Robin Farquhar has one of those wonderful-sounding travel credit cards, ScotiaGold Passport Visa, that comes with six types of insurance coverage — everything from burglary to lost luggage to cancelled flights.
As a longtime Bank of Nova Scotia customer, imagine his reaction, a year ago, when he tried to claim for missed flights after being trapped in Antarctica due to bad weather.
Denied. You’re too old.
Farquhar, 78, is taking the bank to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for what he sees as an obvious case of age discrimination because the coverage is only available to those 65 and under.
“This damn thing is just wrong, and I want to get it fixed.”
He knows of what he speaks. Farquhar is the former president of Carleton University and a professor in the field of public policy.
The saga began in February 2016 after Farquhar and his brother, Michael, were returning from a 10-day, ship-based excursion to Antarctica. As they were about to board a flight from King George Island to Punta Arenas, Chile, a storm set in, leaving them stuck on the island for two or three days.
As a consequence, his booked flights from Punta Arenas to Santiago, then to Buenos Aires, finally to Montreal — all had to be rescheduled. With hotels and meals thrown in, the extra cost was between $2,000 and $2,400, he said.
Once home, he wanted to make a claim under his Passport Visa and began to read the fine print. Trip cancellation and interruption insurance — as well as medical — were only eligible to those under 65.
The medical part, he understands. But denying trip cancellation coverage because of age?
“If you’ve got a plane that breaks down or a storm that blows up, that’s got nothing to do with age.”
After he complained to the bank president — without satisfaction — he submitted an application for relief under the Ontario Human Rights Code. It wasn’t about money anymore.
“The bank’s lawyer sent a letter saying it’s not a lot of money and we’ll give you $2,400,” he said this week, “on condition that I drop the complaint.
“That’s not my concern,” he said, adding that he now has his own legal counsel. “It’s costing me money to do this. But, it’s just not right.”
The bank, meanwhile, defends its position. It admits to an “age distinction” for the Passport card but makes several counter-points: virtually all insurance coverage discriminates on the basis of risk factors, such as age; the practice has been upheld in court as a legal, permissible conflict with rights codes; and the bank offers other kinds of travel credit cards that have no age restriction.
It also says Farquhar would have been informed and even warned about the 65-rule in his “welcome kit,” sent about 12 years earlier. To compensate for the reduced coverage, the bank says, it lowers the annual fee from $110 to $65.
In documentation filed with the tribunal, the bank says the insurance on this card is provided by a third-party from Florida. There is evidence, it claims, that those over-65 are prone to use cancellation or interruption insurance more than other age groups.
“As the bank understands it, there is valid actuarial data which suggests that claims for (cancellation/interruption) coverage increase after an individual reaches age 65. Cardholders who are retired are much more likely to travel; accordingly, the claims experience associated with retired cardholders is much higher.”
Farquhar is not persuaded. He points out that 65 is hardly the magic retirement age it once was and added that many seniors in their 80s hardly travel at all. As for the alternative American Express Scotiabank card that does provide travel cancellation coverage, with no age limit, he says the equivalent card would cost him $399 annually.
A hearing on the issue is expected to be held this fall. Farquhar will have at least one organization is his corner, CARP, the national non-profit that advocates for older Canadians in the areas of health care and financial security.
“It does, indeed, look discriminatory on the basis of age,” said spokesman Anthony Quinn. He said CARP is disappointed the major banks have tended to withdraw senior discount and “no-fee” accounts that were once common for older clients.
“Age discrimination is the last socially accepted and often-codified form of discrimination that exists in Canadian society today,” he said. “If you picked any other group, there would be an uproar.”
Both Farquhar and Quinn pointed to a funny coincidence this week: Scotiabank was reporting earnings for the second quarter: a net income of $2.06 billion, up 30 per cent from a year ago, the kind of numbers that never get old.