Ombudsman handles near-record number of cases, focuses on rights

June 26, 2024

26 June 2024

Annual Report 2023-2024: Significant achievements for children in care, Francophones, students, inmates – and in local transparency

(TORONTO – June 26, 2024) Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé’s ninth Annual Report, released today, reflects record and near-record complaints in several areas of his jurisdiction, including those focused on the rights of vulnerable children, people with disabilities, inmates and Ontarians seeking services in French.

The Ombudsman received 27,030 cases – complaints and inquiries – in fiscal 2023-2024, and resolved 57% of them in two weeks or less. The near-record case volume is up 10% from the previous year and is among the office’s highest in decades – surpassed only by 2018-2019’s total of 27,419.

Ombudsman Dubé attributes this growth largely to his Office’s work in areas that were only added to his jurisdiction in the past 5-8 years. Cases regarding children and youth in care increased by 15% over the previous year to 1,722 – and complaints about French language services surged by 73% over fiscal 2022-2023, to a record 511. The Ombudsman was given these responsibilities just five years ago, on May 1, 2019.

“Five years later, I am proud to say that we have seen remarkable results,” he writes in the report. “Both units brought our proven and effective approaches to this work, along with enormous dedication and passion for promoting the rights of young people and Francophones.”

Since May 2019, the Ombudsman’s Children and Youth Unit has received nearly 8,000 cases from young people and concerned adults, raised numerous issues proactively with the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, reviewed thousands of reports of deaths and serious bodily harm incidents involving young people who received child welfare services, and issued four investigation reports. All 112 recommendations from those investigations have been accepted.

Similarly, the Ombudsman’s French Language Services Unit has handled some 1,800 complaints in the same period, issued four annual reports devoted to French language services, and conducted two in-depth investigations.

The “Ombudsman approach,” involves “making direct contact with complainants, reviewing the facts, finding resolutions, flagging issues and conducting investigations when warranted,” Mr. Dubé explains.

Cases in the three areas added to the Ombudsman’s mandate in 2015-2016 also reached new heights this past fiscal year: Municipalities accounted for a record 3,595 cases (up 28% over 2022-2023), while those about school boards surged 68% over last year to a record 1,334. There were also a near-record 289 cases about universities, up 41% from the previous year.

“To see such large numbers of people seek our help in these areas is heartening,” the Ombudsman says in the report. “Although there can be many factors underlying an increase – or decrease – in complaints, what is undeniable is that more Ontarians now have recourse to their Ombudsman than ever before, for a wider variety of issues… As this report illustrates, the results we obtain for them are tangible and significant.”

The Ombudsman highlights numerous examples of how his organization has applied “proactive ombudsmanship” to promote the rights of Ontarians in myriad ways – from helping vulnerable youth in care and inmates in custody, to assisting with access to services in French, to ensuring that local council and school board meetings are open to the public.

He also notes a number of cases where his office is working to help Indigenous individuals and communities with issues such as access to birth certificates or delayed First Nations HST rebates. The Ombudsman notes that he was “honoured to be invited to meet with a number of First Nations groups,” including visiting Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows First Nation). “My team and I are actively seeking more opportunities to have good words with Indigenous communities that broaden our mutual understanding and enable the Ombudsman’s Office to optimize its contribution to reconciliation,” he writes.

Among provincial government services, correctional facilities continued to be the top source of complaints to the Ombudsman, increasing 26% to 4,444 at a time when most facilities were at or over capacity. The Ombudsman’s office resumed sending teams of investigators to view conditions and address issues at several facilities in recent months, and followed up with the Ministry of the Solicitor General on its progress in implementing reforms to the use of segregation (solitary confinement) as well as the use of force against inmates. Notwithstanding this progress, the Office is concerned about inmates with mental illness being put in segregation, contrary to government regulation, Mr. Dubé points out.

Also in the category of “Law & Order” in his report, the Ombudsman notes that his jurisdiction was expanded as of April 1, 2024 to all provincial police oversight organizations when legislation from 2019 finally came into force – “a long-awaited step forward for civilian oversight.” He reports ”slow” progress on police de-escalation training, the subject of his 2016 report stemming from the fatal policing shooting of Sammy Yatim a decade ago. As he notes, the recommendations of this year’s coroner’s inquest into that death echoed his repeated calls to improve the way police are trained to deal with people in crisis.

Other progress updates refer to the Ombudsman’s major investigations from the past year, notably regarding severe delays at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB), which have generated thousands of complaints since 2020. Some progress has been made on 35 of the 61 recommendations he made in his May 2023 report, Mr. Dubé says. However, there were 1,284 new complaints about the LTB this year (down from 1,894 in 2022-2023), which “suggests more needs to be done,” the report notes.

Similarly, the Ministry of Long-Term Care’s Inspections Branch has reported some progress in the wake of the Ombudsman’s September 2023 report on inspections during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. It continues to report back to the Ombudsman every six months.

During the past fiscal year, the Ombudsman also published:

  • 24 reports and letters on his findings regarding 38 closed municipal meetings, 42% of which were found to have violated the Municipal Act rules. (The Ombudsman is the closed meeting investigator for 268 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities, and publishes resources for all municipalities on open meetings, codes of conduct and best practices for integrity commissioners.) “Councils, local boards and school boards are important democratic institutions, and we are proud to do our part in clarifying their responsibility to be open to the public,” Mr. Dubé writes.

  • Five reports and letters on closed school board meetings (two of these were published in June 2024, including one about a meeting that generated hundreds of complaints).

  • Six submissions to government, proposing or commenting on legislative changes.

  • The Annual Report of the French Language Services Commissioner (the next one, covering cases received between October 1, 2023 and September 31, 2024, will be published in December).

The Ombudsman also provides updates on three pending investigations:

  • A report on the systemic issue of adults with developmental disabilities being housed in hospitals is in the process of being drafted; meanwhile, today’s report notes several individual cases where Ombudsman staff have helped individuals in similar situations find appropriate residential placements.

  • Interviews are wrapping up in the Ombudsman’s investigation of the Ministry of Education’s direct payment programs, launched last December.

  • French Language Services Commissioner Carl Bouchard’s probe of the government’s unilingual English out-of-home advertising, launched last July, is complete and a report is being prepared.

For the first time, this Annual Report also includes an outline of Ombudsman Ontario’s new three-year strategic plan. “Our plan prioritizes service excellence and value for all Ontarians, with the aim – as always – of improving public services through our work,” the Ombudsman writes. He plans to publish an update when the office marks its 50th anniversary next year.

About the Office of the Ombudsman: The Ombudsman is an independent, non-partisan Officer of the Ontario Legislature, appointed by all parties, whose role is to ensure that the provincial government and public sector serve people in a way that is fair, accountable and respectful of their rights. 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.

For more information, contact:
Linda Williamson
Director of Communications