Correctional facilities remains top source of complaints to Ontario Ombudsman (QP Briefing)

August 10, 2022

10 August 2022

Inmates in Ontario jails were only allowed to leave their cells for 30 minutes a day during lockdowns, according to Ontario’s annual Ombudsman report.

This link opens in a new tabQP Briefing
Edward Djan
August 10, 2022

Inmates in Ontario jails were only allowed to leave their cells for 30 minutes a day during lockdowns, according to Ontario’s annual Ombudsman report.

The province’s Ombudsman Paul Dubé revealed his office’s annual report on Wednesday which highlighted an uptick in complaints from Ontarians compared to last year.

The office received 25,161 complaints from Ontarians, a 25-per cent increase from the previous year’s 20,015 complaints. The report covered the period of April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.

Dubé said he is looking at the increase as a good thing. “The more we hear from Ontarians the more we are able to help them resolve their issues and to identify larger systemic problems.”

The biggest number is centred around jails, with 3,691 complaints to the office about correctional facilities. The number of these complaints is the same as last year.

Inmates reported their mental health suffered from being confined to their units for too long.

Other issues inmates reported facing included delays in seeing medical professionals and receiving medication. An inmate reportedly was told she had to wait a week to receive medication related to symptoms of her opioid withdrawal. The office in that instance intervened to get the medication to the inmate faster, according to the report.

Correctional facilities are the top complaint to the Ombudsman yearly, with the topic reaching a record number of 6,000 complaints in 2020, partly due to concerns about COVID-19 spreading in jails.

Dubé said he is looking forward to working with new solicitor general Michael Kernzer to “bring to their attention issues that we see in corrections and policing.”

In a statement to QP Briefing, the Ministry of the Solicitor General said, “the Solicitor General is confident that continued improvements to programs are being successfully implemented in a timely manner. Our ministry looks forward to working with the Ombudsman to address any concerns he may have.”

Dubé also criticized the government over what he calls their “slow” response to implementing de-escalation standards for officers across the province.

Back in 2016, the ombudsman’s office released a report titled “A Matter of Life and Death” with 22 recommendations on how police could reduce the number of fatal interactions they have with civilians. The report was in response to the death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim who died during a police altercation on a streetcar in Toronto.  The report called on the provincial government, then led by the Liberals, to implement provincewide standard de-escalation tactics for police officers to use during conflicts with civilians.

The government defended its training requirements for officers in its statement, adding that all “Ontario police officers must complete comprehensive de-escalation and use-of-force training as part of the Basic Constable Training program, there are no exceptions. Officers must also undertake use of force and firearms requalification training every 12 months as part of their in-service training.”

The Ombudsman’s report also touched on the province’s vaccine rollout and the issues some faced when making appointments.

A woman and her mother-in-law, who share the same first and last name, had their COVID-19 vaccine appointments cancelled because the online booking system thought they were duplicate appointments.

The story prompted the government to require more information when booking an appointment such as date of birth to distinguish between people who share the same name.

The report also mentioned areas where the Ombudsman had no oversight such as public health units and long-term care. The office received 137 complaints regarding public health units, mainly about health mandates or local vaccine rollout. There were 130 complaints about long-term care and community at-home care services.

The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) received the most complaints out of any other social service the Ombudsman analyzes. The office received 755 complaints about (ODSP), an increase from last year’s 553. Complaints mainly centred around administrative errors and processing delays that would have impacted an individual's ability to receive benefits.

Education across all levels was another area that saw an increase in complaints, mainly driven by COVID-19 woes.

The office received 722 complaints about school boards, 543 about the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, 361 about universities, 344 about colleges of applied arts and technology, and 126 about the Ministry of Education. Most COVID-19-related complaints were about the loss of extra-curriculars, school shutdowns, and health mandates regarding vaccinations and masking.

Business owners also complained to the Ombudsman over the government’s administration of COVID-19 funding to businesses impacted by government-imposed lockdowns. The office said it received 154 complaints, mainly centring around a lack of clear communication about eligibility and processing times for funding.

Dubé said his office will be releasing a report on the backlog the Landlord and Tenant Board is experiencing, partly driven by COVID-19 changes. According to the office, they have received over 1,700 complaints related to delays as well as challenges caused by the pandemic.