(June 27, 2017 – TORONTO) - Greater oversight of public sector bodies will improve accountability and services to Ontarians, provided it is consistent and effective, Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé notes today in his latest Annual Report, marking the first full year of his term and his office’s expanded mandate.
The Ombudsman’s jurisdiction now covers more than 1,000 bodies, with municipalities, universities and school boards now subject to the same independent scrutiny that his office has brought to provincial government ministries, agencies, corporations and tribunals since 1975.
“It has been a remarkable year, as our office has been able to help people with a wider array of issues than ever before,” Mr. Dubé says in the report, noting what he sees as a general trend toward more public accountability mechanisms. “Along with this welcome growth in oversight comes a responsibility to ensure it is effective – a role that we take seriously with regard to the bodies we oversee.”
The Ombudsman’s Office received 21,328 public complaints and inquiries between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017. Most complaints were resolved within two weeks or less, without need for formal investigation. Since taking office on April 1, 2016, Mr. Dubé has also launched and reported on several in-depth, systemic investigations, and the government has committed to addressing all 114 of his recommendations to date.
Recent legislative changes have also increased other watchdogs’ oversight of hospitals and children’s aid societies, and will soon require all municipalities to provide access to integrity commissioners and have codes of conduct. As well, two independent reviewers appointed by the province have echoed Ombudsman recommendations for reforming oversight of police and solitary confinement.
His report provides updates on recent investigations and developments in past ones; for example:
- Segregation of inmates: New legislation this fall will address recommendations by the Ombudsman and independent reviewer Howard Sapers to abolish indefinite segregation and ensure it is tracked.
- Police de-escalation training: An advisory committee is reviewing de-escalation practices.
- Police oversight: New legislation this fall will bolster the Special Investigations Unit, as recommended in Ombudsman reports in 2008 and 2011, and by independent reviewer Justice Michael Tulloch.
- Adults with developmental disabilities in crisis: Although families continue to come to the Ombudsman when they cannot find appropriate placements for loved ones, the province has taken a more active role in working with community agencies and providing supports.
- Newborn screening: Further improvements have been made as Ombudsman staff continue to follow up on their 2005 investigation and the province began rolling out a 30th screening test.
The most complained-about provincial government bodies continue to be correctional facilities (3,998 cases), the Family Responsibility Office (FRO, 1,036 cases), and the Ontario Disability Support Program (862), although the Ombudsman reported progress and successful case resolutions in all these areas. To cite two examples: A man was reimbursed more than $40,000 that the FRO had taken from his pension in support payments for his ex-wife, who had died 13 years earlier; a woman received almost $100,000 after her complaint to the Ombudsman prompted FRO to pursue her ex-husband for overdue support.
The report also features complaint trends and issues the Ombudsman has proactively flagged to public sector officials. For example, the Ministry of Transportation is now tracking mail deliveries, after the Ombudsman questioned the impact of hundreds of driver suspension notices and other documents going missing each week.
In the Ombudsman’s new areas of jurisdiction, Ontario’s 444 municipalities accounted for the most complaints (2,667), with municipal councils themselves being the most common subject. The Ombudsman routinely recommends municipalities have codes of conducts and integrity commissioners, which will soon be mandatory under new municipal legislation.
Although his office has seen a decline in complaints about closed municipal meetings – likely because the public can now complain about broader municipal issues – Mr. Dubé notes that a substantial proportion (43%) of the 42 meetings his office reviewed were illegal.
School boards received 945 complaints, and universities 175. As with provincial cases, most were resolved without need for formal investigation. Today’s report recaps two investigations related to municipalities (involving procurement in Brampton and a trespass order against a councillor in Red Rock). The Ombudsman’s sole investigation related to school boards (relating to busing problems in Toronto) will be completed later this summer. No university investigations have been launched to date.
“Municipalities and school boards are the ground floor of our democracy,” Mr. Dubé says in the report. “Ensuring that they are fair, open and accountable is every bit as important as it is for large provincial organizations.”
Since becoming Ombudsman, Mr. Dubé has stressed a collaborative approach, meeting personally with a wide array of stakeholders, and working to increase the transparency of his office. To that end, his report includes details of his five-year plan, which includes initiatives such as creating an online database of municipal closed meeting decisions, since no such provincial tool exists.
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