Ombudsman Ontario

Ombudsman Ontario

December 28, 2007 10:04 ET

Ombudsman Can Investigate Secrecy Complaints in Hundreds of Municipalities

New "era of accountability" begins New Year's Day

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Dec. 28, 2007) - Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin will be able to investigate public complaints about closed-door meetings in most municipalities across the province after changes to the Municipal Act take effect on New Year's Day.

Under the Act, the Ombudsman is the default investigator for complaints about all municipal meetings that are held behind closed doors after Jan. 1, 2008 - except in those municipalities that have decided to appoint their own investigators. "As of today, only 72 of Ontario's 445 municipalities have informed us that they have chosen their own investigator," said Mr. Marin. "All others will fall under my Office's jurisdiction as of next week.

"This means that in the New Year, most Ontarians will be able to complain to us about any municipal meeting they feel was inappropriately closed to the public," he said. "It's the start of a new era of local accountability in Ontario, and we're eager to let people know about it."

New provisions to the Municipal Act and the City of Toronto Act subject all municipal councils and most boards and committees to an investigation if their members meet behind closed doors, unless specific exceptions set out in the Act are met. As with all complaints handled by the Ombudsman regarding provincial government organizations, the Ombudsman's services in this new area of jurisdiction will be free of charge. There is no fee for complainants or municipalities and the Ombudsman's findings and recommendations will be made public.

These changes represent the first expansion of the Ombudsman's mandate into the so-called MUSH sector (municipalities, universities, school boards, hospitals and long-term care facilities, children's aid societies, etc.) in 32 years, although some 80% of provincial spending goes to this sector. Ontario lags behind all other provinces in allowing ombudsman oversight of these areas, and Mr. Marin's office turns away hundreds of complaints about this sector every year.

Municipalities may still choose to appoint their own investigators at any time after Jan. 1, but any complaints made prior to such appointments must be handled by the Ombudsman. More information on the new legislative changes - including Frequently Asked Questions, a list of municipalities that have chosen investigators, and a new complaint form - is available on the Ombudsman's website at www.ombudsman.on.ca.

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