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André Marin wrestles deadbeat parents: Ombudsman blasts province's failure to pursue the worst delinquents (The Toronto Star)

Jun 24, 2009
By: Tanya Talaga, Queen's Park Bureau

Ontario Ombudsman André Marin took aim yesterday in his annual report at how deadbeat parents are policed.

Marin also criticized the province's police watchdog for failing to adopt "hardcore" changes recommended by his office, as well as what he calls "insufficient oversight" in some parts of the colleges sector.

The problem of child support arrears in Ontario – estimated at nearly $1.5 billion – was a highlight of the report. Marin said the agency that deals with it, the Family Responsibility Office (FRO), is one of the "most consistently" complained about organizations.

"We convinced FRO to track down two deadbeat dads who owed tens of thousands of dollars while their families were forced to go on welfare," Marin said yesterday at a news conference.

His team meets with FRO every two weeks to try to solve the complaints. Through their efforts, the ombudsman's office has convinced FRO officials to stop closing cases they are unable to enforce and instead label them "dormant," and maintain the amount owing in records.

In one case, the FRO reopened a woman's case, updated the amount owed to her to $201,633, and managed to find her ex-husband and start enforcement.

"The FRO is a work in progress," he said. "A constant challenge for our office."

As for the police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, Marin said he would conduct a further investigation to find out why officials adopted only the easier recommendations his office made in a special report last September.

"They have adopted the no-brainers, the obvious ones," he said. "But they have not adopted yet the hardcore recommendations. One of them is witness officers should be interviewed immediately."

Any qualified investigator will tell you the best evidence is the "freshest evidence," he said.

Marin, former head of the SIU, conducted a special probe of the agency after it received complaints from people whose family members were killed or injured by police.

Often, large organizations such as the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation or the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, both subjects of previous ombud investigations, have to "hit bottom" before they turn around, he said.

"In my view the SIU hasn't hit the bottom yet," he said.

Marin also said he is concerned by the lack of oversight by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities in the colleges sector. In May, it was announced colleges and universities would receive $1 billion for infrastructure investments.

"There is insufficient oversight in how colleges operate in Ontario. We will be reporting back in more detail in the next month. The ministry has failed to acknowledge there is a problem here," he said.

In May 2008, Marin's office heard complaints from 13 former students that the health information management program at Sudbury's Cambrian College failed to qualify them for jobs.

The students complained the college had promised a diploma would lead to high-paying jobs in the health records sector, the report noted.

At Stoney Creek's Bestech Academy, Marin's people investigated after the media reported the story of a student who lost tuition due to the sudden closure of the unregistered private career college. In January, they began investigating the ministry's oversight of Bestech.

John Milloy, the minister in charge of colleges, told The Canadian Press he has not seen the ombudsman's reports but considered Marin's comments "over the top" and insisted the college sector has an effective governance system.

"He has a few specific cases that we can talk about when those reports come out, but I think to make these generalizations is doing a disservice to the sector," Milloy said yesterday.