill C-481 to amend the Charter here.

– Peter Muggeridge

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