Ombudsman Ontario

Ombudsman Ontario

October 16, 2009 12:30 ET

Ombudsman Releases New Edition of Guide to Province's Sunshine Law

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Oct. 16, 2009) –

Editors Note: There is a photo associated with this press release.

Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin yesterday officially presented the new edition of his office's guide to open municipal meetings in Ontario – The Sunshine Law Handbook – to Mayor Mike Bradley of Sarnia. The Ombudsman's Office will distribute the guide free of charge to every mayor and municipal councillor across the province.

"We've come a long way in Ontario since the new open meetings complaints system came in almost two years ago," said Mr. Marin. "Municipal politicians and the public have always known that open meetings are important, but the Sunshine Law has brought new life to this important aspect of local democracy. Our handbook is a helpful resource for anyone interested in how the law works, in theory and practice."

Since Jan. 1, 2008, changes to the Municipal Act have enabled members of the public to complain about municipal council and committee meetings held behind closed doors. The Ombudsman is the investigator for such complaints, except in municipalities that have appointed their own investigators. His office established an Open Meetings Law Enforcement Team (OMLET) that has handled about 150 complaints and inquiries about closed meetings to date, including 8 investigations.

The second edition of the Handbook – the first was published last year – reflects the findings of those investigations as well as interpretations of the law and municipal best practices that have emerged since the law first came into force. The pocket-sized guide includes frequently asked questions, tips for municipal officials and would-be complainants, and excerpts from relevant legislation for handy reference. It is also available to the public and can be found under "Publications" at www.ombudsman.on.ca.

"A lot has happened since January '08," Mr. Marin said. "When this law first came in, a lot of mayors and councillors were concerned they would be deluged with frivolous complaints and their work would be hampered by onerous investigations. But our experience has been that – with a few exceptions – most municipalities are keen to respect the law and embrace openness. A lot of fear and misinformation has been dispelled, but there is still work to do to raise awareness of the importance of open meetings."

Mayor Bradley has been a strong supporter of "sunshine" legislation and government transparency for many years. "I want to acknowledge the Ombudsman's role and would urge all municipalities to understand that openness is good government," he said. "I would also like to see the Ontario government put penalties, apart from embarrassment, in place for those who violate the open meetings provisions of the Act."

At present, the Ombudsman is the investigator for 188 municipalities across Ontario and has issued 7 reports on his investigations, all of which are available on the Ombudsman's website. The Ombudsman's services are free of charge to complainants and municipalities; however, about half of the province's municipalities have chosen to hire and pay for their own investigators.

The presentation was part of "Good Governance Week" – a national celebration recognized by the Ontario legislature and others across the country October 12-16 to mark the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the first parliamentary ombudsman in Sweden in 1809 and raise awareness of the contributions that ombudsmen make to good governance, fairness and accountability.

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