SOURCE: Ombudsman Ontario

Ombudsman Ontario

November 02, 2016 14:05 ET

Ombudsman reports on first year of expanded mandate; pledges continued effectiveness as agent of positive change

Annual Report 2015-2016

TORONTO, ON--(Marketwired - November 02, 2016) - Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today released the first annual report of his office's new, expanded mandate, which was doubled in the past year to include more than 1,000 public sector organizations -- provincial government bodies, municipalities, universities and school boards.

"I am committed to making this office more effective than ever as an agent of positive change, by working with stakeholders, diligently investigating complaints and systemic issues, and vigorously promoting fairness and good governance," the Ombudsman writes in the report, which reviews the work of his office for the past fiscal year (22,118 public complaints received between April 1, 2015-March 31, 2016) as well as significant developments in the subsequent six months.

Since Mr. Dubé began his five-year term as Ombudsman in April 2016, his office has launched two new systemic investigations and released reports on two others. The new investigations involve procurement practices in the city of Brampton and school busing problems in Toronto; the reports recommended significant changes to police de-escalation training and to services for adults with developmental disabilities who are in crisis.

"In total, all 82 of our recommendations were accepted, many of which have the potential to save lives," he writes in today's report. As well, Mr. Dubé recently made two public submissions calling for legislative reform, including the abolition of unlimited segregation of inmates in Ontario jails, and stronger civilian oversight of police.

Establishing relationships with new stakeholders in 444 municipalities, 21 universities and 82 school boards and school authorities drove the office's work this year, the Ombudsman states in the report, "This experience has underlined, for all of us, the importance of ensuring that who we are and what we do is clear to all Ontarians."

To that end, Mr. Dubé's report outlines the role, mission and processes of the Ombudsman, and categorizes significant cases and trends by topic, with the highest volume of complaints (34%) relating to "law and order" (policing and prisons), followed by social services (17%), education (12%), and municipalities (8%), among others.

The Ombudsman's office seeks to resolve cases at the local level without formal investigation wherever possible, and meets regularly with senior public sector officials to flag complaint trends and nip problems in the bud, Mr. Dubé notes. For example, in handling 4,051 complaints about provincial correctional facilities, Ombudsman staff prioritized cases relating to health and safety. They tracked 186 complaints about segregation (solitary confinement), 2,500 about inmate health care, and 300 about lockdowns -- and monitored the response of the institutions and Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to these issues.

Similarly, Ombudsman managers met regularly with the leadership of the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) and the Ontario Disability Support Program, which drew 1,025 and 843 cases respectively in 2015-2016 -- more than any other provincial organizations. Although the report cites several cases where Ombudsman staff intervention resolved errors by these bodies, it also praises recent improvements due to changes at the Deputy Minister and Assistant Deputy Minister levels of the Ministry of Community and Social Services, particularly related to the FRO.

In the education sector, school boards accounted for more cases (398) than provincial bodies like the Ontario Student Assistance Program (155), colleges of applied arts and technology (137) or universities (92), although school board cases were only within the Ombudsman's mandate for seven months of fiscal 2015-2016, and universities for three. The most common topics of complaints about school boards were staff conduct, special education and transportation. Although only one formal investigation relating to school boards has been launched to date, the report cites several examples where Ombudsman intervention prompted boards to improve their processes or policies.

In the new jurisdiction of municipalities, the conduct of municipal politicians was by far the most common concern brought to the Ombudsman -- of 918 cases between January 1 and March 31, 266 related to councils and committees. The Ombudsman's office has recommended that municipal legislation -- now under review -- make codes of conduct and integrity commissioners mandatory, and clarify the rules for closed meetings, which the Ombudsman also investigates in some 218 municipalities.

"It is an exciting time to be at Ombudsman Ontario as we chart our course into new waters," Mr. Dubé writes, noting that he will continue to emphasize a collaborative approach in the years ahead. "We are building relationships to enhance the trust and credibility stakeholders have in the office, which will help us solve even more problems and enhance governance for the people we all serve."

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Full report, backgrounders and video of the Ombudsman's 2 p.m. news conference can be found at www.ombudsman.on.ca

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