Statement from Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé for Ombuds Day, October 12
October 12, 2023
12 October 2023
Today is Ombuds Day, an annual, internationally observed opportunity to educate and raise awareness among the public about Ombudsman offices like ours – the roles we play, the services we offer, and most importantly, the value we provide.
(TORONTO – October 12, 2023) Today is Ombuds Day, an annual, internationally observed opportunity to educate and raise awareness among the public about Ombudsman offices like ours – the roles we play, the services we offer, and most importantly, the value we provide.
This year’s Ombuds Day theme, “Diverse in role, united in service,” pays tribute to the thousands of ombudsman offices around the world that function in various capacities: From ombuds who work within organizations, to fully independent parliamentary ombudsman institutions, like the Ontario Ombudsman, who bridge the gap between the people and their government.
What we all have in common is something unique to the Ombudsman institution: Only the Ombudsman takes concerns directly from affected individuals, and leverages them into improved services for all.
Last week, I released our Office’s latest Annual Report, which is filled with examples of how we did just that. We received 24,551 cases – complaints and inquiries – in fiscal 2022-2023, and resolved 54% of them in two weeks or less.
We helped Ontarians with everything from birth certificates and driver’s licences to spousal support, social benefits, developmental services funding and more.
We also reported on four major investigations that have prompted systemic improvements in the child protection sector, in long-term care inspections, and at the backlog-plagued Landlord and Tenant Board. I made a total of 213 recommendations in those cases. All were accepted, and many are already being implemented.
This is in keeping with my role as an independent parliamentary Ombudsman, which is to promote transparency, accountability, fairness and respect for rights in the public services I oversee. As the United Nations has noted, offices like ours play a key role in “the promotion and protection of human rights, good governance and the rule of law.”
Across the globe, we have seen that actions to abolish oversight, to undermine freedom of the press, weaken courts and concentrate power in the hands of the executive can undermine liberal democracy from within. In 2019, an international set of standards known as the Venice Principles was established to protect ombudsman offices around the world that are facing threats, and to bolster recognition of their role in strengthening democracy by overseeing government and the public sector.
This past June, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell spoke to members of the Canadian Council of Parliamentary Ombudsman during our annual meeting in Toronto about this very topic. She told us: “You provide a voice for some of the most vulnerable in our society, so that they can be heard. You are a voice for our fundamental rights. A voice for fairness. And a voice for accountability. All of which are critical to maintaining the trust that our democracy is built upon.”
Through the cases we resolve and the stories we tell, she said, we demonstrate that “here in Canada, we have the capacity to take a long, hard look in the mirror, and to make positive, systemic change.”
This is truly something to celebrate on Ombuds Day. But an Ombudsman’s work is really never done. As I noted in my Annual Report, we are seeing increases in complaints from vulnerable people and those struggling to make ends meet. In the first six months of this fiscal year, we have seen a 16% increase in cases across the board. We will continue to work hard to make sure people are treated fairly by their government services. And I and my peers around the world will remain vigilant and support strong, independent ombudsman institutions everywhere.