Do You Have the Right to Pay in Cash?

In the News

More and more businesses are refusing to accept payment in cash, a trend that consumer rights groups find worrisome.  

Law to the rescue?

There are increasing calls for the federal government to pass legislation obliging businesses to accept cash payments.

Among those calling for such a move are Alexandre Plourde, a lawyer with Option consommateurs, and Laurence Marget, executive director of the Coalition des associations de consommateurs du Québec (Quebec coalition of consumer associations). Ms. Marget recently told the Journal de Montréal that the government should change the law to make it illegal to refuse cash payments.  

Currently, there’s no law in Canada requiring a business to accept one particular type of payment or another. However, some American cities and states have adopted – or at least wish to adopt – legislation requiring businesses to accept cash payments. Massachusetts has already passed such a law. The reason given? Refusing cash payment is a type of discrimination against people who don’t have a credit card or a bank account.

Possible discrimination

During the pandemic, many businesses began refusing cash payments for health reasons. This led the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (human rights and youth rights commission) to issue a statement on the matter.

According to the Commission, refusing cash payments could be considered discriminatory because it might create “special difficulties related to grounds of discrimination prohibited by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, such as social condition, disability, age, or ethnic or national origin.”

“The position we took during the pandemic seems all the more justified today, outside the context of the pandemic. Such discriminatory effects can no longer be reasonably justified by health considerations,” the Commission stated in an email to Éducaloi.

Who are the victims?

In an interview with Éducaloi, Évelyne Pedneault, a legal adviser in the Commission’s research department, explained that the Commission issued the statement for information purposes only, not in response to a complaint.  

Me Pedneault explained that three conditions are necessary for there to be discrimination within the meaning of the Charter:

  • There must be a distinction, exclusion, or preference.
  • It must be based on a prohibited ground of discrimination.
  • It must have the effect of compromising the full and equal enjoyment of a right protected by the Charter.

Thus, refusing to accept a cash payment could prevent certain people from accessing goods and services available to the general public.

“We are thinking, for example, of people suffering from poverty or homelessness, a high proportion of whom do not have a bank account”, she explained. “We’re also concerned about people living with disabilities, and seniors.”

Me Pedneault cited a study done by Option consommateur which showed that seniors are more likely to use cash for payments. According to this study, “many seniors may be less familiar with electronic means of payment and may have trouble adapting.”

Heath issues

Even with the pandemic behind us, many restaurant owners cite health issues to justify their refusal to take cash payments, since some staff may work both in the kitchen and at the cash register.

However, according to Me Pedneault, “The burden required to justify a violation of rights is quite high. The business must show it is very tightly constrained and that it’s impossible to accommodate people who can only pay cash.”

Wearing gloves, for example, might solve the health issue.

In the Time Out market in Montreal’s Eaton Centre, customers are directed to a machine that provides tokens in exchange for bank notes, according to an article in the Journal de Montréal.

Is this an acceptable solution that avoids the discriminatory effects of refusing cash payments? According to Me Pedneault, “To the extent that people have equal access to the goods and services offered, it’s a type of accommodation that could be considered.”