Ombudsman urges province to tackle “unfinished business,” expand oversight: Annual Report 2012-2013
TORONTO (July 16, 2013) – Ontario Ombudsman André Marin today urged the provincial government to make better use of his "multipurpose" office in untapped areas of oversight, and address "unfinished business" arising from his recent investigations.
In his Annual Report, reviewing the 19,726 cases received by his office in the past fiscal year, Mr. Marin highlights the many ways he and his staff helped citizens with bureaucratic problems, flagged trending problems to senior officials, and exposed major systemic issues like operational stress injuries among police and abuse of inmates by correctional officers.
While noting that the government has welcomed most of his recommendations and implemented positive changes, Mr. Marin cites several high-profile cases where it failed to follow through: Two years after promising to regulate the non-emergency medical transfer industry to protect the hundreds of thousands of patients transported annually in these ambulance-like vehicles, it has yet to do so. Three years after the G20 summit in Toronto resulted in massive violations of civil rights, it has yet to pass a replacement to the World War II-era Public Works Protection Act. It has also done nothing to strengthen the legislative mandate of the Special Investigations Unit, “frustrating the public interest,” Mr. Marin says in the report.
Meanwhile, one year after former premier Dalton McGuinty discussed opening the door to Ombudsman oversight of the MUSH sector (municipalities, universities, school boards, hospitals and long-term care homes, as well as children’s aid societies and police) for the first time in history, the “push for MUSH” has stalled, Mr. Marin says. The Ombudsman had to turn away a record 2,541 complaints about these organizations. They all remain outside of his jurisdiction – unlike in every other province in Canada – despite public support for change.
“Political wrangling aside, there is simply no well-articulated, rational justification for barring Ombudsman oversight in the MUSH sector. Sadly, it seems that ‘anybody but the Ombudsman’ is the rallying cry for some government insiders,” he says, citing other proposed accountability mechanisms that lack the independence and investigative powers of his office.
“I remain hopeful that, rather than resorting to inferior internal accountability devices, the government of Ontario will recognize the benefits of putting the Ombudsman’s Office to use in all areas that sorely need our intervention,” Mr. Marin writes.
This year's report emphasizes the need for oversight of children's aid societies, hospitals and long-term care homes – three areas where Mr. Marin notes Ontario is “dead last” in Canada in allowing Ombudsman scrutiny. “The argument against Ombudsman oversight of children’s aid societies has always been feeble,” he writes. “This important resource should not be barred to children and youth in care, their families and concerned members of the public.”
He also reiterates the need for Ombudsman oversight of the scandal-plagued Ornge air ambulance service, which sparked 12 complaints to his office in the past year.
Among the more egregious cases resolved by Ombudsman staff is that of a man who was denied a birth certificate for his newborn daughter because the application lacked the signature of the baby’s mother – who had died after giving birth. The Family Responsibility Office – once again the top source of complaints to the Ombudsman, other than correctional facilities – was pushed to step up enforcement to recover large child support payments and correct significant errors.
As well, the Ombudsman’s office resolved serious issues without formal investigation. Among them, cancer patients who had radical jaw surgery were finally granted coverage for dental implants. And the Ministry of Transportation is reviewing tens of thousands of duplicate driving records in its system after the Ombudsman flagged concerns last year about suspended drivers continuing to drive as a result of these “ghost licences.”
Mr. Marin also updates the major systemic investigations for which his office has become known around the world, including what he called “encouraging” progress by the Ontario Provincial Police in dealing with operational stress injuries and suicide among its members – issues detailed in his October 2012 report In the Line of Duty. He has also received more than 850 complaints in his ongoing investigation into services for adults with developmental disabilities who are in crisis – while staff have helped many families navigate the system in individual cases.
Mr. Marin is Ontario’s sixth Ombudsman since 1975 and the first to be reappointed (in 2010, to a second five-year term). His office also dealt with a record 305 complaints about closed municipal meetings in 2012-2013, which will be detailed in a separate report later this year.
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