Ombudsman underlines value of independent oversight

October 5, 2023

5 October 2023

Annual Report 2022-2023: Promoting rights and fairness for vulnerable youth, long-term care residents, inmates, landlords and tenants, Francophones and more

(TORONTO – October 5, 2023) Releasing his eighth Annual Report today, Ombudsman Paul Dubé reflected on how his office’s “stronger, broader, more consistent oversight” has helped more vulnerable Ontarians and improved public services.

Two significant expansions of his mandate, a global pandemic, and a succession of major investigation report releases have allowed his office to exercise its unique strengths, “extending our ability to promote transparency, accountability, fairness, and a respect for rights,” he says in the report.

The Ombudsman received 24,551 cases – complaints and inquiries – in fiscal 2022-2023, and resolved 54% of them in two weeks or less. Complaint trends were largely consistent with the previous year (there were 610 fewer cases in total), but some areas saw upticks. In a year when many Ontarians struggled to make ends meet, there were increases in cases about programs like Ontario Works (up 75%) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (up 22%, on top of a 37% increase the previous year). Cases also increased 16% across all areas in the first six months of fiscal 2023-2024 (April 1-September 30), the Ombudsman reported.

Mr. Dubé’s report explains how his team helped many of these complainants receive benefits and resolve issues with caseworkers. For instance, they helped a family get $4,400 in shelter allowance payments they missed because officials failed to update their address.

Along with statistics on cases received during the past fiscal year (April 1, 2022 through March 31, 2023), the Ombudsman’s report contains updates on significant developments to date, including the results of his systemic investigations regarding delays at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) and inspections of long-term care homes, released in May and September 2023, respectively.

The Ombudsman made a total of 137 recommendations in those reports, all of which the government has accepted, and improvements have already begun. For instance:

  • More inspectors, training and personal protective equipment are being added by the Ministry of Long-Term Care, and it is developing a plan to ensure inspections and oversight continue in the next public health emergency.

  • More adjudicators, staff and other improvements to ease backlogs at the LTB (the source of 1,894 complaints to the Ombudsman in 2022-2023) will be implemented, thanks to a promised $6.5 million investment by the province.

Mr. Dubé stressed that these cases – along with hundreds of individual case resolutions – illustrate his office’s ability to leverage direct contact with complainants to spark wide-reaching improvements to public services. “The only thing more satisfying than resolving complaints is preventing them,” he says, citing the “unique, twofold” strengths of his office: “The expertise to help a broad diversity of Ontarians overcome the problems they encounter with public services, and the power to help improve those services for the future.”

It’s an approach that has worked particularly well in the newer areas of his jurisdiction: Child protection services and French language services (both added in 2019), as well as municipalities, universities and school boards (since 2016), he notes.

The Ombudsman’s dedicated Children and Youth Unit, which deals directly with hundreds of children to resolve individual concerns and flag systemic issues, has “done tremendous work in promoting the rights of young people in care,” he writes. His recent reports on two investigations conducted by the unit have resonated throughout the child protection system, inspiring regulatory reform and other improvements, as all 76 recommendations in them were accepted:

  • “Brandon’s story,” the case of a boy who suffered from neglect for years despite children’s aid society supervision, is being used as a training tool by several agencies.

  • “Misty’s story,” about a 13-year-old Indigenous girl from the North who went missing in Southwestern Ontario while in care of a foster agency, highlighted a grave need for agencies to incorporate learnings from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls into their practices.

Similarly, the Ombudsman’s dedicated French Language Services (FLS) Unit has “accomplished meaningful results in the promotion and protection of French language services,” he says. This is thanks to “the ombudsman approach,” which he describes as: “Engaging directly with Franco-Ontarians, encouraging them to come forward with their issues, promoting their rights, conducting impartial, independent reviews and making evidence-based recommendations.”

More details on FLS cases will be provided in December, when the office publishes the Annual Report of the French Language Services Commissioner. Meanwhile, today’s report includes several examples of how the Ombudsman’s broader oversight powers benefited Francophones who raised concerns related to education, municipalities and other matters not strictly related to the French Language Services Act.

In the area of municipalities – the Ombudsman’s second-largest category of cases, after correctional facilities – staff not only handled thousands of files about everything from housing to by-law enforcement, they also promoted transparency and accountability at the local level by distributing expert guides on open meetings, codes of conduct and the role of municipal integrity commissioners. As the closed meeting investigator for 266 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities, the Ombudsman reviewed 79 meetings in 2022-2023 – and his team also raised awareness of similar rules for school board meetings.

As usual, the Ombudsman’s report includes updates on the progress made – or the lack thereof – on recommendations from his previous investigations. For instance, all but nine of his 60 recommendations (from a 2016 report) to improve services for adults with developmental disabilities who are in crisis have been implemented by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. However, he launched a new investigation in March, focused specifically on adults with developmental disabilities who are inappropriately housed in hospitals due to lack of supports and services in the community.

He also reports that none of the recommendations he made in 2016 (and reiterated in several submissions to the Ministry of the Solicitor General) to improve and standardize police de-escalation training have been implemented – but he is hopeful that they will be “incorporated into pending legislative changes this fall.”

The bulk of the Ombudsman’s work involves resolving individual cases and proactively prompting improvements, and the report includes examples of cases across the 12 general areas of his jurisdiction, along with testimonial comments from people whose issues were resolved. In the next few years of his mandate, Mr. Dubé says his priority is to develop his office’s commitment to constitutionally recognized First Nations, Métis and Inuit people within Ontario, “to raise awareness and seek to engage with these communities in all aspects of our jurisdiction.”

About the Office of the Ombudsman: The Ombudsman is an independent and impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature. Under the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman reviews and resolves complaints and inquiries from the public about provincial government organizations, as well as French language services, child protection services, municipalities, universities and school boards. The Ombudsman does not overturn the decisions of elected officials or set public policy, but makes recommendations to ensure administrative fairness, transparency and accountability. The Ombudsman's investigations have benefited millions of Ontarians and prompted widespread reforms, better newborn screening, a more secure lottery system, more tracking of inmates in segregation, and improvements to the Landlord and Tenant Board.

For more information, contact:
Linda Williamson, Director of Communications