TORONTO (July 28, 2015) – Ontario Ombudsman André Marin today released his tenth annual report, marking the end of an historic year – and decade – that saw the largest investigation in the history of the office, the enactment of legislation extending the Ombudsman’s mandate to municipalities, school boards and universities, and an 86% increase in complaints received since 2009-2010.
The Ombudsman will begin taking complaints about school boards on September 1, 2015 and municipalities and universities on January 1, 2016, under the new Public Sector and MPP Accountability Act, 2014 (also known as Bill 8), passed in December 2014. This marks the first time the “MUSH” sector – municipalities, universities, school boards, hospitals and long-term care homes, as well as children’s aid societies and police – will be open to Ombudsman scrutiny, as it is in all other provinces. Mr. Marin’s office has had to turn away 24,065 complaints about MUSH bodies since 2005; 3,383 of those in 2014-2015.
“Clearly, public demand indicates that oversight of this sector cannot come soon enough,” Mr. Marin writes in his report. “After 10 years of documenting the thousands of MUSH complaints we were forced to turn away, it is gratifying to know that we will soon be in a position to help. Our experience over the past decade has positioned this office well for the first major expansion of our mandate since 1975.”
The focus will be on resolving complaints at the local level wherever possible, strengthening local accountability mechanisms and investigating systemic issues, Mr. Marin says. “As the many stories in this report illustrate, the bulk of our work involves resolving problems quickly by referring them to the appropriate officials, and offering fresh eyes to examine troublesome issues. We do not replace existing complaint mechanisms; we ensure they work as they should,” he says in the report.” He also notes that his office will oversee the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s new Patient Ombudsman, to be created under Bill 8 to handle complaints about hospitals, long-term care homes and Community Care Access Centres.
The Ombudsman’s office handled 193,038 complaints in the past 10 years – 23,153 of those in 2014-2015. In 2005, Mr. Marin reorganized the office to create a special team for investigating systemic issues affecting large numbers of people. Some 35 systemic investigations have been conducted since then, resulting in reforms that have helped parents, property taxpayers, lottery players and millions of other Ontarians. Two major systemic investigations were completed this past year – into billing and customer service problems at Hydro One (which drew almost 11,000 complaints, the largest number of complaints ever received about a single organization) and into monitoring of unlicensed daycares (which resulted in the government accepting an unprecedented 113 recommendations).
Ombudsman staff also work quietly behind the scenes to resolve problems with government officials without need for a formal investigation. In 2014-2015, these included persuading the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to temporarily extend funding of a chemotherapy drug, benefiting an estimated 100 women over the next three years; ensuring inmates who were in distress and pain received the health care they needed behind bars; and helping hundreds of students and staff who were left with nowhere to turn when Everest College shut down its private career programs.
The Ombudsman flagged several serious issues to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, including a disturbing increase in the segregation of inmates, many of whom were placed in segregation for months at a time, contrary to law and policy. At the new Toronto South Detention Centre, meanwhile, sick inmates were put in segregation because the new infirmary units were not staffed. As well, the Ministry signalled that investigations of serious inmate-on-inmate assaults would no longer be mandatory – a change of direction that Mr. Marin’s office is monitoring closely.
The office also worked to connect numerous vulnerable people with myriad government agencies and service providers when communication broke down between them, including families of people with acute special needs and others needing care and support. “Many families come to us exhausted and desperate from having to navigate multiple provincial ministries… and a multitude of ministry-funded local service providers to get help,” Mr. Marin writes in the report. “It’s no surprise that the links between all of these organizations are sometimes weak.”
In preparation for the office’s new oversight of municipalities, universities and school boards, Mr. Marin notes that his office is consulting with stakeholders, including partnering with Canada’s Public Policy Forum to convene a series of roundtables and an informational conference this fall.
The Ombudsman is an independent Officer of the Legislature who investigates public complaints about provincial government ministries, corporations, agencies, boards, commissions and tribunals, as well as complaints about closed meetings in municipalities. The latter will be detailed in a separate annual report later this fiscal year.
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