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MUS - Municipalities, Universities and School Boards - Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Ombudsman's new mandate as a result of the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014 (also known as Bill 8)?
As a result of legislative changes, the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman now oversees Ontario’s 444 municipalities, 82 school boards, and 21 universities.
The Ombudsman has the authority to investigate complaints about Ontario’s municipalities including about municipal councils, local boards and municipally-controlled corporations (with some exemptions). The Ombudsman can also investigate complaints about school boards including, but not limited to, handling complaints about individual schools, policies, procedures and facilities. Additionally, any university that receives regular and direct government funding now falls within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
Can the Ombudsman investigate complaints about the City of Toronto?
The Ombudsman does not have the authority to investigate complaints that fall within the jurisdiction of the City of Toronto Ombudsman, but can look at matters outside the Toronto Ombudsman’s mandate. These include issues involving council members or matters within the authority of other accountability officers, such as the Integrity Commissioner, Lobbyist Registrar, and Auditor General. The Ombudsman can also look at systemic issues, which may affect the City of Toronto, on his own motion.
Who can complain?
Anyone who has a concern about a municipality, university or school board can complain, including residents, students, staff, parents, and family members. Under the
, the Ombudsman has discretion not to investigate a complaint from someone who is not personally involved in the matter, but this is based on the circumstances of each individual case. The Ombudsman can also launch an investigation on his own motion.
How does oversight work?
People can complain about municipalities, universities, and school boards the same way they complain about the existing 500 provincial government agencies the Ombudsman oversees. Once our Office receives a complaint – via phone, email, web form, or in person – we will assess the issue to determine if we can assist. We may provide appropriate referrals – including back to local oversight mechanisms – or we may be able to take action on the file to resolve the problem. We look at each complaint individually.
What do I need to do, if anything, before complaining to the Ombudsman?
The Ombudsman is an office of last resort. This means that you first need to contact your municipality, school board or university and access any available complaint mechanisms or appeals before the Ombudsman can deal with your complaint. If you have a question about the complaint mechanisms available to you, you can call our office for referral information. When you complain to the Ombudsman, we will ask you to provide any documentation, correspondence or other information that you have gathered which may be relevant to your complaint.
I called your office to complain before Bill 8 was in effect. Will you investigate my complaint?
Due to the high volume of complaints we receive, we will not be able to revisit any complaints made to us before September 15, 2015 (for school boards) and January 1, 2016 (for municipalities and universities). If you have made a complaint to our office before these dates, you will need to contact us again and we will assess your complaint. You will also be asked to provide us with any updated information since the original complaint.
Does the Ombudsman replace local complaint mechanisms?
Our Office does not replace any local integrity commissioner, ombudsman, or other office that deals with complaints, but we can review decisions of those bodies to ensure the appropriate policies and procedures were followed. The Ombudsman encourages municipalities, universities and school boards to create or reinforce local ombudsman or other complaint mechanisms and accountability offices. If you have not already raised your complaint with a local complaint mechanism, we will refer you back to that office. Under the
, the Ombudsman functions as an office of last resort.
How will your office handle complaints about 546 additional bodies, from all over Ontario?
We’ll resolve them as we resolve more than 21,000 complaints we receive annually about provincial government organizations. Our front line staff triage complaints to resolve them as quickly as possible; those that require further investigation are escalated accordingly. If a complaint trend begins to emerge, we may conduct a broader, systemic investigation with our Special Ombudsman Response Team. The Office has also received funding for additional staff resources to ensure we can handle the increased volume of complaints.
What kind of municipal issues can the Ombudsman investigate?
The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the administrative conduct of municipalities, including complaints about council members, local boards, and municipally-controlled corporations (with some exceptions). Issues the Ombudsman can look at (after local complaint mechanisms have failed to resolve the matter) include: conflict of interest, customer service provided by city staff, complaints about municipally-owned utilities, garbage collection, snow removal, or other municipal services. If you don’t know if your complaint falls within the Office’s jurisdiction, please contact us and a staff member will advise you, or
read more here
What kind of school board issues can the Ombudsman investigate?
The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the administrative conduct of school boards that have not been resolved by local complaint mechanisms or appeals processes. These may include concerns about special education supports, school and school board policies, customer service provided by board staff, or other matters within the authority of individual school boards. Constitutional rights to denominational and minority language education will be preserved with respect to any school board matters. If you don’t know if your complaint falls within the Office’s jurisdiction, please contact us and a staff member will advise you, or
learn more here
What kind of university issues can the Ombudsman investigate?
The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the administrative conduct of universities that have not been resolved by a university ombudsman or other complaint or appeal mechanism. The Ombudsman accepts complaints from students, faculty and other interested persons. Complaints may include concerns about student services, program requirements, student accommodations, admissions, policies, or student financial aid, among other things. The Ombudsman must consider the principles of academic freedom within universities when investigating a complaint. The Ombudsman also has jurisdiction over Ontario’s 24 community colleges, as well as the Ontario Student Assistance Program.
Learn more about the Ombudsman's university oversight here
Can the Ombudsman investigate systemic MUS issues?
Yes, the Ombudsman has the power to conduct systemic investigations into matters involving municipalities, universities and school boards. Systemic investigations may be launched in response to specific complaints or on the Ombudsman’s own initiative. The Ombudsman will be closely studying complaint trends and monitoring issues involving municipalities, universities and school boards in order to determine what matters might warrant a systemic investigation.
Can the Ombudsman refuse to investigate my complaint?
Yes. The Ombudsman has broad discretion not to investigate a complaint. The Ombudsman may consider, among other factors, the age of the complaint, if the complainant has sufficient personal interest in the subject matter, whether or not there is an alternative remedy for the complaint, if the complaint is considered frivolous or vexatious, or if the matter involves a broader public policy issue. Each complaint is assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine if an investigation is warranted.
If I make a complaint to the Ombudsman, will my identity be disclosed?
, all complaints, including the identity of the complainant, are confidential and investigations are conducted in private. However, depending on the nature of the complaint, it may be necessary for a person to consent to being identified to the applicable government organization so that their complaint can be thoroughly reviewed and investigated. In cases involving municipal closed meetings, given that the Ombudsman's role is limited to ensuring municipal councils and committees comply with the open meeting provisions of the
, the identity of the complainant is not normally relevant and not normally disclosed.
Is there a charge for the Ombudsman’s services? Will the municipality, university or school board be billed if the Ombudsman has to review a complaint about them?
There is no charge to complain to the Ombudsman, and an organization that is the subject of a complaint will not be charged for the Ombudsman’s services. The Ontario Ombudsman’s Office is funded by the provincial government.
What happens if the municipality, university or school board that I work for or represent is the subject of a complaint?
An Ombudsman staff member may contact a representative of the municipality, university or school board and advise them of the substance of the complaint. The staff member may request information relevant to the complaint and attempt to resolve the issue. If a formal investigation is necessary, the municipality, university or school board will receive a written notice and an opportunity to respond. Representatives, officials and staff may also be interviewed and asked to provide documentation in response to the complaint.
Watch this video about what to expect if the Ombudsman calls
Does the municipality, university or school board have to co-operate with the Ombudsman’s investigation?
Yes, all municipalities, universities and school boards are required under the
to co-operate fully with the Ombudsman’s office when responding to a complaint. The Ombudsman has very robust investigative powers, including the authority to issue summonses, require evidence under oath, and inspect premises. It is an offence under the
to mislead the Ombudsman or to obstruct an Ombudsman investigation.
Do municipalities, universities and school boards have to accept the Ombudsman's recommendations?
The Ombudsman recommends solutions to fix problems of maladministration. He cannot overturn decisions made by municipalities, school boards or universities. Organizations don’t have to act on the Ombudsman’s recommendations, but historically, almost all of our recommendations have been accepted. We usually publish the results of major investigations and ask that the affected organization report back regularly on its progress, and monitor complaint trends closely. The Ombudsman can reopen an investigation if necessary.
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