Ontario Ombudsman - Top 10 of 2012

Date: 2012-12-28


In 2012, Ontarians were focused on health – health care, Ombudsman oversight of hospitals and long-term care homes, the mental health of our police forces, and healthy and transparent municipal democracies. Our office saw this reflected in the complaints we received, and the investigations we launched – including the most recent, into the province’s services for adults with developmental disabilities – as well as in the comments from our followers on Twitter and Facebook.

Take a look at 10 of the most significant developments of 2012. Thanks to our social media followers for helping out with the list.

Top 10 for 2012

1.    MUSH closer
“…it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when” – Premier Dalton McGuinty, June 2012

Every year, the Ontario Ombudsman’s office receives hundreds of complaints from the MUSH sector – which includes Municipalities, Universities, School Boards, Hospitals, long-term care homes, children’s aid societies and police – and every year, Ombudsman André Marin is forced to turn them away. But this past spring, things took a turn for the better when Premier Dalton McGuinty spoke to the Ombudsman on the expansion of the Ombudsman’s powers. The Ombudsman has said he would like to see Children’s Aid Societies, hospitals and long-term care homes as the first ‘letters’ to be brought under his jurisdiction.
2.    Police oversight strengthened
The Ombudsman’s 2011 report on oversight of the Ontario Special Investigations Unit, “Oversight Undermined” – as well as his 2008 report on the same issue, “Oversight Unseen” – recommended that, among other things, lawyers for police officers should not represent more than one witness officer on the same case. In late November, the Law Society of Upper Canada put lawyers on notice that it questioned how officers, who are supposed to be segregated in these cases, could ever be jointly represented – proving the Ombudsman’s 2008 and 2011 recommendations, which called for a ‘legislative prohibition against legal counsel representing police officers involved in the same incident under investigation by the SIU’, prescient indeed.

3.    Public call for better support for OPP operational stress injuries
In late October, the Ombudsman released a report calling on the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to take concrete action to support police officers across the province who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, risk of suicide and other forms of operational stress injuries. His report, ‘In the Line of Duty’ – and his finding that the chances of an OPP officer committing suicide were higher than the chances of being killed on-duty by an unknown assailant – made headlines across the country and even caught the attention of police organizations as far away as the United States and Germany. In contrast to the strong public support that greeted the report, the OPP was disappointingly fence-sitting and defensive in their response. The Ombudsman will vigorously monitor to ensure that there is proper leadership in the senior echelons of the OPP dealing with the mental health of its officers, and has asked the OPP and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to report back on January 24, 2013 to update him on their progress.

4.    New investigations
In 2012, the Ombudsman announced two new investigations – one in March, into the province’s monitoring of hypoglycemic drivers, and another in late November, into the province’s services for adults with developmental disabilities in crisis. In both cases, complaints began flooding in after the announcement, and there was a strong social media response with comments indicating people feel these investigations were desperately needed. The Special Ombudsman Response Team is currently completing fieldwork for both investigations.

5.    Breaking a few eggs for a good OMLET
Municipal councils were in the spotlight in October when the Ombudsman released his first-ever annual report on investigations into closed municipal meetings. The Ombudsman found that some municipalities are still ‘shockingly secretive, suspicious and resentful of the very idea they can be investigated’. One such municipality, the City of Greater Sudbury, had the dubious distinction of being the least-co-operative municipality in the history of the office’s municipal dealings. However, their invitation for a public presentation by the Ombudsman in early December indicates they may be open to turning a corner.

6.    Access to justice: Complaints up by almost 30%
In his 2011-2012 Annual Report, the Ombudsman called on the government of Ontario to protect the public interest by ensuring citizens continue to have the opportunity to complain to his office – as more than 18,500 of them did in 2011-2012. The office saw a 27% increase in complaints and inquiries, and through the dedicated efforts of Ombudsman staff, has been able to help Ontarians navigate the government bureaucracy. The office has also flagged systemic issues before they mushroomed, and served as a catalyst for better communication, improved policies, and more common sense and compassion in public administration.

7.    Tech and innovation at OO
This year saw a number of firsts for the Ombudsman’s office – including the first #OOLive Twitter chat, the first remote live webcast of an Ombudsman presentation, and the first Skype presentations – to attendees of a conference in Australia! The Ombudsman’s strong social media presence – including on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – helped ramp up public engagement and reach more people than ever before – in fact, the Ombudsman is on track to reach 10,000 Twitter followers by the new year. The Ombudsman continues to call on government to embrace openness and transparency, and use technology to improve service and interaction with the public – as well as meet with other ombudsman organizations to coach them on the benefits of social media.

8.    Sharpening teeth worldwide
Created in 2007 to share the Ontario Ombudsman’s investigative expertise, the advanced Sharpening Your Teeth training course offers ombudsmen and investigative staff from around the world the opportunity to learn more about how the office conducts its large-scale, systemic investigations – on a complete cost-recovery basis. In the past five years, it’s been delivered in dozens of countries on six continents. This past November, the Ombudsman offered the course at the International Ombudsman Institute’s 10th World Conference in New Zealand, and it was also delivered in Montreal, Iowa, and Curacao, and will be presented to a sold-out crowd in Toronto in January.

9.    For a good cause
Ontario Ombudsman and staff participated in the office’s first-ever Movember fundraiser in November, bringing in more than $6,100 for research and awareness about prostate cancer and male mental health initiatives. The team garnered honourable mentions in the Ottawa Citizen and on the CityTV website. And in September, the Ombudsman Watchdogs ran in the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s Run for the Cure, raising $4,877 to support breast cancer research, and the office raised more than $5,400 to support United Way Toronto and Federated Health Charities.

10.     Ombudsman honoured for public service
This year, the Ombudsman’s commitment to public service was recognized in Canada and internationally. He was inducted into the University of Ottawa Faculty of Common Law’s Common Law Honour Society; received the Canadian Bar Association’s John Tait Award of Excellence; was presented with the Ontario Bar Association’s 2012 Award for Distinguished Service; and was honoured for police oversight work by the U.S.-based National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.

“I was pleased to learn that the University of Ottawa has inducted you into its Common Law Honour Society – the second honour you have received from your alma mater, having been awarded the Ordre du mérite from the University’s civil law section in 2011. Your dedication to serving the interests of the Canadian public has also been recognized by the Canadian Bar Association in being named the 2012 recipient of the John Tait Award of Excellence in the area of public law. Your tenacity and commitment are the gauge for exemplary professional service.”
-The Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada