2016-2017 Annual Report

2016-2017 Annual Report

June 27, 2017

27 June, 2017

Ombudsman’s Message - New Era of Oversight
As I report on this, my first full year as Ontario Ombudsman, I am encouraged by several recent developments that signal a trend toward stronger oversight of public sector bodies in this province.

“This Office has long had a reputation as one of the most exemplary and impactful ombudsman offices in the world, thanks to the excellent work of our team. It is a privilege to lead that team, and to present this year’s snapshot of that work.” Ombudsman Paul Dubé


Table of Contents

Ombudsman's Message

New Era of Oversight

As I report on this, my first full year as Ontario Ombudsman, I am encouraged by several recent developments that signal a trend toward stronger oversight of public sector bodies in this province.

The good news relates not only to the work of our Office, but to broader changes to legislation and accountability mechanisms that we are happy to support.

It has been a remarkable year, as our Office has been able to help people with a wider array of issues than ever before – thanks to our expanded mandate, which now comprises not just provincial government administration but municipalities, universities and school boards.


Achieving positive change

Most of the 21,328 cases we received in 2016-2017 (the first complete fiscal year of this new jurisdiction) were quickly resolved, without formal investigation – demonstrating how we work effectively behind the scenes.

At the same time, our systemic investigations continued to prompt constructive change. At the provincial level, work on fundamental changes to police de-escalation training and services for adults with developmental disabilities is ongoing, as a result of two of our latest reports. At the municipal level, the City of Brampton welcomed our suggestions for a more transparent process for non-competitive procurements.

We also saw our recommendations embraced and complemented by the work of two independent reviewers appointed by the province: Justice Michael Tulloch’s review of police oversight, and former federal correctional investigator Howard Sapers’ review of the practice of segregation, or solitary confinement, of inmates in the province’s jails.

Both of these reviews dealt with matters that our Office also investigated – the former in our 2008 and 2011 reports on the Special Investigations Unit; the latter in our recent report on segregation tracking, Out of Oversight, Out of Mind. I was pleased to collaborate with both reviewers, in addition to making public submissions and recommendations, so they could benefit from our extensive expertise in both areas.

The results so far have been positive: The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services committed to addressing all of the recommendations in my and Mr. Sapers’ reports on segregation, and it is acting, with the Ministry of the Attorney General, to implement measures in Justice Tulloch’s report that will finally strengthen the SIU as this Office recommended years ago.

I look forward to the promised changes to the Ministry of Correctional Services Act and the Police Services Act that will bring long-overdue clarity to terms like “segregation” and “serious injury” and bolster oversight mechanisms in both areas. Our Office will continue to monitor these developments and to oversee these mechanisms.


Promoting accountability

Similarly, the province’s recent review of municipal legislation – to which we also provided submissions – will bring the weight of law to practices we have been recommending to municipalities for some time: Establishing codes of conduct and integrity commissioners at the local level. Along with a much-needed new legislative definition of “meeting,” these changes will help municipalities provide residents with enhanced and more consistent accountability.

Much of our work with school boards has been in the same vein – encouraging transparent processes and clear communication with the public they serve. Codes of conduct and accountability mechanisms are advisable at this level as well. One thing our interaction with these organizations in communities across Ontario has underlined is that municipalities and school boards are the ground floor of our democracy. Ensuring that they are fair, open and accountable is every bit as important as it is for large provincial organizations.

Whether we are gathering information related to a complaint – or engaging with public sector officials at outreach events across the province, as many of my staff and I have done this past year – we emphasize that we always seek to resolve problems at the lowest possible level. This means working to find solutions within the organization or community that is the source of the complaint. When that can’t be done, our Office is there to help.

The value we provide lies in our role as an impartial, independent office of last resort. We do not replace internal or local accountability mechanisms, but can suggest improvements, verify that they are working as they should, or investigate and propose solutions to systemic problems that are beyond their reach.
 

Resolutions and relationships

The impact of our systemic investigations is well known – and deservedly so, given that several of them continue to prompt constructive change, even a decade later. However, as this report illustrates, the value of our oversight is also demonstrated daily by the work of our frontline staff, the Early Resolution Officers who respond to calls and complaints and embody what most ombudsman work is all about.

This report is full of stories about that kind of work: The quick resolutions that are facilitated through patient listening or creative, critical thinking; the right calls or informal inquiries to the right official at the right time; the complaint trends that are proactively flagged to senior bureaucrats; or the gaps in policy that are identified and fixed, without formal investigation.

Our staff help hundreds of people this way, week in and week out. Together with our investigators and all our other teams, the relationships they build – both with complainants and the officials in the complained-about organizations – establish the credibility that allows this Office to influence broader reforms affecting millions of Ontarians, and in turn help this province maintain a strong international reputation for effective oversight.

As well, as I have emphasized throughout this past year, by building relationships with stakeholders through collaboration, we are able to ensure our voice is heard when the situation demands – when the case is urgent, resolution is not possible, or simply taking too long.

This report notes numerous cases where our proactive work with the most complained-about organizations and ministries has yielded good progress on longstanding issues – and a few where those issues had to be escalated and investigated. We have seen good co-operation from the organizations under investigation in almost every case.

I meet with the head of the Ontario Public Service and Secretary of the Cabinet, Steve Orsini, on a regular basis to discuss complaint trends and flag brewing provincial issues, as do our senior staff with the most complained-about ministries and programs. Ombudsman staff also frequently have productive discussions with officials from broader public sector organizations across the province – sometimes related to complaints, but often to share general information about good practices for fair, transparent processes and policies.


Sharing Expertise

In this past year, I have also been pleased to develop relationships and share expertise with my fellow ombudsmen from across Canada and around the world, other officers of the Ontario legislature, as well as integrity commissioners and ombudsmen for municipalities, universities and school boards.

My colleagues have seen a trend toward stronger oversight, too. The Saskatchewan and Alberta ombudsmen have had their mandates expanded to include municipalities. My Ontario colleagues, the Advocate for Children and Youth, the Integrity Commissioner and the Financial Accountability Officer – as well as the new Patient Ombudsman within the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care – have oversight responsibilities that did not exist a few years ago. Local ombudsmen and integrity commissioners have proliferated in Ontario in the past year.

Along with this welcome growth in oversight, however, comes a responsibility to ensure it is effective – a role that we take seriously with regard to the bodies we oversee. We also continue to help and train administrative watchdogs from across Canada and around the world with our annual training course in conducting systemic investigations, “Sharpening Your Teeth.”

I was honoured to be acclaimed to the board of the International Ombudsman Institute as regional president for North America this past fall, as well as to bolster our Office’s participation in the Forum of Canadian Ombudsman this spring. This Office has long had a reputation as one of the most exemplary and impactful ombudsman offices in the world, thanks to the excellent work of our team. It is a privilege to lead that team, and to present this year’s snapshot of that work.


Looking ahead: Five-Year Plan

The core work of our Office is handling tens of thousands of complaints per year – resolving most of them informally, identifying issues proactively, conducting investigations as warranted and publishing 3-5 reports per year on systemic investigations affecting large numbers of people. We are committed to building on this work in the years ahead. In addition, I want to share some of our other priorities for the near future, which I believe will enhance the value we provide to Ontarians:

Years 1-2:

  • Create and publish values, mission and vision statements.
  • Focus on establishing productive and constructive working relationships with key stakeholders.
  • Build awareness of our Office in new areas of jurisdiction; educate stakeholders and public about our role through speeches and presentations, presence at stakeholder events and communications tools.
  • Proactively update stakeholders on issues and trends, with a view to solving problems and improving governance without the need for formal investigations.
  • Provide online resources on what to expect from our Office and on best practices in handling complaints.
  • Develop new resources to reflect Municipal Act changes, including best practices for establishing local ombudsman and integrity commissioner roles, and a searchable online digest of open meeting cases.
  • Develop an online mechanism for public feedback on the services we provide.
  • Increase participation in national and international ombudsman community.
  • Continue to promote a dynamic and positive work environment where teams and individuals thrive and feel valued and rewarded by their work.
  • Continue recruitment to reach full staff complement of 143 full-time employees.
  • Enhance staff training and support, including dealing with challenging complaints, crisis situations and mental health issues; continue to promote mental health and wellness in the workplace.
  • Review accessibility and security of our workspace.


Years 3-4

  • Provide orientation on Ombudsman oversight for new and returning elected representatives (MPPs, municipal council members and school board trustees) after 2018 elections.
  • Continue to develop interactive online public resources on the role of the Office.
  • Develop guides and training for municipal and school board stakeholders regarding establishing local accountability officers and complaint mechanisms.
  • Measure reach and awareness of our Office and develop strategic plan to target communities that would most benefit from more outreach and education.
  • Collaborate and consult with public service leaders as they move forward with plans to transform and modernize the public service.
  • Review our complaint handling process to ensure efficient use of resources and timely, meaningful responses; continue transition to paperless system.
  • Continue to develop staff training, including professional development and mentoring programs to maximize staff potential.
  • Update and upgrade case management system to a web-based tool, to improve efficiency and complaint analysis functionality.
  • Develop strategy for leveraging new technologies for use in investigations, complaint analysis and public interaction.
  • Collaborate with ombudsman and relevant professional organizations to share expertise, best practices, training and innovation.


Year 5:

  • Review impact of five years of oversight of broader public sector on improving accountability and governance.
  • Find opportunities to highlight best practices in delivering service to the public, based on our experience and complaint analysis.
  • Survey best practices among ombudsman community and determine opportunities to adapt to changing public demands.
  • Measure success in establishing productive relationships with municipal, university, and school board stakeholders.
  • Continue to drive positive change and improve governance in all areas of jurisdiction.

About our Office

"The Ombudsman’s intervention serves not only the public interest, but can be in the best interest of the organization as well. Either the organization’s work will be validated by an independent third party, or constructive feedback will be provided that will enable it to address the root causes of complaints and prevent them from recurring."

“Occasionally, if a public sector body does not see the value of working collaboratively towards appropriate outcomes and accepting recommendations that will benefit citizen stakeholders, we have another important tool: Ultimately, our power is in our voice.”

“If an ombudsman can establish independent yet collaborative relationships, when a systemic investigation is required, the recommendations that flow from it are more likely to be accepted and implemented."
– Ombudsman Paul Dubé, keynote speech to Forum of Canadian Ombudsman, May 15, 2017, Ottawa

What is an Ombudsman

An ombudsman is an independent and impartial officer who raises citizens’ concerns with government bodies. The first parliamentary ombudsman was established in Sweden in 1809; the term “ombudsman” is Swedish for “citizen’s representative.”

As an office of last resort, an ombudsman typically intervenes when issues cannot be resolved within the government body. The ombudsman acts impartially, not on behalf of either party.

If a complaint has merit, the ombudsman will first seek to resolve the dispute at the lowest level possible, but will conduct an investigation when necessary. Ombudsman findings and recommendations are based on an impartial assessment of the facts and evidence.

“In Canada, ombudsmen are appointed by and accountable to the legislatures of the relevant province. An ombudsman investigates and reports on citizens’ complaints, and makes an annual report, although the recommendations are not binding.” The Oxford Companion to Canadian History

Values, Mission and Vision


Our Values

F air treatment

A ccountable administration

I ndependence, impartiality

R esults: Achieving real change


Our Mission

We strive to be an agent of positive change by promoting fairness, accountability and transparency in the public sector.


Our Vision

A public sector that serves citizens in a way that is fair, accountable and transparent.


Our Office was established in 1975 under the Ombudsman Act Per the Ombudsman Act, complaints to our Office are confidential and investigations are conducted in private. Our services are also free of charge.

Who We Are

  • Ombudsman, Paul Dubé
  • Deputy Ombudsman, Barbara Finlay
  • Early Resolutions Team
    • Complaint intake, triage, referrals, issue identification and analysis, research, trends analysis, and complaint resolutions.
    • Director: Eva Kalisz Rolfe
  • Investigations Team
    • Individual investigations, proactive work, complex complaint resolutions, identification of trends and systemic issues.
    • Director: Sue Haslam
  • Special Ombudsman Response Team
    • Systemic issue investigations, extensive field work, follow-up.
    • Director: Gareth Jones
  • Legal Services Team
    • Legal support, evidence analysis, report preparation, municipal closed meeting investigations.
    • General Counsel: Laura Pettigrew and Wendy Ray
  • Communications Team
    • Reports and publications, website, media relations, social media, video, presentations and outreach activities.
    • Director: Linda Williamson
  • Corporate Services Team
    • Financial services, human resources, administration and facilities, information technology.
    • Director: Scott Miller

What We Do

Resolutions and reports are the best-known results of the Ombudsman’s work, but only part of what it takes to handle tens of thousands of cases every year. Here is a glimpse of the different types of work we do:

  • Refer : Direct complainants to the appropriate officials or complaint process.
  • Resolve : Find a way to settle the issue without need for formal investigation.
  • Advise : Answer general questions from MPPs and broader public sector officials.
  • Colaborate : Work proactively with officials to address complaint trends before they grow.
  • Investigative : Gather evidence to get to root of individual or systemic issues that aren’t easily resolved.
  • Change : Recommend constructive changes to fix individual and systemic problems.
  • Validate : Where administrative processes are working well, give credit where it’s due.
  • Monitor : Track official responses to recommendations.
  • Pursue : Follow up to ensure recommendations are effective and issues do not recur.
  • Engage : Interact with public and stakeholders through speeches, events and media.
  • Comment : Provide expertise and advice on request regarding new legislation or policy.
  • Promote : Support independent oversight, accountability and transparency at home and abroad.

What to Expect

Make a complaint: We take complaints via the complaint form on our website, by email, phone or letter, or in person. Our staff will contact you for more details if necessary. We will not divulge your name or information to anyone without your consent.

Or ask a question: Not a complaint? No problem – we also handle inquiries. Our staff can answer general questions or point you in the right direction.

Mandate: If your complaint is not about an Ontario government or broader public sector body within our mandate, we will refer it accordingly.

Last resort: If you haven’t tried existing complaint mechanisms, we’ll suggest you do that first – and return to us if the issue isn’t resolved.

Early resolution and review: We always seek to resolve complaints at the lowest level possible. To do so, we often make informal inquiries and requests for information with the relevant bodies, for example, to learn more about their processes and policies.

Investigation: If we are unable to resolve the matter informally, the Ombudsman may decide to conduct an investigation. The public sector body is formally notified, and we may conduct interviews and request documents and any other relevant evidence.

Systemic investigation: If the Ombudsman determines that there is a potential systemic issue underlying the complaints, he may decide to launch a systemic investigation; these are often announced and reported on publicly. The public sector body under investigation is notified and given a chance to respond before any report is published.

Results: We communicate the outcome of individual investigations and most reviews and informal resolutions to complainants and the relevant public sector bodies, as warranted. Summaries of many such cases are published in our annual reports and other communications. When the Ombudsman’s recommendations are accepted, our staff follow up to ensure they are implemented, and we monitor to ensure problems don’t recur.


About This Report

Our Office oversees more than 1,000 public sector bodies, comprising more than 500 Ontario government ministries, programs, agencies, boards, commissions, corporations and tribunals, as well as 444 municipalities, 72 school boards and 10 school authorities, and 21 universities.

This report is organized by topic area, rather than by government ministry or agency, arranged by case volume, as shown in the accompanying chart: For example, the first two categories are Law & Order and Social Services, because they generated the highest number of cases. Each topic chapter discusses the main complaint trends and significant cases of the past year.

A breakdown of complaints by ministry, program, municipality, etc. can be found in the Appendix to this report, and on our website – where complaint data for municipalities and school boards can also be found on interactive maps.

Good to Know

Watch for “Good to Know” boxes throughout the report for other explanatory notes.


Cases by Topic Area:

  • Law & Order: 32%
  • Social Services: 20%
  • Municipalities: 17%
  • Education Total: 11%
  • Employment: 5%
  • Health: 4%
  • Transportation: 3%
  • Money & Property: 3%
  • Energy & Environment: 3%
  • Certificates & Permits: 2%

Cases by Type:

Within each topic area, the most common complaint – by far – is service delivery. Here are the 10 most common types of complaints we receive.

  • Service Delivery
  • Administrative Decisions
  • Delays
  • Legislation and/or Regulations
  • Communication
  • Enforcement of Rules or Policies
  • Broader Public Policy Matters
  • Procedures
  • Internal Complaint Processes
  • Funding

Reports Highlights

21,328 Cases Received
  • 49% closed within one week
  • 60% closed within two weeks
  • 33% received online
  • 60% received by phone


Top 5 Provincial Organizations by Case Volue in fiscal 2016-2017 (excluding correctional facilities)

  • 1,036 Family Responsibility Office
  • 862 Ontario Disability Support Program
  • 238 Social Justice Tribunals Ontario
  • 492 Workplace Safety and Insurance Board
  • 216 Developmental Services Programs


Municipalities

  • 2,667 general cases received
  • 109 closed meeting cases received


School Boards

  • 945 cases received


Universities

  • 175 cases received

Outreach with Stakeholders
  • 102 outreach events in 2016-2017 in 28 Ontario communities
  • Training / consultation with representatives from 4 provinces, 2 territories, 7 countries


Communications

  • Aggregate audience: 219 million people
  • 1,457 news articles published in fiscal 2016-2017
  • 511 broadcast media stories in fiscal 2016-2017
  • Facebook reach: 501,120 people
  • Twitter impressions: 3.6 million
  • YouTube views:9,524
  • Ad value: $2.5 million
  • 178,185 website visitors from 180 countries
  • 823,091 website pageviews


Systemic investigation reports: April 1, 2016 to date

  • 32 recommendations Out of Oversight, Out of Mind - April 2017
  • 22 recommendations A Matter of LIfe and Death - June 2016
  • 15 best practices Procuring Progress - March 2017
  • 60 recommendations Nowehere to Turn - August 2016

Year in Review: Cases By Topic


Law & Order

Overview

This is consistently the largest category of complaints to our Office, dealing mostly with organizations within the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Ministry of the Attorney General. Although the Ombudsman does not have direct jurisdiction over municipal police or the courts, our oversight of these ministries has resulted in reforms to police training, Legal Aid Ontario and how some administrative tribunals operate.


Trends in cases – policing

Policing in Ontario has recently been under scrutiny on several fronts. New regulations came into force on the practice of carding, and an independent review called for sweeping changes to police oversight. Our Office contributed to consultations on these reforms. We also followed up on previous recommendations to improve police training in de-escalating conflict situations, and to help officers dealing with operational stress injuries.


Carding and general police complaints

As of January 2017, the practice of carding (when police stop a person and ask for identification, also known as “street checks”) has been regulated across the province. Some of these regulations reflect recommendations our Office made in a submission to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ consultations in August 2015, including the duty to inform people they are not required to provide identifying information, limitations on when information may be collected, training for police, providing those who are checked with a receipt that documents the interaction, and rules on information retention.

We also received 271 complaints about municipal police services, and 121 about the Ontario Provincial Police. Most complaints about police operations and conduct were referred to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD).


Top 5 Case Topics

  • Correctional facilities: 3,998
  • Tribunals: 278
  • Municipal police: 271 (outside our jurisdiction)
  • Ontario Provincial Police: 121
  • Legal Aid Ontario: 111

“The Ombudsman is ideally placed to handle complaints about all three police oversight bodies. The Ombudsman’s office has the mandate to independently and impartially investigate individual and systemic complaints. It does so about the administrative conduct of more than a thousand public sector bodies, including administrative tribunals... Such a change would enable the Ombudsman to promote consistency in the oversight bodies’ practices and enhance public confidence in police oversight.” Hon. Michael Tulloch, Report of the Independent Police Oversight Review, released April 6, 2017


Investigations – policing

Police de-escalation training

Report: A Matter of Life and Death, released June 2016

Investigation update: This report made 22 recommendations to improve how police across Ontario are trained to de-escalate potential conflict situations, particularly involving people who may be in crisis due to mental illness or drugs. The day before the report’s release, the then-Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services agreed to all of the recommendations. Key among these were that the Ministry introduce – within one year – a new regulation setting out guidelines on de-escalation for all police services, as well as a new use-of-force model that would emphasize that de-escalation techniques should be used before force whenever feasible.

The Ministry has since provided our Office with detailed updates on its efforts to implement the recommendations. These include creating an advisory committee and commissioning academic research to review de-escalation practices. The Ombudsman also visited the Ontario Police College in December 2016 for a demonstration of its improved de-escalation training.

The implementation of the remaining recommendations is underway, and we will continue to monitor and report on the Ministry’s progress.


Special Investigations Unit (SIU)

Reports: Oversight Unseen and Oversight Undermined, released 2008 and 2011

Investigation update: Our Office has twice investigated systemic issues related to the effectiveness of the Special Investigations Unit, the civilian body that handles police actions that result in death or serious injury. Our two reports made a total of 49 recommendations to address the SIU’s perceived pro-police bias, delays and lack of transparency.

“We need the province to standardize the training on de-escalation so no matter where the police officers serve, they can have the same training.” Ottawa Police Services Board chair Eli El-Chantiry, quoted in Ottawa Community News, December 15, 2016

Although several recommendations were implemented by the SIU, the most important were not addressed: That the government enact legislation separate from the Police Services Act to clarify the SIU’s mandate and independence and make it an offence for police not to co-operate with it. Other recommendations called for SIU director’s reports to be made public in cases where no charges are laid.

The Ombudsman reiterated these recommendations in his October 2016 submission to the province’s independent review of police oversight, headed by Justice Michael Tulloch, who echoed several of them in his final report in April 2017. The Attorney General immediately announced that SIU director’s reports, including past cases involving deaths where no charges were laid, would be made public, and that new standalone legislation will be introduced in the fall of 2017 to enhance police oversight. We will monitor these changes and their impact.


Operational stress injury and suicide affecting Ontario Provincial Police and police across the province

Report: In the Line of Duty, released October 2012

Investigation update: This report made 28recommendations to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and 6 to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to develop provincial standards and to improve support and resources for officers dealing with operational stress injury. At the time of the investigation, neither the Ministry nor the OPP kept any statistics on operational stress injury or officer suicide, while those who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder were often stigmatized, and little support was offered through individual services or provincial bodies.

However, all of our recommendations were accepted and implemented, and significant improvements have continued, beyond the scope of our investigation. For example, the OPP has shared its mental health strategies and other approaches with many other police services and first responders. As well, the new Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act, 2016 passed in April 2016, requiring all police services – as well as employers of such other first responders as firefighters, paramedics, correctional officers, etc. – to have a post-traumatic stress disorder plan in place by April 2017.


Trends in cases – correctional services

We received 3,998 complaints about Ontario’s adult correctional facilities this past fiscal year, compared to 4,051 in 2015-2016. We also received 20 complaints about youth custody facilities. Our practice in dealing with such a high volume of complaints is to prioritize those involving urgent matters related to health and safety.

To flag complaint trends and potential systemic issues, Ombudsman staff meet on a regular basis with senior officials in the Correctional Services section of the Ministry. In recent years, these meetings have discussed serious concerns about medical treatment of inmates, inmate-on-inmate assaults, prolonged segregation of inmates, and excessive use of force by correctional officers. The two latter issues both resulted in systemic investigations and reports, after numerous efforts to prompt the Ministry to address them – and in both cases, the Ministry agreed to address all of our recommendations.


Medical issues

More than half of the complaints we receive from those in custody involve significant concerns about health care. The most frequent complaint topics are access to doctors or specialists, delays in receiving certain types of treatment, or problems in receiving medication. We refer many complaints back to the correctional facilities’ internal complaint mechanisms, but our intervention has helped many inmates in medical distress.

For example, one man complained to us after he had cancer surgery and was placed in a dirty segregation cell – he could not feed himself and was given an inadequate wheelchair. He said he had considered ripping out his stitches so staff would pay attention to him. Our inquiries led to the inmate being moved to a better cell, where his dressings were regularly changed and he was given an appropriate wheelchair.


Inmate-on-inmate assaults

Our Office has repeatedly raised concerns with the Ministry about the lack of any requirement to document or investigate inmate-on-inmate assaults, no matter how serious. This past fiscal year, we received 63 complaints about such assaults, compared to 52 in 2015-2016.

In one recent case, a woman reported being sexually assaulted by four other inmates – after which she was placed in segregation, while her attackers were not. No investigation was done by the correctional facility.

In December 2016, after a lengthy review of its investigations policy, the Ministry directed facilities to complete a local investigation report whenever an inmate-on-inmate assault results in serious injury – including any allegations of sexual assault, and any cases involving broken bones or hospitalization. This is an encouraging change, and we will continue to monitor how such cases are handled.


Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre task force

As noted in our last Annual Report, the then-Minister set up a task force in March 2016 to address concerns about overcrowding and capacity issues at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC). Our Office made a submission to this task force in May 2016, based on the high volume of complaints we receive about this facility, including 394 in 2015-2016. We received 319 complaints about OCDC in 2016-2017.

The Ministry reported in January 2017 that all of the task force’s short-term recommendations had been implemented, including the creation of temporary “step-down” units to house vulnerable prisoners, and a review of the facility’s health care department. On May 4, 2017, the Minister announced that OCDC will be replaced by a new facility.


Investigations – correctional services

Tracking of inmates in segregation

Report: Out of Oversight, Out of Mind, released April 2017

Investigation update: In December 2016, three factors prompted the Ombudsman to launch a systemic investigation into the tracking of segregation placements in the province’s correctional facilities: A steady rise in complaints – repeatedly flagged to the Ministry – since 2013; a lack of response to the 28recommendations he made in a submission to the Ministry as part of its consultations in spring 2016; and the shocking revelation that a 24-year-old man had been held in segregation in Thunder Bay Jail for more than four years.

The situation of Thunder Bay inmate Adam Capay was discovered by Ontario’s Chief Human Rights Commissioner in October 2016. The Ombudsman immediately sent investigators to look into his situation and quickly determined that a systemic investigation was warranted. While our investigation was being planned, the Ministry appointed the former Correctional Investigator of Canada, Howard Sapers, to head an independent review of segregation and the broader correctional system. Our Office’s investigation was announced shortly thereafter, and our findings were shared with Mr. Sapers as well as the Ministry.

Our investigation revealed that the Ministry’s systems for tracking inmate segregation placements were error-ridden and inaccurate, and oversight at senior levels was severely lacking, meaning many vulnerable inmates were left in isolation for prolonged periods without the required reviews. The Ombudsman made 32 recommendations to limit segregation placements and strengthen oversight of them, all of which the Ministry agreed to address.

The recommendations include the creation of a clear definition of segregation, and a standard method to track placements and ensure they are reviewed every five days to make sure they are justified, as well as an independent panel to review all placements. The Ministry committed to report back to the Ombudsman on its progress within six months.

In addition to the systemic investigation, Ombudsman staff assisted many individual inmates who complained about segregation. We received 275 complaints about segregation in 2016-2017, compared to 186 the previous year.

In one case, a woman was held in segregation for more than a year, but her placement was not accurately recorded by the facility, contrary to Ministry policy. After our intervention, she was transferred to another facility where she could interact with other inmates. We also helped an inmate with mental health issues return from segregation to a general unit, by working with facility staff to ensure he had a care plan in place that noted his regular appointments with mental health professionals. Staff also placed him with a cellmate to help him with reintegration.

On May 4, 2017, Mr. Sapers released his interim report, also calling for improved oversight of segregation, and proposing that it be capped at 15 days and banned for inmates who are pregnant, have medical conditions or mental illness. The Minister responded that the government would address Mr. Sapers’ and the Ombudsman’s recommendations with new legislation in the fall of 2017, and an “enhanced model of independent oversight and governance of the adult corrections system.”

“The issues raised by the Ombudsman are deeply concerning and completely unacceptable. We must do better. I am committed to addressing each of the Ombudsman’s recommendations, and reporting back on our progress at six-month intervals until his recommendations are fully implemented.” Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde, statement in response to the Ombudsman’s report, April 20, 2017
“The government ought not to wait yet again for more study before acting. It should move now to implement [Ombudsman] Dubé’s crucial advice before anyone else gets lost in the system.” Toronto Star editorial, April 24, 2017
“This makes Mr. Dubé’s main recommendation so important: He wants the province to define segregation, once and for all. Everything else flows from that. Prison staff and ministry officials can’t track time in segregation, and ensure no one spends more than a few consecutive days in it, until they have a clear definition of ‘segregation.’ Without this first step, all other reforms will fail.” Globe and Mail editorial, April 20, 2017


Excessive use of force by correctional officers

Report: The Code, released June 2013

Investigation update: The 45 recommendations in this report, all of which were accepted by the Ministry, were addressed at eradicating a “code of silence” that led to the coverup of some incidents of excessive force by officers against inmates. They also prompted improvements in training and transparency with regard to the use of force. As of the writing of this report, 6 recommendations remain partially incomplete, as they involve additional staff and expenditures. The Ministry is working to address these recommendations by installing closed-circuit video at all institutions, introducing policy and equipment to enable the use of hand-held video recording in situations where correctional officers are likely to use force, and updating training.

Complaints about correctional staff using excessive force have declined overall from the years prior to our report; however, they increased to 65 in 2016-2017 from 43 the previous year. We continue to monitor this issue closely.


Trends in cases – Legal Aid and tribunals

Legal Aid Ontario

We received 111 complaints about Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) in 2016-2017, compared to 118last fiscal year. Common topics of complaint were eligibility requirements for legal aid funding and communications issues. For example, when a woman could not get a response from LAO’s complaints department regarding her file, our staff discovered that its automated email response to web complaints had been inadvertently disabled. LAO apologized to the woman for the delay in responding to her.


Administrative Tribunals

Our Office oversees the myriad administrative tribunals that adjudicate matters relating to social benefits, landlord and tenant disputes, licences and statutory warranties, municipal planning and labour relations, among others. The province has grouped many of these into three clusters: Social Justice Tribunals Ontario (SJTO), Safety, Licensing Appeals and Standards Tribunals Ontario (SLASTO), and Environment and Lands Tribunals Ontario (ELTO).

In 2016-2017, we received 238 complaints about SJTO, 21 about SLASTO and 19 about ELTO. Although we are not an appeal body and cannot overturn tribunal decisions, we can review the fairness of a tribunal’s processes. The tribunal clusters are required by law to have a code of conduct and a public complaints process. We refer most complaints accordingly, but can review the tribunal’s response if the person is not satisfied with it.

For example, we recently reviewed a man’s complaint about the conduct of an adjudicator in lengthy and acrimonious proceedings at the Licence Appeal Tribunal. An independent investigation initiated by SLASTO found the adjudicator did not breach the code of conduct, but recommended several improvements to the tribunal’s practices, including providing clearer explanations to the public, and training adjudicators to interact with people who represent themselves (without lawyers) in tribunal proceedings.

We reviewed the investigators’ report as well as the general concern that the proceedings were unfair. We determined that the tribunal had acted within its mandate, and that its decision was evidence-based. However, we suggested several improvements, including that SLASTO clarify some procedures and make resources available on its website for people who are not represented by lawyers. These suggestions were well received by SLASTO, and we will continue to monitor its efforts to improve its services.


Case Summaries

Motherhood Issue

An inmate who was 29 weeks into a high-risk pregnancy contacted us in fear that she would lose her baby due to lack of care. She complained of delays in being referred to prenatal appointments, in being taken to hospital, and in accessing her health record. Our Office contacted the facility’s health care staff, and as a result of our inquiries, the superintendent arranged immediate medical attention for her. She was taken to hospital and transferred to a specialized high-risk clinic. The Ministry also reviewed the health care she received, and helped her access her health records.


Good Timing

An inmate with diabetes who needed to take insulin before his meals complained to our office that correctional staff could only give it to him after meals. The health care manager initially told us the facility was too large for its staff to co-ordinate the man’s insulin with his mealtimes, but still agreed to review the man’s circumstances. The inmate later informed us that staff had arranged to get his insulin to him before meals.


Security Risk

An inmate who had been in segregation for nine months – because the facility had concerns about his and others’ safety and security – complained to our office that it was harming his mental health and he needed to see a psychiatrist. After Ombudsman staff made inquiries, the facility took a closer look at its safety and security concerns and decided the man could be moved into a general population unit.


Social Services

Overview & Trends in Cases

Millions of Ontarians rely on social services provided by the province, mostly through the Ministry of Community and Social Services, about which we received 2,196 complaints this fiscal year. The top two sources of complaints to our Office are run by this Ministry – the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

Another significant complaint area is the province’s services for adults and children with developmental disabilities. We received 216 complaints related to developmental services programs, and also followed up on the government’s progress in response to our two systemic investigations in this area. Some 61 of the complaints we received regarding the Ministry of Children and Youth Services related to developmental or related services for children.

Another common topic of complaints to our Office is children’s aid societies – even though they have never been within our jurisdiction. We received 471 this year, many of which we referred to our fellow Officer of the Legislature, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, who gained the power to conduct investigations related to children’s aid societies as of March 1, 2016.

New to this chapter, as of this year, are complaints about Ontario Works, the social assistance program administered by municipalities on behalf of the province – about which we received 248 complaints.


Family Responsibility Office

The Family Responsibility Office (FRO) is responsible for enforcing court-ordered child and spousal support payments and is consistently a top source of complaints to the Ombudsman. It was the most complained-about Ontario government organization again in 2016-2017, with 1,036 complaints, up slightly from 1,025 last year.

Complaints about FRO tend to involve errors in child and spousal support payment transactions or in interpreting court orders, failure to enforce payment of arrears, or enforcing payment where none was owed.

Among the most egregious cases we dealt with was one in which FRO garnished a man’s pension for support payments to his ex-wife, even though she had been dead for 13 years. In total, FRO had forwarded almost $143,000 to the dead woman’s inactive bank account. Although it was not aware of her death for some years after it occurred, even after it was notified, it took more than $50,000 from the man’s pension. FRO had refunded the man $50,000, but as a result of our inquiries, it provided him with an additional $40,000.

In another case, FRO tried to take enforcement action against a man for support, even though he had custody of his children and their mother had abandoned them. After Ombudsman staff made inquiries and documentation was provided to confirm the children had been in the man’s care for several years, FRO agreed to terminate his support obligation.


Top 5 Case Topics

  • Family Responsibility Office: 1,036
  • Ontario Disability Support Program: 862
  • Children's aid societies: 471
  • Ontario Works: 248
  • Developmental services programs: 216

“I can’t thank you enough. I’m glad I followed through with this. I Googled it and saw [the Ombudsman’s annual] reports. I thought it’s worth a shot. I’m so glad I made that call.” email from complainant


Misinterpretation of a court order in one case cost a woman more than $4,600 in arrears owing to her, until our Office raised the case with FRO, and it reimbursed her.

In another case, FRO garnished $3,500 from a woman’s income tax refund and paid it to her ex-husband, even though she did not owe any arrears. She complained to us after FRO refunded her only $2,000 despite her repeated requests for the full amount. After our intervention, FRO confirmed its error and repaid her the remaining $1,500.

By the same token, we often hear from complainants that FRO is not doing enough to go after unpaid support – for example, a woman who was owed more than $67,000 in arrears sought our help when FRO told her the payor’s whereabouts were unknown; after we made inquiries, FRO completed a search that revealed employment information about the payor, allowing it to begin garnishing his wages.


Interjurisdictional Support Orders

Some 76 of the complaints we received about FRO related to its Interjurisdictional Support Orders unit (ISO), which works with agencies in other provinces or countries to enforce support where one of the parties lives outside of Ontario. This was an increase over the 58 ISO complaints we received last year. Common complaint topics included delays in processing information and issues with different procedures between jurisdictions.

For example, a woman who had not received payments from her ex-husband in the United Kingdom for several years complained to us that FRO had failed to provide officials there with information they required to register her order. As a result of our inquiries in this case, FRO agreed to review any other United Kingdom cases that might have similar issues. We are monitoring the results of this review, and FRO’s recent improvements to management and processes in the unit.


Change in leadership

Despite the high volume of complaints we continue to receive about FRO, our Office has observed some clear improvements through our case reviews, thanks to FRO’s new leadership and its focus on customer service. Concrete changes include the implementation of an internal complaint process in the Assistant Deputy Minister’s office, called the Resolution Unit. The unit’s role is twofold: First, to review and respond to public complaints that have not been resolved at lower levels; and second, to identify opportunities to improve FRO’s processes, policies and customer service strategies.

FRO staff have been responsive and proactive when we have identified issues in individual cases that that might affect many others. They have also demonstrated greater co-operation, transparency and responsiveness in dealing with clients and Ombudsman staff. Case resolutions often include corrective measures, and letters of apology are issued to acknowledge mistakes, errors and missed opportunities. Senior FRO staff regularly reach out to our Office to proactively flag cases, provide case updates, inform us of changes in administrative processes and procedures, and any potential systemic issues they are reviewing.


Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)

The ODSP is a social assistance program that provides income and employment supports to financially eligible Ontario residents who meet the legislated definition of disability. It also provides coverage for drug and dental needs and disability-related items. We received 862 complaints about ODSP in 2016-2017, a slight increase from last year’s 843, most of which related to customer service or decisions made by ODSP staff regarding eligibility for benefits.

Our approach to complaints from ODSP clients is to ensure they are aware of the appropriate appeal mechanisms and, if necessary, to facilitate resolution through contact with Ministry staff. We have received good co-operation from the Assistant Deputy Minister and other senior staff of the Social Assistance Operations Division of the Ministry.

For example, we contacted senior officials at ODSP after a man complained to us that he was unable to reach his case worker by phone, after waiting more than six months for the ODSP to authorize payment for a required medical device, and more than nine months for his special diet allowance request to be processed. An ODSP manager acknowledged the significant delays and arranged for the man’s requests to be processed, as well as for the case worker to be spoken to about ODSP service standards.

We also alerted the Ministry about 27 complaints we received after ODSP informed clients who receive $100 per month or more to purchase incontinence supplies that, as of June 2016, they would no longer receive the money directly, but would have to obtain supplies from an approved vendor, who is then reimbursed by ODSP. Clients complained to us that having to disclose their incontinence needs and ODSP recipient status to a vendor was embarrassing and potentially a breach of privacy.

Another concern we raised with the Ministry stemmed from a complaint we received from a woman who was in a long-term care home. She was worried that ODSP would deny her benefits after taking her husband’s income into account, even though her situation meant they had two sets of living expenses. Although ODSP approved her benefits, our inquiries revealed ODSP had no policy in place to deal with situations of involuntary separation of couples; its staff assessed on a case-by-case basis whether married applicants should simply apply for ODSP as individuals. The Ministry advised us that it plans to address this issue as part of its ongoing reform of social assistance.

It also agreed to amend legislation to allow women who are on parole, probation or serving conditional sentences to be eligible for ODSP benefits while they are living in halfway houses funded by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. This was as result of a case we received in 2015 that revealed a systemic loophole affecting these individuals.


Developmental services

Services for Ontarians with developmental disabilities continue to be a major source of complaints to our Office – particularly in light of issues raised in the Ombudsman’s August 2016 report, Nowhere to Turn (discussed under Investigations). Complaints increased significantly in this area in 2016-2017, to 216, compared to 156last year.

Common complaint topics included a lack of available residential placements and long waiting lists for adults with developmental disabilities, and scarce resources for family respite, behaviour supports and programming. We also heard many complaints about a lack of communication and planning for youths with developmental disabilities who will soon have to transition to adult services.

A dedicated team of Ombudsman staff is assigned to review these complaints and facilitate resolution where possible. Our focus is on whether Ministry staff are taking steps to ensure appropriate, timely and effective responses from community service agencies.

In one case, a single mother of a 26-year-old man with a developmental delay, aggressive behaviours and various medical issues sought our help after her son was hospitalized for aggressive behaviour. The hospital social worker advised both the local service agency and Developmental Services Ontario (DSO) that the man needed behaviour therapy and other supports, but the agency failed to respond to the worker or to calls from the DSO. Ombudsman staff raised the agency’s poor customer service with Ministry officials, who brought it to the agency’s attention, and the man was ultimately placed in a permanent group home.


Services for children with special needs

We received 34 complaints about services and treatment for children with special needs in 2016-2017, down from 46 the previous year. Common complaint topics include a lack of services and funding assistance, lengthy waiting lists for residential placements, and delays in receiving supports. Ombudsman staff liaise with the various community agencies and relevant Ministry officials to help families connect with appropriate service providers wherever possible.

In one case, the mother of a 17-year-old with a developmental disability, autism, and depression, who had twice had violent altercations with family members and whose behaviours were escalating, was told by her local service agency that it could not provide service to 16- and 17-year-olds. When Ombudsman staff made inquiries with a program supervisor at the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the Ministry acknowledged the gap in service, and worked with local agencies to obtain temporary funding and suitable supports for the family on an urgent basis.


Ontario Works

This is the first full fiscal year that our oversight has included Ontario Works, thanks to our new jurisdiction over municipalities. In many of the 248 cases we received, we heard from vulnerable people who lacked resources to navigate their local social assistance bureaucracy.

We sometimes encountered problems with frontline workers who were not familiar with our Office’s oversight role and procedures with regard to confidential information. We asked that all municipalities provide information about the Ombudsman’s authority to their staff, so they understand that they are allowed to answer our inquiries without delay.

In one case, we helped a northern Ontario man who lived more than four hours away from the city from which he had tried to obtain Ontario Works benefits. He had trouble understanding the application process because of a language barrier, and he had missed an appointment to do a telephone interview with an interpreter. We were able to communicate that a new appointment had been arranged for him. We also referred him to help through the local Legal Aid Ontario clinic.

In another case, a local Ontario Works office had approved the cost of a taxi to bring a man to his weekly counselling appointments, but gave the taxi company the incorrect address. When the man tried to correct the address, the taxi driver refused to go anywhere other than the address provided by Ontario Works. The man sought our help after he was unable to reach anyone to correct the mistake for more than four weeks; after we contacted Ontario Works, it rectified the error with the taxi company so he could resume his appointments.

We also clarified Ontario Works’ authority after it suspended a woman’s shelter benefits out of concern that the rent on her new apartment was too high, and it would not be a sustainable living situation. Although Ontario Works can withhold discretionary benefits, when we inquired about its ability to withhold a client’s shelter allowance on that basis, staff agreed to release her allowance so she could move into the new apartment.


Investigations

Services for adults with developmental disabilities in crisis

Report: Nowhere to Turn, released August 2016

Investigation update: Since the release of the Ombudsman’s report and 60 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the Ministry, it has made progress on several fronts. However, we also continue to receive complaints from families of adults with developmental disabilities who feel they still have nowhere to turn in their search for services, supports and appropriate housing. The investigation reviewed more than 1,400 complaints between November 2012 and the release of the report; between August 2016 and March 31, 2017, we received an additional 132 similar cases, many involving urgent, complex and disturbing situations.

The Ministry committed to providing the Ombudsman with reports on its progress every six months, and delivered the first in February 2017. The Ombudsman and senior staff have met with Ministry officials several times to discuss what concrete steps are being taken. We have also identified individual cases of adults with developmental disabilities who continue to be inappropriately housed in hospitals and long-term care homes – sometimes for years, and our senior staff meet with Ministry officials on a regular basis to find placement solutions.

“While we have made progress in addressing the Ombudsman’s recommendations, much work is still required to drive change in the developmental services sector. We’ve made progress in finding housing solutions, but there are still a number of individuals in Ontario with developmental disabilities living in inappropriate settings. We need to work more efficiently and in closer collaboration with our partners to deliver on our promise of real change because there are still too many people with developmental disabilities who are not receiving the services and supports they need. This is unacceptable.” Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek, statement on six-month report back to the Ombudsman, February 24, 2017
“We thank you for the comprehensive report and excellent recommendations that you have published. You have covered many of the difficulties faced by those with a dual diagnosis and their families. We know from our experience that the services for these adults are few and far between… We urge you to continue the reviews with the Ministry until the system is working again for all those who have an intellectual disability.” Concerned Parents of Toronto, letter to the Ombudsman, October 2016


Care and custody of children with severe special needs

Report: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, released May 2005

Investigation update: Even 12 years after the publication of this report, our Office continues to receive complaints from parents of children with severe special needs who are told that the only way they can obtain residential care for them is to surrender custody to children’s aid societies. We received 2 such complaints in 2016-2017. One was resolved, and we continue to follow up on the second.

The first case involved an 11-year-old boy with complex special needs who was under a temporary care agreement with a children’s aid society when his mother was told she would have to surrender custody permanently to continue to access special services for him. After our intervention, the Ministry confirmed that the proper procedure was not followed, and it initiated a review of all similar temporary care agreements in the region. It also expedited the mother’s application for complex special needs funding for the boy.

In the second case, the family of a 16-year-old boy with an intellectual disability and bipolar disorder also had a temporary care agreement with a children’s aid society. The agreement had ended in 2015, but the boy’s family stated they were in crisis and were not receiving sufficient supports. Our office flagged the case to Ministry staff who confirmed children’s aid society officials had investigated but identified no child protection issues. They have since been approved for Special Services at Home funding and for out-of-home supports. We continue to follow up with the Ministry on this case.


Case Summaries

Found Money

A woman who was owed more than $100,000 in support payments complained to us about FRO’s lack of enforcement action against her ex-husband, even though she had provided information about his assets, finance and employment situation. Our review of the case determined that FRO had failed to act, and as a result, it took several actions, including garnishing his wages and registering a lien against his property. The woman received almost $100,000 in less than a year.


No place like home

The parents of two adult sons with highly complex medical needs and developmental disabilities contacted our Office because they felt they were in crisis. They wanted to continue to care for their sons at home, but were experiencing their own health challenges. The sons needed round-the-clock care, the family’s funding through the Ministry’s Passport program was almost exhausted, and they had already received the maximum amount of personal support worker hours from the local Community Care Access Centre. After our Office made inquiries with a program supervisor, the Ministry of Community and Social Services collaborated with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to review the family’s case, and jointly provided funds for additional in-home supports.


Message mistake

After an ODSP recipient left her case worker a message asking about reporting employment income, she was surprised to discover her benefit entitlement was suspended. The worker had done this without even speaking to the woman – who was not actually employed, but only seeking information. She then could not reach the worker, and was worried she would not be able to pay her rent. Ombudsman staff contacted the ODSP manager, who ensured the suspension was lifted and the woman continued to receive her benefits.


Tale of two cities

A Toronto woman who was seeking rapid reinstatement of ODSP benefits was staying with a relative in Oshawa while undergoing medical treatment. The ODSP office in Oshawa told her she would have to apply through their Toronto office – but she was too ill to travel, and worried that she could not make ends meet without benefits. Our Office contacted the Oshawa office manager, who arranged to have a case worker visit her at her relative’s home and courier the requisite documents to the Toronto office, where her application was approved.


Municipalities

Overview & Trends in Cases

The Ombudsman’s jurisdiction over municipalities – which came into effect in January 2016 – responded to a strong, longstanding public demand. It also coincided with review of the main legislation governing municipalities, which culminated in the passage of Bill 68: Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act, 2017, in May 2017. The new law will bring significant changes to municipalities’ own internal accountability mechanisms and complaint processes, which will in turn affect how our Office handles cases relating to general municipal issues and complaints about closed municipal meetings.

We received 2,667 general complaints about 328 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017. Most general complaints were resolved quickly, without need for a formal investigation – in fact, the Ombudsman has only launched 4 formal investigations into general complaints about municipalities since January 2016, including one systemic investigation into non-competitive procurements in Brampton.


New legislation – accountability officers and open meeting exceptions

Our Office was consulted by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs as Bill 68 was developed, and the Ombudsman made a submission to the legislative committee before it was passed, recommending amendments based on our experience in overseeing municipalities. Significantly, the new law will require every municipality to have a code of conduct and to provide access to an integrity commissioner. The Ombudsman strongly supported these changes.

Municipalities will continue to have the option to appoint other accountability officers as well, such as a local ombudsman, lobbyist registrar and an auditor general. As of March 31, 2017, there was no official list, but to our Office’s knowledge, 84 municipalities had already appointed an integrity commissioner and 209 had a council code of conduct. We also know of 24 municipalities that had appointed a local ombudsman, 5 that had a lobbyist registrar and 3 an auditor general.

The legislation also makes a major change to the open meeting rules, permitting more exceptions to the requirement that all meetings of councils, committees and local boards must be open to the public. More information can be found in the next chapter of this report.


Councils and committees

By far, the most common topic of complaints about municipalities is local councils themselves. We received 509 such complaints in 2016-2017, comprising more than 19% of all municipal complaints – not including complaints about closed meetings. These came not just from members of the public, but also from municipal staff and members of council.


Top 5 Municipalities by Case Volume

  • Toronto: 305
  • Ottawa: 123
  • Hamilton: 86
  • London: 77
  • Sudbury: 64


Of course, some people complain because they disagree with decisions of council. Our Office cannot overturn decisions and generally focuses on administrative issues, but we have often suggested ways that councils and committees can improve their practices and procedures. For example, when two councillors from a small municipality complained about the way their council added items to agendas and kept minutes, we provided them with some information on best practices for recording meetings, which they raised with their council colleagues. As a result, the municipality revised its procedure by-law to specify what information should be included in meeting minutes.

Good to Know

Cases related to Ontario Works are summarized in the Social Services chapter of this report, and cases related to municipal hydro corporations appear in the Energy & Environment chapter.

A breakdown of cases by municipality can be found in the Appendix. For information about our investigations of closed municipal meetings, see the next chapter.


Codes of conduct and accountability officers

Many complaints relate to the conduct of members of council, which is why the Ombudsman has routinely suggested that all municipalities have codes of conduct, and supported this change in the new legislation. Our Office’s role is not to replace local accountability officers, but rather to ensure they function as they should. Over the past year, prior to the passage of Bill 68, Ombudsman staff frequently reached out to municipalities to explain the intended role of integrity commissioners.

Similarly, we advised several municipalities to address conflict of interest in their codes of conduct. One municipality had told a resident that municipalities were not allowed to do so, and she would have to pursue her complaint in court. We explained to the municipality that this was not the case, and in fact, it is a best practice, to catch concerns that fall outside the scope of Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

In a few cases, we reviewed complaints about the decisions of integrity commissioners, to determine whether they followed a fair practice and provided sufficient, evidence-based reasons. In one such review, we advised an integrity commissioner that he should link his findings to the applicable authority granted in the municipality’s terms of reference. We also reviewed a complaint that a local ombudsman’s report was tainted by an inherent conflict of interest, because the ombudsman was hired by the city. We found there was no issue with the relationship between the council and the local ombudsman.


Public conduct

We also advised several municipalities to establish policies for dealing with difficult behaviour, in light of complaints from residents who were banned from contacting municipal staff or accessing services – sometimes without explanation. When we receive a complaint from someone whose access to their municipality has been limited, such as through the imposition of a service restriction or trespass notice, we look at the process followed by the municipality to determine if it was fair, transparent, and based in a policy or by-law.


By-law enforcement

The 251 complaints we received in this area were divided amongst those who felt municipal bylaws were too heavy-handed, and those who felt they weren’t enforced enough. The enforcement of by-laws is discretionary, but our Office looks at administrative fairness; for example, whether or not a municipality enforces a bylaw in a fair and transparent manner.

We reviewed complaints from residents in one municipality who were confused by the fact that its by-law limited backyard fires, but its enforcement policy online was more lenient. When we raised this with municipal staff, they confirmed that they planned to bring the by-law to council to suggest that it be made consistent with the more lenient enforcement policy.


Housing

Many municipalities and social services administration boards provide or fund community housing services. We received 220 complaints about municipal housing in 2016-2017, several of which involved vulnerable people facing unsafe living conditions or eviction.

In one case, a tenant with a disability applied to her municipal housing authority for an additional bedroom to accommodate exercise and therapeutic equipment to help her manage pain. A local housing review panel denied her request, without explaining it clearly. When we contacted the panel, we were told the medical evidence the woman provided did not support her request, and they agreed to send her a letter explaining the reasons and how she could reapply if she obtained more medical evidence.

A woman who was living in a shelter contacted us after she was told her application to be added to a local housing registry was denied because she owed thousands of dollars in arrears to a former social housing provider. She was not aware that she owed any money, and our inquiries revealed that neither the local district social services administration board, nor the housing provider, had any record showing that she did. As a result, the board agreed not to enforce collection of the unverified arrears, and allowed her application to proceed.


Infrastructure, water and roads

We received 115 complaints about municipal water or sewer services in 2016-2017, relating to billing issues, water pipes, or customer service. We also received 101 complaints related to municipal infrastructure, chiefly roads.

In one case, a tenant who had been making automatic payments on his water bill built up a $600 credit. The municipality agreed to refund this money to him, but when he still hadn’t received it months later, he stopped paying. The municipality then sent him a bill for almost $400, including a late payment fee. We contacted the municipality, which told us the man’s landlord had sold the house and the credit owing was not transferred to the new account the municipality had created. It agreed to waive the late payment and to transfer the credit to the tenant’s new account.

In another case, a man complained that water flowed from the road in front of his home onto his property, causing flooding, and the municipality would not explain why it refused to install a curb to block the water. We spoke to municipal staff, who said they had explored several options and offered to install an asphalt gutter, but the man had refused. The municipality agreed to send him a detailed letter setting out the various options it had considered and the reasons for its decision to propose a gutter instead of a curb. It was the first written communication the man had received in more than three years of dealing with the municipality on this issue, and he appreciated being provided with its reasons, even though it wasn’t the outcome he sought.

Investigations

Trespass notice against councillor in Red Rock

Report: Counter Encounter, released May 2017

Red Rock is a township on the north shore of Lake Superior, with fewer than 900 residents. This investigation involved the unusual situation of an elected member of council who was banned from municipal property during business hours. The trespass notice had been in effect since before the councillor was elected, after a municipal employee complained that an interaction with him when he went to file his nomination papers for the 2014 election left her feeling uncomfortable. The councillor complained to our Office that the municipality’s process for issuing the ban against him was unfair.

As we do with all complaints we receive, Ombudsman staff worked to resolve the matter without a formal investigation. However, after repeated attempts to do so were unsuccessful, the Ombudsman opted to launch an investigation, and investigators went to Red Rock to conduct in-person interviews and gather information.

We discovered that the township’s Clerk/Chief Administrative Officer, who witnessed the events leading up to the complaint and also investigated them, issued the trespass notice without reporting to council, contrary to township policy. The ban remained in force since 2014, even though there were no further incidents.

The Ombudsman made 11 recommendations to the township to improve its practices and policies, including that it immediately withdraw the trespass order. Not only did the township not accept this recommendation, it had police remove the councillor from the meeting at which our preliminary report was discussed. The Ombudsman found the township’s actions to be unreasonable, unjust and contrary to law – and urged Red Rock council to reconsider its position with the public interest in mind.


Non-competitive procurements in Brampton

Report: Procuring Progress, released March 2017

In May 2016, at the request of the city of Brampton, the Ombudsman launched an investigation into the city’s policies, by-laws and procedures regarding non-competitive procurements, and ultimately found no evidence of maladministration. However, in the interest of improving transparency and accountability in Brampton as well as other municipalities, the Ombudsman’s report on the investigation identified several ways the city could improve its practices and oversight of purchasing. These included appointing an auditor general, increasing training for staff and council members, and adding qualified members of the public to the city’s audit committee.

City officials noted that many of the suggested improvements were in line with changes already underway, and Mayor Linda Jeffrey issued a statement in support of establishing an independent auditor general.


Top 5 Case Topics

  • Council / committees: 509
  • By-law enforcement: 251
  • Ontario Works: 248
  • Housing: 220
  • Hydro / electricity: 194
“I thank the Ombudsman for his report. His findings reinforce [our] commitments and provide clear recommendations on furthering transparency and accountability… I am therefore supportive of the Ombudsman’s recommendation in establishing a permanent, independent Auditor General to provide external oversight of the City.” Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey, press release, March 6, 2017

Case summaries

Rude Awakening

A man complained to his municipality after a member of council called him names in an email. He was not satisfied when the mayor offered to bring him and the councillor together for a private meeting. Ombudsman staff suggested he raise his concerns with the municipal clerk, but this prompted another disparaging email from the councillor. Our Office suggested that the municipality seek the assistance of its newly appointed integrity commissioner for training on dealing with difficult complainants. The municipality accepted this feedback.


Building good policies

A man who had a complaint about his municipality’s chief building official contacted our Office because his municipality did not have a code of conduct in place, even though this is required by the Building Code Act. We spoke to the municipality and confirmed that it had taken steps to respond to the man’s concerns. Still, we pointed out that it should have a publicly available complaints procedure and code of conduct for its chief building official. It has since established a code of conduct and posted it on its website.


All Wet

After a man complained to us that his municipality had not responded to his letter about flood damage to his basement, municipal staff initially told us they didn’t answer because they deemed the complaint to be without merit. They then sent the man a letter in which they made findings about water and drainage on his property. However, when we asked about this, staff conceded they were not actually qualified to make these findings and committed to send qualified inspectors to his property.


Sold Out

A man contacted our Office after his municipality closed and sold a road allowance adjacent to his property. His family had used the land to access the river, but they were not notified by the municipality or given the chance to purchase a portion of the land, contrary to municipal policy. The municipality initially told him it had correctly followed procedure, but when our Office intervened, staff and the mayor conceded that the policy, which had been affected by a change to provincial legislation, was not followed. Given that the land no longer belonged to the municipality, we suggested it make a sincere apology to the man. The municipality acknowledged its mistake and issued a written apology to the resident.

Good to Know

Looking for more information on how we handle cases related to municipalities? Watch our webinar on our website – available in English and French under “video resources

“The Ombudsman is not an enemy to us. The Ombudsman is there to ensure we’re following the format that is recommended in the Municipal Act.” Timmins Mayor Steve Black, quoted by Timmins Daily Press, November 9, 2016

Municipalities - Closed Meetings

Overview & Trends in Cases

Our Office has investigated complaints about closed municipal meetings since 2008. However, with our mandate expanded to all aspects of municipal government as of 2016, complaints about closed meetings have declined – to 109 in 2016-2017, from 195 the previous fiscal year. As of March 31, 2017, our Office was the closed meeting investigator for 218 of the province’s 444 municipalities.

The decline in complaints is most likely because prior to 2016, the only way Ontarians could bring concerns about municipalities to us was to do so via a closed meeting complaint. Now, closed meeting complaints tend to be directly related to transparency in municipal governance, not other issues – and a higher proportion result in findings that the municipal body violated the open meeting rules.

We looked into 76 complaints about municipalities where our office was the investigator (the rest were referred accordingly). We reviewed 42 meetings of 41 different councils, committees or local boards. The Ombudsman found 43% of the meetings reviewed (18) were illegal under s. 239 of the Municipal Act, 2001 – an increase of about 13% over the period covered in our last Annual Report. The Ombudsman also found 22 violations of the procedural requirements of the Act, and made 33 “best practice” recommendations. In most cases, we received excellent co-operation from municipal officials, and our recommendations were implemented.


Closed Meeting Cases

  • We received 76 complaints
  • 42 meetings in 41 municipalities
  • 30 reports and letters issued
  • 22 procedural violations found
  • 18 meetings found illegal
  • 33 best practices recommended
  • 43% of meetings reviewed were illegal


Education, outreach and report database

With the recent changes to our mandate and to municipal legislation, we have worked to educate the public and municipal stakeholders about our role and the difference between a closed meeting investigator and an integrity commissioner. We also encountered several local boards that were not aware that they were subject to the open meeting rules - and were holding illegal meetings, until our Office investigated and recommended that their municipalities train all board members on the rules.

Closed meeting cases tend to be quite different from our work with more general complaints, which rarely result in formal investigations. Whether they are conducted by our Office or another investigator appointed by the municipality, closed meeting investigations must focus strictly on the open meeting requirements in the Municipal Act, 2001. They involve considerable legal analysis, which is set out in reports and recommendations aimed at improving the transparency of municipal practices and procedures.

There is no central library where closed meeting investigator reports can be searched, although all of our Office’s reports are on our website and on the Canadian online legal decision portal, CanLii. However, later in fiscal 2017-2018, we plan to publish a searchable digital digest of closed meeting cases through our website, for the benefit of municipal officials and anyone interested in municipal law and governance.


Exceptions to the rule

Closed meeting investigations centre on requirements in the Municipal Act, 2001 that say all meetings of municipal councils, local boards or committees must be open to the public, unless they meet certain narrow criteria. The exceptions to the open meeting requirements are set out in s. 239 of the Act, but most are discretionary; they involve such topics as personal matters about an identifiable individual, acquisition or disposition of land, labour relations or litigation. The Ombudsman recommends that municipalities keep meetings open to the public wherever possible.


New law, new exceptions

With the passage of Bill 68, the Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act, 2017, four new exceptions have been added, which will allow municipalities to close meetings in more circumstances: For example, when discussing confidential information supplied by another government body, a “trade secret,” certain types of financial information, or a plan for negotiations. We investigated several cases in 2016-2017 where councils and local boards – including the Town of Grimsby, City of Niagara Falls, and the Niagara District Airport Commission – illegally closed meetings to protect allegedly sensitive business information, prior to the new law being passed.

When the bill was considered by the Standing Committee on Social Policy on April 11, 2017, both the Ombudsman and the Information and Privacy Commissioner, among others, argued against these new exceptions, on the grounds that they were too broad and could potentially reduce municipal transparency. However, both supported the law’s new, clearer definition of a “meeting” as “any regular, special or other meeting of a council, or a local board or of a committee of either of them, where, (a) a quorum of members is present, and (b) members discuss or otherwise deal with any matter in a way that materially advances the business or decision-making of the council, local board or committee.”.

The new law will also require municipalities to respond to closed meeting reports. They will have to pass a resolution stating how they intend to address each report.

Good To Know

A breakdown of cases by municipality can be found in the Appendix.

Most commonly used – and misused – exceptions

The exception most often cited for closing meetings is s. 239(2)(b), for discussions about “ personal matters about an identifiable individual” This is also the most incorrectly cited exception, as municipalities grapple with what counts as “personal.”

Among the cases we looked at in 2016-2017, the Laird Fairgrounds Management Board held a discussion that fit the exception when it talked about individuals in a way that went beyond their professional capacity. So did the Municipality of Temagami council when it went in camera to talk about unproven allegations about the mayor.

Similarly, when the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands, the City of Greater Sudbury, and the City of London talked about the skills, work experience, performance or conduct of specific individuals, their discussions fit within the exception. When council for the Township of Russell discussed the salaries of specific employees, it constituted personal matters – but their discussion of councillor remuneration did not.

Nor did the Town of Amherstburg’s discussion about reimbursing a councillor for expenses incurred in an official capacity.

Discussions that touch on legal matters can also result in confusion and potential complaints, if the exceptions for “solicitor-client privilege” or “litigation or potential litigation” are incorrectly cited.

For example, when the City of Niagara Falls closed a meeting at which the city’s lawyer was present, but did not provide any advice or even participate in the discussion, it did not fit within the “solicitor-client privilege” exception. Nor did the Niagara District Airport Commission’s meeting to discuss a topic that it intended to seek legal advice about in the future. However, in meetings held by the Municipality of Temagami, the Town of Amherstburg, the City of Timmins and the City of Greater Sudbury, lawyers were not present but legal advice was provided in writing or conveyed by staff; these meetings were within the exception.

The “litigation or potential litigation” exception can be used when there is a reasonable prospect of litigation – as council for the Township of Georgian Bay did after receiving verbal threats of litigation from community members over the zoning relating to a dock. Similarly, the Municipality of Brockton and the Walkerton Business Improvement Area closed meetings that fit within this exception after receiving a lawyer’s letter requesting specific action. However, the Town of Grimsby was not entitled to rely on the exception when it discussed a contentious topic in camera out of concern that it might attract litigation in the future.

Good to Know

Reports on the cases cited in this chapter can be found on our website.


According to procedure

The Municipal Act sets out requirements for procedures that must be followed to ensure the public can observe local government in process. These include giving public notice of meetings and passing a resolution in open session before closing a meeting. We investigated several cases this fiscal year in which municipalities failed to follow procedure. For instance, a committee meeting in the Township of Hornepayne was illegal because it was held without any notice to the public.

Every municipality and local board must pass a procedure by-law that provides for public notice of meetings. We recommended improvements to several municipal procedure by-laws to specify how and when public notice of meetings is given.

We also found several procedural violations where councils closed meetings without giving information about the matters to be discussed before doing so – including Norfolk County and the cities of Timmins, Brockville and Greater Sudbury. In other cases, we cautioned councils like that of the Town of Amhertsburg not to stray from the topics cited in the resolution once they were in closed session.


This is a recording

The Act requires that minutes be taken of all meetings, whether or not they are open to the public – and they should include substantive details of the matters discussed. The cities of Timmins and Greater Sudbury both failed to include enough detail in their minutes of closed meetings in recent cases we investigated.

Our Office routinely recommends that councils make audio or video recordings of all meetings, including closed ones, to ensure the most reliable records. We are aware of at least 19 municipalities that have approved this practice, with the City of London voting in March 2017 to do so, joining the cities of Oshawa, Brampton, Niagara Falls andWelland, among others.


Case Summaries

Learning opportunity

Council for the City of Oshawa held a closed meeting on December 17, 2015, to hear from the city-owned Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation. The meeting was closed under the exception for “education or training,” and the resolution indicated that the corporation would be educating council about “local distribution company trends.” However, during the closed meeting, council was provided with information about a proposed merger between the corporation and another, and given the opportunity to ask questions about it. Although council did not debate the merger or make a decision, the information presented and the questions asked by councillors materially advanced council’s business and decision-making, constituting an illegal meeting, outside the scope of “education or training.”


Too Secret

When council for the City of Timmins went in camera on June 27, 2016 to talk about the city’s Chief Administrative Officer retiring, the discussion fit within the exception for personal matters. However, council went on to discuss the recruitment process to replace him, which did not fit within any of the exceptions in the Municipal Act. Council also decided during the closed meeting to form a hiring committee and used a secret ballot process to appoint members – this was illegal, as the Act prohibits such votes in closed sessions.

“Our council is always fully co-operative with the [Ombudsman’s] process and we are very cautious about the reasons for when we go in camera… It is healthy in our democracy for this level of oversight… I welcome the investigation as I do with all of them.” London Councillor Josh Morgan, quoted by Blackburn News, November 23, 2016

Education: Provincial Ministries & Programs

Overview & Trends in Cases

At the provincial level, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD) are responsible for everything from early childhood education through to post-secondary and post-graduate studies, as well as various assistance programs for students. However, individual school boards – discussed in the next chapter of this report – deal with day-to-day administration of schooling children through Grade 12. And although the MAESD directly administers Ontario’s colleges of applied arts and technology, private career colleges and other training programs, universities have a different governance structure – see the Universities chapter of this report.

We received only 52 general complaints about the Ministry of Education in 2016-2017, a significant drop from 256 the previous year. Complaints about the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (formerly the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities) also declined to 396 from 501 in 2015-2016, when it was still dealing with issues related to the sudden closure of Everest College in February 2015.


Colleges of applied arts and technology

Complaints about Ontario’s 24 colleges of applied arts and technology increased to 161 in 2016-2017 from 137 the previous year. Similar to the complaints we receive about universities, the most common issues were fees, academic decisions, program requirements and disability accommodations for students. We also received complaints about tuition refunds, instructor conduct, college labour relations matters, and issues of bullying and harassment.

We resolved most complaints informally through referral to officials at the colleges in question, or to the Ministry (or in the case of labour matters, to the appropriate professional association). As an office of last resort, we look at whether the college has established and followed fair procedures. For example, one student complained to us after his college suspended him for misconduct and required him to undergo a psychological assessment before he could return to classes. We reviewed the evidence considered by the college’s appeal panel and determined it had followed its procedures.

Similarly, when a student’s mother complained about her daughter failing a college course, we confirmed that the college had a clear, two-stage grade appeals process, which the student had not pursued after her first attempt at appealing her mark.

However, when a student from the U.S. was told he could not enrol in an Ontario college because the assessment of his high school credentials was delayed by a firm used by the Ministry, our staff spoke to the college on his behalf. Rather than make him wait another year to start classes, the college permitted him to write a Grade 12 math equivalency test, which he passed, enabling him to enrol.

Another college agreed to make more information available about insurance eligibility for students with permanent disabilities after a woman complained that the student health insurance plan provided her less coverage than expected. Our inquiries with the college confirmed that, as an accommodated student, she was eligible for full coverage while taking a 40% course load. She had fallen below that threshold when she dropped a course, but was not aware of this. The college has since initiated efforts to improve its communications to students about health coverage.


Top 5 Case Topics

  • Colleges of applied arts and technology: 161
  • Ontario Student Assistance Program: 134
  • Second Career: 35
  • Private career colleges: 22
  • College of Trades: 20

Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP)

Complaints about OSAP, which provides grants and loans to college and university students, declined to 134 in 2016-2017 from 155 the previous year. These commonly involved issues with OSAP decisions, delays or communications.

For example, OSAP put a hold on a student’s application for assistance for the 2016-2017 academic year because it wanted her to provide information from 2005, when she had claimed bankruptcy. The student told us she had already submitted information about this to OSAP in 2010 and 2014, and that her post-secondary institution had it on file. Our staff contacted OSAP and pointed out that its delay was preventing the student from paying her tuition. OSAP reviewed her file, confirmed the information already provided was sufficient, and the student received the funding she applied for.


Second Career

The Second Career program offers skills training and financial support for laid-off, unemployed or underemployed workers, or others who want to train for new work. We received 35 complaints about the program, up from 28 in 2015-2016 – most of which related to the program’s decisions on funding eligibility or service issues.

In one case where we helped a Second Career applicant, our intervention also prompted a provincewide change to the program’s guidelines. A man training to become an electrician was told his application was denied because his training provider was not on the Ministry’s approved list. The man contacted the school, which verified that it had other students whose training was funded through Second Career. After Ombudsman staff spoke with a regional official, the Ministry’s Program Development Branch reviewed the Second Career guidelines and determined that all pre-apprentices are eligible for the program, even if their training delivery agent is non-approved. The man’s application was approved and we were advised that the new guidelines would be made available publicly across the province.


Ontario College of Trades

Our Office received 20 complaints about the College of Trades’ increase in registration fees, as well as delays in receiving the results of trade certification examinations. Most of these complaints were resolved through informal referral to the college’s staff or complaint process. For example, when a man complained that he hadn’t received his trade certification in over a month, and he needed it to obtain work, our staff made inquiries with the college. We were told that it normally takes 4-6 weeks to send out certifications, but college officials agreed to expedite a copy so the man could use it for employment purposes.

Good to Know

Cases related to school boards and universities are summarized separately in the next two chapters of this report.


Investigations

Monitoring of unlicensed daycares

Report: Careless About Child Care, released October 2014

Investigation update: The Ombudsman’s investigation into unlicensed daycares was launched after the July 2013 death of two-year-old Eva Ravikovich at an illegal unlicensed daycare in Vaughan – the fourth death of a child in an unlicenced daycare in seven months. The Ministry of Education implemented all 113 of the Ombudsman’s recommendations to strengthen monitoring of unlicensed daycares and improve inspections and enforcement.

In April 2017, the operator of the illegal Vaughan daycare pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death, admitting for the first time that there were more than 35 children in the daycare and that Eva had been left for seven hours in a vehicle, where she died of heatstroke.


Case Summaries

Zero Balance

A student enrolled in a college’s early childhood education program, but was unable to attend. She did inform the college, but because she missed the deadline to withdraw from the course, she received a grade of zero and had to pay $1,400 in outstanding program fees. Our review determined that there had been miscommunication between the student and college administrators. As a result of our intervention, she was refunded the $1,400, and the zero grade was removed from her transcript.

Not a loan

A student who moved back home to live with her parents in the last semester of her two-year college program complained that her OSAP funding was denied. Her parents were both significantly ill and had lent her $5,000 from their retirement fund to pay for school. Ombudsman staff reached out to OSAP to reassess the student’s application, which incorrectly identified the loan from her parents as a financial asset. As a result, OSAP provided the student with $1,880 in grants.

Good To Know

A breakdown of cases by college can be found in the Appendix


Education: School Boards

Overview & Trends in Cases

The Ombudsman’s new oversight of school boards took effect on September 1, 2015, meaning almost two full school years have elapsed since we began taking school board complaints. The volume of complaints has increased steadily as awareness about our oversight has grown: We received 945 cases in fiscal 2016-2017, compared to 398 in the seven-month period of 2015-2016 after our new mandate began. The number of boards complained about also grew – to 64 from 54 last year.

The main topics of complaint remained consistent. Transportation (school buses) was the most common complaint, mainly because of busing problems in Toronto at the start of the school year in September 2016. The Ombudsman launched a systemic investigation into the Toronto situation, but we also resolved dozens of complaints about transportation at other boards across the province.

Special education and school closures continued to be major areas of complaint as well. All complaints were resolved informally, without need for a formal investigation. In most cases, our staff made informal inquiries with supervisory officers at boards to understand their responses to complaints and, where possible, to suggest improvements to their processes and increase transparency.

In reviewing complaints from across the province, we have also noticed some variations in school board policies and administrative procedures. Where appropriate, we have made suggestions to boards to promote consistent standards – for example, in training school board administrators in investigation and note-taking techniques. We also routinely encourage school boards to share as much information as possible with relevant staff and stakeholders when, for example, individual education or behavioural plans are put in place for students.

 

Transportation

Transportation was by far the most common theme among school board complaints in 2016-2017, with 192 cases – the bulk of which related to our systemic investigation into busing issues in Toronto (described under Investigations). However, we also resolved many complaints about busing issues in other boards across the province through informal inquiries with board and transportation officials.

For example, when their board’s transportation consortium cancelled school buses in their neighbourhood because a new development provided a walking route for many of the children, parents complained about dangerous traffic conditions along the route. Our review indicated the consortium’s decision was consistent with the school board’s policy; however, we are monitoring developments, as the consortium has agreed to work with a traffic committee created by the municipality.

Cases by Type of Board

  • 945 total
  • 583 English public boards
  • 268 English Catholic boards
  • 13 French public boards
  • 20 French Catholic boards
  • 61 Board or school not specified
 

Special Education

We received 123 cases related to concerns about special education. In some cases, we provided referrals back to relevant supervisory officers and appeal mechanisms. For those complaints related to the quality or sufficiency of special education services, our staff worked to help parents and boards resolve issues informally. Although our Office does not advocate for either families or boards, or for specific solutions, we can help open the lines of communication.

School closures and pupil accommodation reviews

Decisions to close schools are almost always contentious, and they have recently been on the rise as boards struggle with declining enrolment. In the wake of several public protests and media reports of hundreds of pending closures, particularly in rural areas, the Education Minister announced public consultations on the issue in April 2017.

The Ministry has specific guidelines for how boards should determine which schools to close and how such decisions can be appealed. Boards must complete a pupil accommodation review process, which can be challenged if a petition is signed by at least 30% of those affected; this in turn can prompt the Ministry to appoint a facilitator to review the board’s process.

We received 90 complaints about board decisions to close schools and/or their pupil accommodation review processes. For example, we received several complaints from parents about the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board’s decision to close two schools, which we first referred to the Ministry’s review process. After the Ministry declined to appoint a facilitator, some of the original complainants returned to our Office with concerns outside the scope of that review – including issues with the board’s procedural bylaw and allegations that a trustee might have had a conflict of interest because her daughter worked at one of the affected schools.

In a letter that the board posted on its website, Ombudsman staff explained that our review found the board had acted within its authority to close the schools, but it also agreed to clarify some of its procedures in the interest in transparency.

We also received complaints about the Ministry’s refusal to appoint a facilitator to review another board’s pupil accommodation process. We found the Ministry’s decision was consistent with its policy and procedures, but we noted that it had not communicated its decision to the broader school community. The Ministry agreed to ensure its letter was posted to the school board’s website, and to make similar letters publicly available in future.


Top 5 Case Topics

  • Transportation (busing) 192
  • Staff and trustee conduct 142
  • Special education 123
  • Student safety 92
  • School closings / accommodation reviews 90

 

Trustee Conduct

We received 42 complaints about the conduct of elected school trustees, including some from trustees themselves, who raised concerns about their boards’ codes of conduct. We encourage boards to communicate clearly with the public about how any concerns about trustees will be handled.

In reviewing such cases, we suggested ways for boards to improve their codes of conduct and processes for dealing with conduct issues.

For example, when the Rainbow District School Board excluded a trustee from in-camera meetings because of concerns related to the confidentiality of board communications, we reviewed complaints from the trustee that the board hadn’t followed its own code of conduct procedures. We found that the board’s action in this case was inconsistent with its procedures, and we suggested it deal with the trustee’s concerns at a meeting, and amend its code of conduct. Certain other amendments proposed by the board chair were defeated by the board at a meeting in March 2017. We continue to monitor the board’s efforts to improve its code of conduct procedures.

Our Office often suggests school boards consider retaining an independent third party to act as an integrity commissioner for trustees. At the time this report was written, only the Toronto District School Board had one in place, and York Region District School Board was in the process of doing so. Integrity commissioners can provide trustees with advice and independently investigate and report to the board on conduct complaints.

 

Exclusion policies and procedures

In last year’s Annual Report, we noted concerns about a provision of the Education Act that permits principals to exclude people, including students, from a school if there is a risk to student safety. These exclusions – formally called a “refusal to admit” in the Act – happen outside of the formal suspension and expulsion processes, usually to manage difficult situations involving students with severe behavioural issues. Only a few boards have developed exclusion policies and procedures, and we have heard from some that policy direction from the Ministry of Education has been lacking, often leaving boards to fend for themselves when dealing with contentious and difficult exclusions.

Our Office encourages school boards to develop policies and procedures to ensure the process leading to an exclusion is fair and transparent, and that those affected by exclusions are made aware of their appeal rights. In one case we reviewed, a student was excluded from school because of police-involved incidents that took place outside of school, but his family was not informed of their right to appeal. Because the board was providing the student with home instruction, it believed the exclusion provision of the Education Act did not apply. After Ombudsman staff made inquiries, the board acknowledged the family should have been made aware of the relevant appeal rights, and it agreed to develop an administrative procedure on exclusions.

Top 5 School Boards by Case Volume

  • Toronto District School Board 145
  • Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board 83
  • Ottawa-Carleton District School Board 80
  • Toronto Catholic District School Board 71
  • York Region District School Board 40
 

Investigations

School busing issues in Toronto

Launched: September 2016

Investigation update: On the first day of school in September 2016, our Office began receiving complaints from frustrated Toronto parents and school principals about school buses that arrived long after their scheduled times, or didn’t show up at all. The problem continued and grew over the next several weeks. At issue was a shortage of drivers that left both the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District School Board – which share the same transportation consortium – unprepared.

Parents were concerned about long waits for buses and the safety of children who were left behind or dropped off in the wrong places. Principals were upset that they had received no advance information about possible service disruptions. Several bus drivers also complained to us about conditions that they felt contributed to the problem.

Given the volume and gravity of complaints expressed to our Office, the impact on families and some vulnerable students, and the significant taxpayer funding involved, the Ombudsman felt a systemic investigation was in the public interest. Launched on September 26, 2016, the investigation focused on the boards’ oversight of student transportation and their responses to the delays and disruptions at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

As of the writing of this report, the Ombudsman’s findings had been sent to the boards and consortium for a response. The report will be finalized and released before the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

 

Case Summaries

Credit Deserved

The parent of a high school student with autism spectrum disorder contacted us after she was informed by her son’s school that he would not receive credit for one of his courses because he had not met course expectations. The mother’s understanding was that her son had passed all tests and assignments. Ombudsman staff spoke with a superintendent and encouraged the board to review the mother’s concerns and provide any relevant documentation to ensure a transparent decision-making process. The board determined that although a teacher had concerns about the student’s performance, there was no documentation to show he had not met expectations; as a result, he received the credit with a grade of 84%.

Monitors, not medics

The mother of a five-year-old girl with medical needs enrolled her in a special program after she was told a bus monitor would be assigned to administer the child’s medication if needed. But in fact, bus monitors are not trained to give any medication except EpiPens or asthma inhalers in certain situations. After the mother opted to withdraw her daughter from the program, the school board and transportation consortium revised their busing request forms and process to clarify the duties of bus monitors.


Education: Universities

Overview & Trends in Cases

Colleges and universities are similar in many respects, including in the types of complaints they generate. But unlike colleges, which are directly overseen by the province and have always been within our mandate, universities have a different governance structure and were not part of our jurisdiction until legislative changes took effect in January 2016.

The 2016-2017 fiscal year is our first full year of oversight of Ontario’s 21 publicly assisted universities. We received 175 complaints about 19 different universities, and all were resolved through informal inquiries or referrals, without need for formal investigation. Common complaints were not unlike those we received about colleges – relating to academic decisions and appeals, fees, admissions and program requirements.

In many cases, we were able to refer complaints to the university’s own ombudsman, which exist in various forms at about half of the universities in the province. We encourage all universities to establish independent and impartial ombudsman offices, as well as clear complaint processes. As an office of last resort, we do not replace or redo the work of the university ombudsman or other appeal bodies, but we can review whether the university’s processes and policies were fairly followed.

We also received complaints about employment or labour relations matters from university staff. These were referred to the relevant unions or professional associations.

Good to Know

A breakdown of cases by university can be found in the Appendix.


Top 5 Case Topics

  • Academic appeals: 27
  • Tuition, fees, financial assistance: 21
  • Admissions: 19
  • Labour issues: 16
  • Staff / faculty: 13

 

Graduate supervision and academic appeals

Academic decisions and appeals were the most common topic of complaint regarding universities in 2016-2017. Many of these related to decisions by supervisors of graduate students, or the adequacy of supervision. We refer such complaints to the appropriate academic appeal mechanism at the university, although we can review the final outcome if a student is not satisfied.

If our review identifies any gaps in relevant policies and procedures, we can make suggestions for improvement. In one case, we helped a PhD candidate who was denied the opportunity to appeal his failure of a comprehensive exam. The university had said the decision was not appealable, but after we reviewed and inquired about its rationale, it acknowledged it had misapplied its policy and allowed the student to proceed with his appeal.

We can also make suggestions to help universities improve the clarity, fairness or flexibility of their appeal processes. For example, a student complained to us that his university had unnecessarily delayed his academic appeal after he complained that a professor did not accommodate his needs. We found the professor had acted in accordance with university policy, but we discovered the student’s academic appeal had been suspended by the university after it learned the case might be subject to legal action – and it had not informed the student of the suspension. We suggested the university clarify its policy and notice requirements for students whose appeals are suspended.

 

Fees and Ontario Universities Application Centre

Complaints about university fees and admissions are quite common, and we are usually able to resolve these through referrals and inquiries with relevant officials at the university level. We have also received a few complaints related to the Ontario Universities Application Centre, which is a not-for-profit agency that reports to the Council of Ontario Universities and charges fees to process students’ applications to universities across the province. As the OUAC appears to lack independent oversight, our Office is monitoring how individual universities and the province respond to concerns about its fees.

 

Mental health and special needs accommodations

Working with students who present needs related to mental health is a recurring theme in the university cases we review. When students complain to us about how the university is – or is not – accommodating their special needs, we refer them to the university’s accommodation policies and procedures, and may make suggestions for improvement as appropriate. If students have concerns under the Human Rights Code, we can refer them to the Human Rights Legal Support Centre or Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

Several cases we reviewed were resolved after we determined that the universities in question acted according to their policies and procedures. These included a case where a student was unhappy with the university imposing a behaviour contract on her after she complained that comments made by university staff had caused her mental distress, and another where a student alleged discrimination because a university would not accommodate her request for an assignment extension.

 

Case Summaries

Looking for Answers

A student complained to us that his university had failed to respond to him on several matters, including a grade appeal, requests for a bursary and a refund for a dropped course. We made several inquiries with the university and found that it had not effectively communicated its process or decisions to the student, despite having taken action in response to some of his concerns. The university wrote to the student, explaining the university’s position and what actions had been taken.

To be fair

A student who had been expelled from university after an academic fraud inquiry complained to us that the university failed to respond to its own ombudsman’s report on his case, which raised concerns about the fairness of the inquiry and the sanctions it imposed. The university had changed its discipline policy in response, but refused to reopen the case. We reviewed the university ombudsman’s report, relevant documentation and policies, and spoke with senior administrators. Although our review did not change the outcome for the student, the university accepted our suggestion that it develop a procedural fairness guide for its decision-making bodies.


Top 5 Universities by Case Volume

  • University of Toronto: 28
  • McMaster University: 15
  • York University: 12
  • Western University, Laurentian University, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, University of Waterloo: 11
  • University of Ottawa: 10

Employment

Overview & Trends in Cases

Complaints in this category declined substantially in 2016-2017, as total complaints about the Ministry of Labour dropped to 692 from 828 the previous year. As in the past, the bulk of these complaints were about the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and the tribunal that deals with WSIB appeals, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT) – although complaint volumes for both declined from last year. We received 492 complaints about WSIB (compared to 594 the previous year), and 100 about WSIAT (down from 128).

Due to the high volume of complaints, our Office has assessed systemic issues at WSIB and WSIAT, including delays and adjudicator shortages. We also work to resolve individual cases wherever possible, and refer people to the Fair Practices Commission (the WSIB’s internal ombudsman) or the offices of the Worker Adviser or Employment Adviser, as appropriate.

 

Worker claims of chronic psychological injury

We received complaints in November 2016 from several community legal clinics and labour specialists, as well as some workers’ groups and individuals about how WSIB deals with compensation claims related to chronic stress in the workplace. Among their concerns was that WSIB does not compensate workers for injuries incurred through chronic mental stress at work (as opposed to those incurred by a single incident of acute stress), and that workers instead must pursue lengthy and often costly appeals to have their claims considered.

In January 2017, the Ombudsman met with the Deputy Minister of Labour, who advised that the Ministry was expecting to receive government direction on this issue within the coming months. In the April 2017 budget, the government announced that workers will receive compensation for injuries caused by chronic or traumatic mental stress arising from their employment. We continue to monitor this issue.

 

Clothing allowance for injured workers

Last year, we reported on a longstanding issue involving WSIB’s decision to provide only partial clothing allowances to workers who used soft back braces between 1996 and 2006 (even though before and after this period, it paid full compensation to workers whose clothing was damaged by braces). After our intervention, the WSIB agreed to contact all workers who believed they were not fairly compensated, and in October 2016, it sent letters to those who were potentially eligible for additional compensation. As of March 31, 2017, some 4,100 people had made claims using the new process, and all were compensated.

 

Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program

Another employment-related complaint trend we noted this year involved the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration’s program to nominate immigrants who are skilled workers, entrepreneurs, international students and staff of international corporations.

We received 15 complaints about the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program in 2016-2017, almost all of which were about delays and communication problems. Although the Ministry had publicized a 90-day service standard, some people told us they waited for decisions for more than a year – for some, this meant they had to incur additional costs to retake language tests and resubmit their applications.

Ombudsman staff met with senior Ministry officials, who said the program had recently experienced a surge in applications, overwhelming its service standards. In May 2016, it temporarily suspended applications to process those already received, pending the launch of a new online application process. When it reopened applications for international graduate students and skilled workers in February 2017, would-be applicants complained that the online process, which required them to submit their applications within seven days, was not working. Ministry officials advised us that there were technical difficulties due to high demand, but it extended deadlines and increased the capacity of the filing portal, and committed to providing public updates on its website.


Top Case Topics

  • Workplace Safety and Insurance Board: 492
  • Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal: 100

 

Investigations

Systemic issue assessment: Medical advice to WSIB

Launched: November 2015

After the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and the Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups (ONIWG) released a report in November 2015 alleging that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board was not dealing fairly with injured workers’ medical information, Ombudsman investigators began an assessment of WSIB’s management of medical advice for injured workers.

In 2016-2017, the Ombudsman met with the President and Chief Executive Officer of WSIB, as well as senior staff from the OFL and ONIWG, and other groups representing injured workers, and Special Ombudsman Response Team investigators spoke with workers’ groups and health care professionals about the issue of medical consultants. The Ombudsman noted that there appeared to be a significant effort by all involved to deal constructively with the issues raised. We continue to actively monitor these efforts and any developments.

Systemic issue assessment: WSIAT backlog of appeals

Launched: April 2015

The Special Ombudsman Response Team’s assessment of WSIAT’s backlog noted that the tribunal’s normal workload of about 4,000 active appeals had more than doubled, surpassing 9,000 by the end of 2015, leaving some people waiting years for their cases to be heard. A new Chair of WSIAT was appointed in September 2016. The Ombudsman met with him in January 2017 to discuss the tribunal’s efforts to deal with the backlog – including the hiring of more vice-chairs, a pilot project to review cases earlier and an increase in the number of hearings. WSIAT is also reviewing all of its policies and procedures, and considering increasing mediation and the use of videoconferencing to expedite cases. The number of active cases had fallen to 7,662 by the end of March 2017. Given this progress, Ombudsman staff will continue to monitor the issue.

 

Case Summaries

Privacy Dependent

The widow of a man killed in a workplace accident complained to us that WSIB would not extend survivor benefits to her son, because it had no evidence that the worker, who was not the boy’s biological father, was his legal parent at the time of the accident. The decision letter also provided her no information about how to appeal. When we contacted WSIB staff, they initially told us that, due to privacy concerns, they could not contact the woman because she was not listed as a dependent on the worker’s file. After further reviewing the matter, the WSIB agreed to provide the woman’s lawyer with the worker’s file and the relevant appeal forms.

 

Appeal Apology

A man contacted our Office in frustration after the WSIAT heard only one of several claims he had filed, when he was expecting to have them all heard at the same time. Our inquiries determined that the mixup was due to the Office of the Worker Adviser failing to complete the internal appeals process at the WSIB. The Office of the Worker Adviser formally apologized to the man and expedited his appeal, which was ultimately successful.


Health

Overview & trends in cases

Like the health care system itself, oversight of the bodies that administer health and long-term care services in Ontario is complex. Our Office oversees the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan and numerous programs that assist with funding drugs and medical devices. However, complaints about patient care – including those related to hospitals, long-term care homes and Community Care Access Centres (CCACs) – are now the responsibility of the Ministry’s new Patient Ombudsman, which opened its doors on July 1, 2016.

We received 554 complaints about Ministry programs within our jurisdiction in 2016-2017 – this included 19 complaints about Local Health Integration Networks (which, unlike CCACs, remained within our jurisdiction). However, we received a greater number of complaints about bodies outside our jurisdiction: 528 about hospitals, 60 about long-term care homes and 87 about CCACs after July 1. These were referred to the Patient Ombudsman. We also received 16 complaints about the Patient Ombudsman’s office in its first nine months of operation; these were about delayed responses or disagreements with decisions, and were informally resolved.

 

Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP)

Complaints about OHIP dropped slightly in 2016-2017, to 115 from 144 the previous year, but the most common issues continued to be those related to the renewal and replacement of OHIP cards. We also received complaints from people who disagreed with OHIP’s lack of coverage of certain medical procedures and treatments, such as laser cataract surgery and physiotherapy, and denials of coverage for medical treatments outside Ontario. Where appropriate, we advise complainants of the process for appealing OHIP decisions.

 

Assistive Devices Program

We received 37 complaints about the Assistive Devices Program (ADP), mostly involving service issues or denials of requests for mobility equipment. In one case, we helped a woman get her power wheelchair fixed after a wheel fell off and the ADP’s approved vendor would not arrange to repair it. Our staff were able to facilitate communication between the ADP and the vendor to get the woman’s chair fixed.

 

Public drug programs

We received 65 complaints in 2016-2017 about Ontario public drug programs, which fund patients’ medications and are separate from OHIP. Of these, 24 were about the Exceptional Access Program (EAP), and 20 about the Trillium Drug Program. Many complainants questioned how and why funding for certain drugs was denied, while others experienced customer service issues.

One issue that we continue to monitor after it was raised by a complainant is how the Ministry funds cancer drugs that can be taken at home. As one kidney cancer patient noted in a complaint to us, the Ministry provided funding for intravenous chemotherapy drugs in hospital, but would not fund the equivalent drugs that were available in pill form, to be taken at home.


Top 5 Case Topics

  • Hospitals (outside our jurisdiction): 528
  • Ontario Health Insurance Plan: 115
  • Drug programs: 65
  • Long-term case homes: (outside our jurisdiction): 60
  • Assistive devices: 37

 

Investigations

Screening of newborn babies

Report: The Right to be Impatient, released September 2005

Investigation update: In 2005, the Special Ombudsman Response Team’s investigation revealed serious problems in the province’s newborn screening program, which tests babies’ blood at birth for preventable or treatable genetic disorders. At that time, Ontario was screening for just 2 disorders, and an estimated 50 newborns per year were dying or becoming severely disabled from conditions that could be detected by screening. Immediately thereafter, it began expanding the number of tests through Newborn Screening Ontario (NSO).

Ten years later, in the wake of news reports in April 2015 about delays over holiday weekends possibly putting babies at risk, Ombudsman investigators made informal inquiries with NSO about its response. In March 2016, the Ministry advised us it had approved funding for extended NSO operations on weekends – and for the screening of a 30th disorder, chronic congenital heart defects.

As of November 2016, the NSO was operating 7 days/week, and continued to improve its timelines for blood collection and testing. We learned of 2 cases where aggressive diseases were detected on weekends, resulting in earlier diagnosis and treatment for those babies. Screening for chronic congenital heart defects was introduced in February 2017 and is expected to be rolled out across the province by the end of the year.

 

Non-emergency medical transfer services

Completed May 2011, no report issued

Investigation update: Our Office continues to monitor the government’s progress in regulating the non-emergency medical transfer industry, also known as “stretcher transportation services” in the wake of our 2011 investigation. Regulations to deal with this issue under amendments to the Highway Traffic Act are still in progress, pending consultations by the Ministry of Transportation, which are expected to take place later in 2017.

 

Case summaries

Got him covered

A man who had lost all of his identification a few years earlier sought our help because he was unable to get health coverage through OHIP. Ombudsman staff made inquiries with OHIP about how he could prove he was an Ontario resident. OHIP was able to verify that he was a permanent resident through Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and granted him temporary health coverage for a year, to allow him time to replace the rest of his missing identification.

 

Delay headache

A woman whose migraine medication is covered through the Exceptional Access Program contacted us because she was worried about how long it was taking the program to approve a renewal of her prescription. She feared she would run out of medication before a new supply was approved. Our staff confirmed that the EAP had received her application and that it would expedite its approval so she would not run out.


Transportation

Overview & Trends in Cases

We received 475 complaints related to Ministry of Transportation programs and agencies in 2016-2017 – a decrease from last year’s 582. The most common area of complaint by far is driver licensing, including issues involving the medical review of licences. As we have done for the past several years, our senior staff meet regularly with senior Ministry officials to address complaint trends and potential systemic issues. This proactive work has led to some notable improvements without need for formal investigation.

 

Medical review of driver licences

The Ministry’s Medical Review Section is responsible for reviewing and responding to physician and/or police reports about drivers who may be medically unfit to drive. It has authority to suspend licences, and has generated hundreds of complaints to our Office in recent years, largely related to customer service and administrative issues such as document handling, correspondence and communication.

In one egregious case, a driver lost his job because the Medical Review Section erroneously suspended his licence for nearly a year. The suspension was issued for failure to provide satisfactory medical information, even though he did not have a medical condition. Ombudsman staff made inquiries about the case with the Ministry, which reviewed his file and immediately reinstated his licence when it discovered several administrative errors had been made. It also compensated the man for the financial hardship he incurred during the 315 days he was without a licence.

 

Duplicate licences

Over the past several years, the Ministry has addressed serious concerns raised by our Office about the safety implications of duplicate records in its system, after a 2012 case where we discovered a convicted drunk driver still had a valid licence because his licence suspension was inadvertently entered against a duplicate (or “ghost”) licence record in the Ministry’s database. Cases where duplicate records existed for people whose licences were suspended for dangerous or impaired driving were rectified, and the Ministry’s long-term plan is to transition to a new system. However, we continue to receive complaints about duplicate records and the process followed by the Ministry and ServiceOntario for matching and merging them.

For example, one man complained that he only learned the Ministry had a second record for him after police stopped him and charged him with driving with a suspended licence; his duplicate record showed his licence had been suspended for more than 10 years. After ServiceOntario merged the two records, he was given the okay to drive again – but he then received a letter from the Ministry saying he would first have to go through its graduated licensing program (normally for new drivers). As a result of our inquiries, the Ministry reviewed the case and determined the man did not have to do any additional testing.


Top Case Topics

  • Driver licensing (general): 211
  • Medical review of driver licences: 116
  • Vehicle licensing: 44
  • Metrolinx: 34

Correspondence issues

We have also raised concerns with the Ministry about how it deals with returned mail – in the wake of several complaints from drivers whose licence renewals, suspensions and other documents were sent to the wrong address or simply not delivered. The Ministry advised us that about 5% of the mail it sends out, or some 550 pieces of mail per week, is returned to its Driver Improvement Offices – and 52% of these are suspension notices (the rest are licence cancellations, reinstatements and reminders).

Once we escalated this concern to the senior officials at the Ministry, they immediately implemented short and long-term corrective measures, including a manual audit of returned mail, and system changes that will flag drivers whose mailing addresses are different from their street addresses. It also provided training to its staff and direction to ServiceOntario and DriveTest to ensure address data is correctly inputted, and reached out to Canada Post as well. Longer-term solutions involve upgrades to the Ministry’s computer system. The Ministry has committed to providing our Office with regular updates on its efforts to deal with this issue.

 

Defective licence plates

In recent years, many Ontarians have noticed the reflective coating on their vehicle licence plates deteriorating, cracking or peeling. A complaint to our Office in 2014 about this issue prompted the Ministry to improve its public communications: It will replace the plates free of charge, but only if they are less than five years old (although as of last year, it has discretion to extend this in some cases).

We continue to monitor the Ministry’s response to problems with the plates, which are manufactured by inmates at the province’s Central East Correctional Centre. We received another 10 complaints in 2016-2017, most relating toServiceOntario’s refusal to waive the $40 replacement cost for plates that are more than five years old.

 

Senior driver’s licence renewal delays

In July 2016, we received 30 complaints from seniors – some of whom were referred by their concerned MPP – who encountered long delays and scheduling problems in renewing their driver’s licences. Under the Ministry’s Senior Driver’s Licence Renewal Program, drivers aged 80 and older must complete an education program every two years to renew their licences. The only way to schedule the education sessions was by phone, and many who tried found they could not get through, or faced long waits on hold. Others faced arbitrary cancellations and delays, leaving several unable to complete the program before their licences expired.

Our Office met with Ministry officials, and investigators reviewed the complaints. The Ministry explained that the program had an unprecedented volume of calls in summer 2016 because it had sent out a large number of notices to drivers in anticipation of a possible Canada Post strike. The Minister also wrote to the Ombudsman to outline what was done to address the problem: Among other things, the Ministry hired additional staff to deal with calls and reduce wait times – and it gave seniors the option to contact staff by email or to schedule their appointments with ServiceOntario, instead of just by phone.

Good to Know

Cases about driver’s licences are included in this chapter, while all other cases related to ServiceOntario appear in the Certificates & Permitschapter.

 

Investigations

Driver’s licence reinstatements

Launched: May 2017

In May 2017, the Ombudsman announced an investigation into how the Ministry of Transportation communicates licence suspensions and reinstatements to drivers who were suspended for unpaid fines, in the wake of several complaints by drivers who had no idea their licences were invalid.

Some continued driving for years, and only discovered their licence suspensions through their insurance companies or police. The Ministry then treated them as new drivers and required them to go through the graduated licencing program.

We have raised this issue informally with the Ministry in recent years to suggest improvements to its suspension and reinstatement fee notification letters, but complaints have continued, indicating a potential underlying systemic problem. Of particular concern is that drivers who are unknowingly suspended are not covered by insurance if they are in an accident. This could be financially catastrophic for them and could put members of the public at risk.

The investigation is focused on the adequacy and effectiveness of the Ministry’s administrative processes for notifying drivers about licence suspensions and reinstatements, as well as how it monitors suspensions and co-ordinates with ServiceOntario.

 

Monitoring of drivers with uncontrolled hypoglycemia

Report: Better Safe Than Sorry, released April 2014

Investigation update: The Ministry has implemented 13 of the 19 recommendations made in this report, which identified gaps in its system for monitoring and reporting drivers with potentially dangerous medical conditions. After consulting with the medical community, it is in the final stages of drafting regulatory amendments to the Highway Traffic Act that will address two of the outstanding recommendations, by expanding the requirements for medical professionals to report drivers, and allowing medical professionals other than physicians and optometrists to report. It aims to introduce the new reporting requirements in January 2018.

 

Case Summaries

Photo finish

A man who needed a new driver’s licence for work complained to our Office that he could not get one because he didn’t have adequate photo identification. He had tried to use his Canadian citizenship card, but it was rejected at the DriveTest location where he applied because the photo on it was taken 35 years earlier. After our intervention, Ministry officials agreed the citizenship card could be accepted as identification, and he was able to apply for a new driver’s licence.

 

Cleared to drive

A driver who moved to Ontario from British Columbia complained to us that his job was at risk because of an impaired driving conviction from 13 years earlier. Although his B.C. licence was valid, the Ministry would not licence him in Ontario unless he completed the “Back on Track” program and installed a breath-testing device in his vehicle. Ombudsman staff assisted the man in providing relevant documentation about his B.C. driving record, which met the requirements of the Ministry’s interprovincial licence exchange program. He was issued his Ontario licence within two weeks.


Money & Property

Overview & trends in cases

This category of complaints includes Ministry of Finance organizations such as the Financial Services Commission, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), as well as the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee, which handles money and property matters for people who are incapable of doing so themselves.

 

Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (OPGT)

For the past several years, we have worked with the OPGT to address persistent complaints about poor customer service, errors and communication problems with clients, who are often vulnerable people living with developmental disabilities or capacity issues. We received 159 complaints in fiscal 2016-2017, consistent with last year’s 158. In many cases, our inquiries have prompted OPGT staff to review available information or gather more. Senior Ombudsman staff regularly discuss individual cases and complaint trends with OPGT management, who have taken steps to make improvements.

In one case referred to us by an MPP’s office, the OPGT had used a client’s funds to purchase insurance for her, although she was already insured through the group home where she lived. As a result of our inquiries, the OPGT agreed to cancel the woman’s insurance policy and reimburse her the $145 it had paid in premiums.

We also helped an OPGT client who had applied for benefits through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), but heard nothing back. The woman’s mother complained to us that OPGT should have followed up with ODSP, as the daughter’s financial guardian. It turned out that the woman’s ODSP application had been terminated and had to be refiled. The OPGT acknowledged that it should have acted sooner, and it reimbursed the woman $1,368 – the amount she would have received in ODSP benefits if it had done so.

 

Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO)

This past year, we received 38 complaints about FSCO, which regulates such things as pension plans, trust companies and the mortgage and insurance sectors. Most complaints related to customer service. For example, a former employee of the Art Gallery of Ontario complained to us about what she felt was an inadequate response from FSCO to her inquiry about her pension entitlement. She had written to them twice and received no response to her second letter. FSCO advised our staff that its customer service standard is to acknowledge receipt of an inquiry within five business days and respond within 15. The woman received an apology and a full response to her questions.


Top Case Topics

  • Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee: 159
  • Municipal Property Assessment Corporation: 116
  • Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation: 51
  • Financial Services Commission of Ontario: 38

 

Investigations

Municipal Property Assessment Corporation

Report: Getting it Right, released March 2006

Investigation update: More than a decade after the province responded to this report by suspending property assessments for two years and overhauling the system, we continue to monitor complaints about MPAC, which reassesses all properties in the province every four years.

The key issue in the nearly 4,000 complaints we received in the course of our 2006 investigation was the unfair onus placed on property owners who challenged MPAC’s assessments to prove they were inaccurate, especially since MPAC closely guarded the data on which assessments were based. The then-Minister of Finance agreed the onus should be on MPAC to prove its assessments were correct, and the Assessment Act was changed to reflect this. MPAC subsequently created an online portal through which property owners could check and compare their assessments with those of similar properties. This welcome change resulted in a steep decline in complaints; in most years, we receive fewer than 100 (47in 2015-2016).

This past fiscal year was a provincewide assessment year – the third since our investigation. We received 116 complaints about MPAC, consistent with the 108 in we received in 2012-2013, the last assessment year. These primarily related to disputes about MPAC’s valuation of properties, and concerns about the timelines in its “request for reconsideration” process. Our staff helped facilitate communication with MPAC in some cases, or provided information about available appeals. MPAC also met with our staff, as it has in past years, to share information on its latest processes and procedures.

This ongoing communication has been encouraging. However, we continue to monitor how MPAC provides information to property owners, beyond simply referring them to its online portal. The Ombudsman’s concern is that a lack of information could create an unfair onus situation similar to what we found in 2006. MPAC has been co-operative to date in addressing complaints and concerns about this issue.

 

Public communication about Tarion Warranty Corporation

Report: Building Clarity, released June 2008

Investigation update: We have received numerous complaints over the past 10 years about Tarion Warranty Corporation, the administrator of Ontario’s new homes warranty plan. We also receive complaints about the Licence Appeal Tribunal, which adjudicates disputes between homeowners and Tarion. Although Tarion itself is outside of our jurisdiction, in 2008, in light of more than 100 complaints from frustrated homeowners, we investigated the narrow issue of how the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services dealt with complaints about Tarion.

The Ministry made several changes to its public communications as a result, and Tarion appointed an internal ombudsman. However, concerns about Tarion continued to be raised by the public, MPPs and media, and in November 2015, the Ministry appointed Justice Douglas Cunningham to conduct a review of Tarion and the Ontario New Homes Warranty Plan Act.

In March 2017, the Ministry released Justice Cunningham’s final report and announced it would move forward with his recommendations, including the creation of a new, standalone regulator for builders, removing that responsibility from Tarion. Other changes are expected to address the accessibility and effectiveness of the new home warranty dispute resolution process. We will monitor the Ministry’s response to the Cunningham report and any resulting changes to the legislation.

 

Case Summaries

Better late than never

A mortgage broker sought our help with a delay in renewing his licence through FSCO. His brokerage firm had missed the deadline to pay the $800 renewal fee to FSCO, which in turn failed to process the renewal before his licence expired. The delay meant he would have to re-take a course for his brokerage licence, which would take another month. In the meantime, he requested a refund of the $800 from FSCO but got no response. Ombudsman staff also received no response, until we escalated the matter to senior officials. At that point, FSCO verified that it had received the man’s renewal payment and agreed to issue his renewed licence immediately.


Certificates & Permits

Overview & Trends in Cases

The need for timely and accurate identification documents, licences and permits brings Ontarians in contact with government services every day. When those services – many of which are delivered through ServiceOntario outlets – don’t work as they should, Ombudsman staff can help.

We received 280 complaints about the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services in 2016-2017 – a slight increase over last year’s 265. Cases related to ServiceOntario were about the same – 136, compared to 135 the previous year. Other complaints in this category related to the Registrar General (which handles documents like birth and death certificates), and other licensing bodies.

 

Service Ontario

As the frontline provider of most identification and official documents to the public, ServiceOntario most frequently attracted complaints about customer service issues, such as long lineups and delays, or rude or poorly informed counter staff. Although we referred the bulk of these cases to ServiceOntario’s Customer Experience Office, we did intervene to resolve some individual cases.

For example, a woman who applied for an Ontario Health card complained to us that ServiceOntario had neither processed her application nor returned her original documents, including her birth certificates, bank statements and lease. ServiceOntario told us it returns all original documents it receives, but did not keep logs of incoming documents – and in this case, it had no record of receiving or returning the woman’s papers. As a result of our inquiries, ServiceOntario began keeping records of all incoming mail. It provided the woman with a health card without further delay, and offered to help her replace her missing birth certificate.

In another case, after a visually-impaired man complained that ServiceOntario staff weren’t sure how to obtain large-print versions of forms for name changes and death certificates, our Office verified that they had a process for ordering large-print forms, and ensured that its staff were made aware of it.

 

Children’s identification

We also flagged a trend in complaints from parents who had trouble getting identification for their children via ServiceOntario. One mother of a 17-year-old complained that ServiceOntario said her son could not renew his Ontario Health card without a student identification card, which she said she could not afford. Our Office escalated the case to officials at the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, who explained that the mother could go to ServiceOntario with the teen to serve as his guarantor.

 

Births, deaths and name changes – Registrar General complaints

We received 94 complaints about the Registrar General in 2016-2017, up from 67 the year before. The most common issues were customer service problems and delays.

For example, we helped a bride-to-be who wanted to change her surname to match her father’s before her wedding. She needed a new birth certificate to use for her marriage licence and a new passport. After a glitch with her credit card payment not going through initially, she complained to us that time was running out and the Registrar General told her it could do nothing to expedite her request. After our staff contacted the Registrar General’s office to address the urgency of her request, the woman’s new birth certificate was mailed out within a day.

In another case, a father complained to us after he mistakenly spelled his newborn son’s name wrong on a birth certificate application. He tried submitting a second application, but ultimately received a birth certificate with the wrong spelling – and he needed a correct certificate in order to get the baby a passport so the family could travel to a religious ceremony for him. Our staff spoke with the Registrar General’s office to clarify what documents the father should provide to correct the error. The new certificate was issued in time for the family to obtain the baby’s passport.


Top Case Topics

  • Service Ontario: 136
  • Registrar General: 94
  • Consumer Protection Branch: 17

 

Case Summaries

Identity issue

A woman who had surrendered her driver’s licence for medical reasons complained to us that she was having trouble obtaining a photo identification card from ServiceOntario. She had presented her expired Canadian passport as documentation to obtain the new card, but was told it wasn’t acceptable. We clarified with ServiceOntario and the Ministry of Transportation that the woman could still use her surrendered licence as photo identification.

 

Name changer

In 2001, after years of using his stepfather’s surname, a man decided to revert to his original birth surname. He was issued a short-form Ontario birth certificate reflecting the change. But 12 years later, when he requested a long-form version, it still showed the stepfather’s surname – and officials at the Registrar General’s office told him there was no record of his 2001 name change. He sought our help because his child’s birth registration, as well as all of his legal documents (including his passport, driver’s licence and marriage certificate) used his birth surname. The Registrar General’s office initially responded that the 2001 short-form certificate had been issued in error, and it could not legally change the man’s name. But when Ombudsman staff escalated the case to senior officials, noting that the man had used the 2001 certificate in good faith for 12 years, they confirmed they could amend his records and provided him with new long- and short-form certificates with his birth name.

Good to Know

Cases related to driver’s licences can be found in the Transportation chapter of this report.


Energy & Environment

Overview & Trends in Cases

There have been several changes affecting our Office’s oversight of energy issues in recent years. Most significantly, we can no longer take complaints about Hydro One, which was removed from our jurisdiction when it was partially privatized in June 2015 (it now has an internal ombudsman, to whom we referred the bulk of the 470 complaints we received in 2016-2017). However, we continue to oversee the Ministry of Energy, and our new oversight of municipalities means we can take complaints about municipal hydro corporations.

Cases in this category also include public concerns about the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

 

Energy issues

Among the 120 complaints we received about the Ministry of Energy were 55 related to the increasing costs of electricity and natural gas, and 10 related to the Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP), which was introduced January 1, 2016 to assist low-income households with electricity costs. Electricity rates and delivery charges, as well as the new support program, are the responsibility of the Ontario Energy Board. Complaints about the OESP related to service delays and questions about eligibility.

 

Municipal hydro

Billing issues were the most common topic amongst the 194 complaints we received about municipal hydro corporations in 2016-2017. We resolved these locally wherever possible, without need for formal investigation. In one case, we contacted the local hydro company on behalf of a customer who discovered she had been billed for a commercial unit in her building for two years, at rates much higher than her actual level of consumption. The company initially told her to take up the issue with her landlord, but after we made inquiries, it investigated the matter and refunded her for the overbilling.

 

Environment and natural resources issues

Complaints about the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change increased to 116 in 2016-2017, compared to 78 the previous year. A common topic continued to be the adequacy of steps taken by the Ministry to ensure compliance with environmental laws and standards. For example, we reviewed concerns from a resident of a trailer park about the Ministry’s delay in addressing the park owner’s failure to provide potable water. The Ministry responded that it had conducted a site visit, taken samples that showed the water was drinkable, and required the park owner to have a licensed technician assess the well.

In another case involving a septic waste hauler spreading untreated human waste on fields, we discovered that the Ministry was not publicly posting Environmental Compliance Approvals for hauled sewage. It has since publicly posted the list of approved hauled sewage disposal sites and announced a review of its hauled sewage policy and program. We continue to monitor its progress on this issue.

Similarly, complaints about the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry tended to involve concerns about the adequacy of its protection of habitats and endangered species, as well as issues with fishing and hunting licences. In one case we reviewed regarding permits for trapping on certain Crown lands, the Ministry agreed to clear up confusing information on its website about the types of trapping privileges it grants.

 

Environmental impact of wind turbines

Over the past year, we received 76 complaints about wind turbines – 53 of which were about the potential environmental impact of a single project in the municipality of Chatham-Kent, which has yet to be constructed but was approved by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change in June 2016. Ombudsman staff confirmed with the Ministry that it held public consultations on the project, during which concerns were raised about possible water contamination as a result of the project. The Ministry advised us that it had addressed these concerns by requiring monitoring of well water, groundwater and groundborne vibrations during construction and operation of the facility. As well, it required a complaint process be set up. We shared this information with the complainants.


Top Case Topics

  • Hydro One: 470 (outside our jurisdiction)
  • Municipal hydro: 194
  • Wind turbines: 76
  • Electricity and natural gas costs: 55
  • Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry: 54

 

Case summaries

Powerful gesture

A man was upset that it took the Ontario Electricity Support Program six months to process his application, even though its website says it should take 6-8 weeks. Our inquiries determined that the delay was actually exacerbated by the man providing an outdated email address on his application; nevertheless, as a goodwill gesture, the Ontario Energy Board agreed to backdate his OESP credit six months.

 

Wires crossed

We received complaints from four residents in one building who each received catch-up bills from their municipal hydro company for $2,000-5,000. The company told us it had discovered a wiring error in the building that caused bills to go to the wrong units. A metering company had investigated, and sent bills and credits out to correct the errors. After we made inquiries with the company, it agreed to waive the amounts owing, since they had resulted from a mistake made by the company’s staff.


Appendix: Case Statistics


Total Cases Received, Fiscal Years 2012-2013 - 2016-201

  • 2012-2013: 19,726
  • 2013-2014: 26,999
  • 2014-2015: 23,153
  • 2015-2016: 22,118
  • 2016-2017: 21,328

How Cases Were Received, 2016-2017

  • Telephone, Answering Service, TTY: 60.35%
  • Internet, Email: 32.59%
  • Letter, Fax: 6.75%
  • In Person: 0.31%

Cases

21,328 Cases received in fiscal 2016-2017 year.

Cases Closed

12,770 Cases within the Ombudsman's authority.

  • Inquiries made or referral given: 52.83%
  • Closed after Ombudsman's review: 14.97%
  • Resolved with Ombudsman intervention: 9.14%
  • Discontinued by complainant: 16.24%
  • Resolved without Ombudsman intervention: 6.81%

7,940 Cases outside the Ombudsman's authority.

  • Outside Ontario: 0.88%
  • Provincial Outside Authority: * 18.23%
  • Broader public sector outside authority: ** 16.74%
  • Federal: 10.97%
  • Private: 53.18%

116 Consultations or questions.

606 Information Submissions.

* E.G., complaints about courts, Stewardship Ontario, Tarion. ** E.G., complaints about hospitals, long-term care, children's aid societies, municipal police.

Cases by Provincial Riding, 2016-2017

Riding Cases received
Ajax-Pickering 90
Algoma-Manitoulin 163
Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale 83
Barrie 172
Beaches-East York 132
Bramalea-Gore-Malton 106
Brampton West 147
Brampton-Springdale 86
Brant 109
Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound 138
Burlington 84
Cambridge 129
Carleton-Mississippi Mills 115
Chatham-Kent-Essex 105
Davenport 86
Don Valley East 60
Don Valley West 71
Dufferin-Caledon 117
Durham 126
Eglinton-Lawrence 97
Elgin-Middlesex-London 129
Essex 111
Etobicoke Centre 86
Etobicoke North 91
Etobicoke-Lakeshore 121
Glengarry-Prescott-Russell 132
Guelph 82
Haldimand-Norfolk 122
Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock 171
Halton 110
Hamilton Centre 145
Hamilton East-Stoney Creek 161
Hamilton Mountain 108
Huron-Bruce 131
Kenora-Rainy River 93
Kingston And The Islands 134
Kitchener Centre 79
Kitchener-Conestoga 84
Kitchener-Waterloo 87
Lambton-Kent-Middlesex 113
Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox And Addington 178
Leeds-Grenville 141
London North Centre 121
London West 105
London-Fanshawe 102
Markham-Unionville 40
Mississauga East-Cooksville 79
Mississauga South 84
Mississauga-Brampton South 71
Mississauga-Erindale 92
Mississauga-Streetsville 79
Nepean-Carleton 99
Newmarket-Aurora 122
Niagara Falls 169
Niagara West-Glanbrook 122
Nickel Belt 131
Nipissing 125
Northumberland-Quinte West 158
Oak Ridges-Markham 110
Oakville 53
Oshawa 200
Ottawa Centre 107
Ottawa South 75
Ottawa West-Nepean 85
Ottawa-Orleans 79
Ottawa-Vanier 86
Oxford 102
Parkdale-High Park 89
Parry Sound-Muskoka 154
Perth-Wellington 66
Peterborough 120
Pickering-Scarborough East 79
Prince Edward-Hastings 182
Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke 121
Richmond Hill 56
Sarnia-Lambton 148
Sault Ste. Marie 124
Scarborough Centre 73
Scarborough Southwest 108
Scarborough-Agincourt 44
Scarborough-Guildwood 117
Scarborough-Rouge River 50
Simcoe North 170
Simcoe-Grey 195
St. Catharines 119
St. Paul's 82
Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry 112
Sudbury 140
Thornhill 73
Thunder Bay-Atikokan 87
Thunder Bay-Superior North 124
Timiskaming-Cochrane 164
Timmins-James Bay 97
Toronto Centre 162
Toronto-Danforth 91
Trinity-Spadina 154
Vaughan 113
Welland 130
Wellington-Halton Hills 85
Whitby-Oshawa 121
Willowdale 86
Windsor West 179
Windsor-Tecumseh 101
York Centre 97
York South-Weston 78
York West 68
York-Simcoe 88

* All cases where a postal code was available, including those related to municipalities, universities and school boards, but excluding correctional facilities.

Top 15 Provincial Government Organizations and Programs by Case Volume, 2016-2017*

PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATIONS NUMBER OF CASES
1 FAMILY RESPONSIBILITY OFFICE 1,036
2 ONTARIO DISABILITY SUPPORT PROGRAM 862
3 WORKPLACE SAFETY AND INSURANCE BOARD 492
4 SOCIAL JUSTICE TRIBUNALS 238
5 DEVELOPMENTAL SERVICES PROGRAMS 216
6 DRIVER LICENSING 211
7 COLLEGES OF APPLIED ARTS AND TECHNOLOGY 161
8 OFFICE OF THE PUBLIC GUARDIAN AND TRUSTEE 159
9 SERVICE ONTARIO 136
10 ONTARIO STUDENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAM 134
11 ONTARIO PROVINCIAL POLICE 121
12 MUNICIPAL PROPERTY ASSESSMENT CORPORATION 116
13 TRANSPORATION - MEDICAL REVIEW 116
14 ONTARIO HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN 115
15 LEGAL AID ONTARIO 111

* Excluding correctional facilities.

Top 10 Correctional Facilities by Case Volume, 2016-2017

CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES NUMBER OF CASES
1 CENTRAL EAST CORRECTIONAL CENTRE 545
2 TORONTO SOUTH DETENTION CENTRE 444
3 CENTRAL NORTH CORRECTIONAL CENTRE 394
4 MAPLEHURST CORRECTIONAL COMPLEX 379
5 OTTAWA-CARLETON DETENTION CENTRE 319
6 VANIER CENTRE FOR WOMEN 305
7 HAMILTON-WENTWORTH DETENTION CENTRE 276
8 ELGIN-MIDDLESEX DETENTION CENTRE 189
9 SOUTH WEST DETENTION CENTRE 158
10 NIAGARA DETENTION CENTRE 147

Total Cases Received for Provincial Government Ministries and Selected Programs, 2016-2017*

MINISTRY OF ADVANCED EDUCATION AND SKILLS DEVELOPMENT NUMBER OF CASES
COLLEGES OF APPLIED ARTS AND TECHNOLOGY 161
MINISTRY FUNDED SERVICE PROVIDER 12
ONTARIO COLLEGE OF TRADES 20
ONTARIO STUDENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAM 134
PRIVATE CAREER COLLEGES BRANCH 22
SECOND CAREER 35
MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS 13
MINISTRY OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL 783
ALCOHOL AND GAMING COMMISSION OF ONTARIO 11
CHILDREN'S LAWYER 42
ENVIRONMENT & LAND TRIBUNALS ONTARIO (ELTO) 19
HUMAN RIGHTS LEGAL SUPPORT CENTRE 12
LEGAL AID CLINIC 15
LEGAL AID ONTARIO 111
OFFICE OF THE PUBLIC GUARDIAN AND TRUSTEE 159
SAFETY, LICENSING APPEALS AND STANDARDS TRIBUNALS ONTARIO (SLASTO) 21
SOCIAL JUSTICE TRIBUNALS ONTARIO (SJTO) 238
SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT 11
MINISTRY OF CHILDREN AND YOUTH SERVICES 157
MINISTRY FUNDED SERVICE PROVIDER 27
SPECIAL NEEDS PROGRAMS - CHILDREN 34
YOUTH CUSTODY FACILITIES 20
MINISTRY OF CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION 16
MINISTRY OF COMMUNITY AND SOCIAL SERVICES 2,196
DEVELOPMENTAL SERVICES PROGRAMS 216
FAMILY RESPONSIBILITY OFFICE 1,036
MINISTRY FUNDED SERVICE PROVIDER 61
ONTARIO DISABILITY SUPPORT PROGRAM 862
MINISTRY OF COMMUNITY SAFETY AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICES 4,216
CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES 3,998
ONTARIO PROVINCIAL POLICE 121
PRIVATE SECURITY AND INVESTIGATIVE SERVICES BRANCH 13
PROBATION AND PAROLE 45
MINISTRY OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND GROWTH 1
MINISTRY OF EDUCATION 52
CHILD CARE QUALITY ASSURANCE AND LICENSING BRANCH 11
MINISTRY OF ENERGY 120
INDEPENDENT ELECTRICITY SYSTEM OPERATOR 16
ONTARIO ENERGY BOARD 68
MINISTRY OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE 116
DRIVE CLEAN PROGRAM 10
MINISTRY OF FINANCE 261
FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMISSION 38
LIQUOR CONTROL BOARD OF ONTARIO 10
MUNICIPAL PROPERTY ASSESSMENT CORPORATION 116
ONTARIO LOTTERY AND GAMING 51
MINISTRY OF GOVERNMENT AND CONSUMER SERVICES 280
CONSUMER PROTECTION BRANCH 17
REGISTRAR GENERAL 94
SERVICE ONTARIO 136
MINISTRY OF HEALTH AND LONG-TERM CARE 554
ASSISTIVE DEVICES 37
COMMUNITY CARE ACCESS CENTRES** 35
HEALTH PROFESSIONS APPEAL AND REVIEW BOARD 17
HEALTH QUALITY ONTARIO - PATIENT OMBUDSMAN 16
LOCAL HEALTH INTEGRATION NETWORKS 19
MINISTRY FUNDED SERVICE PROVIDER 31
NORTHERN HEALTH TRAVEL GRANT 12
ONTARIO HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN 115
ONTARIO PUBLIC DRUG PROGRAMS 65
PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT AND COMPLIANCE BRANCH 19
MINISTRY OF HOUSING 7
MINISTRY OF INDIGENOUS RELATIONS AND RECONCILIATION 6
MINISTRY OF INFRASTRUCTURE 4
MINISTRY OF LABOUR 692
EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES BRANCH 29
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY BRANCH 18
OFFICE OF THE WORKER ADVISER 10
ONTARIO LABOUR RELATIONS BOARD 30
WORKPLACE SAFETY AND INSURANCE APPEALS TRIBUNAL 100
WORKPLACE SAFETY AND INSURANCE BOARD 492
MINISTRY OF MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS 11
MINISTRY OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND FORESTRY 54
LICENCES/TAGS 10
MINISTRY OF NORTHERN DEVELOPMENT AND MINES 6
MINISTRY OF THE STATUS OF WOMEN 1
MINISTRY OF SENIORS AFFAIRS 1
MINISTRY OF TOURISM, CULTURE AND SPORT 18
MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION 475
DRIVER LICENSING 211
METROLINX / GO TRANSIT 34
TRANSPORTATION - MEDICAL REVIEW 116
VEHICLE LICENSING 44
TREASURY BOARD SECRETARIAT 4

* Total figures are reported for each provincial government ministry including agencies and programs falling within its portfolio. Each government agency or program receiving 10 or more cases is also included. ** Outside of our jurisdiction after July 1, 2016


CASES RECEIVED ABOUT SCHOOL BOARDS, 2016-2017

Total: 945

ENGLISH PUBLIC SCHOOL BOARDS NUMBER OF CASES
Algoma District School Board 3
Avon Maitland District School Board 1
Bluewater District School Board 22
District School Board of Niagara 22
District School Board Ontario North East 3
Durham District School Board 27
Grand Erie District School Board 15
Greater Essex County District School Board 9
Halton District School Board 17
Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board 19
Hastings & Prince Edward District School Board 9
Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board 10
Lakehead District School Board 1
Lambton Kent District School Board 8
Limestone District School Board 7
Near North District School Board 3
Ottawa-Carleton District School Board 80
Peel District School Board 29
Rainbow District School Board 20
Renfrew County District School Board 5
Simcoe County District School Board 16
Superior-Greenstone District School Board 1
Thames Valley District School Board 26
Toronto District School Board 145
Trillium Lakelands District School Board 5
Upper Canada District School Board 23
Upper Grand District School Board 2
Waterloo Region District School Board 15
York Region District School Board 40
TOTAL 583
 
ENGLISH CATHOLIC SCHOOL BOARDS NUMBER OF CASES
Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board 1
Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board 2
Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board 1
Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario 2
Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board 83
Durham Catholic District School Board 10
Halton Catholic District School Board 2
Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board 8
Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board 2
Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board 3
Kenora Catholic District School Board 1
London District Catholic School Board 9
Niagara Catholic District School Board 10
Nipissing-Parry Sound Catholic District School Board 1
Northeastern Catholic District School Board 1
Ottawa Catholic School Board 16
Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board 8
Renfrew County Catholic District School Board 1
Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board 2
St Clair Catholic District School Board 5
Sudbury Catholic District School Board 2
Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board 4
Toronto Catholic District School Board 71
Waterloo Catholic District School Board 7
Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board 4
York Catholic District School Board 12
TOTAL 268
 
FRENCH CATHOLIC SCHOOL BOARDS NUMBER OF CASES
Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est 5
Conseil scolaire catholique de district des Grandes Rivières 2
Conseil scolaire catholique du Nouvel-Ontario 1
Conseil scolaire catholique Providence 1
Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir (previously Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud) 7
Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l'Est ontarien 4
TOTAL 20
 
FRENCH PUBLIC SCHOOL BOARDS NUMBER OF CASES
Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario 7
Conseil scolaire Viamonde 5
Conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l'Ontario 1
TOTAL 13
 
SCHOOL AUTHORITIES NUMBER OF CASES
No school specified 1
Cases where board not specified 60

Note: Boards that were not the subject of any cases are not listed.


CASES RECEIVED ABOUT COLLEGES OF APPLIED ARTS AND TECHNOLOGY, 2016-2017

Total: 161

COLLEGES OF APPLIED ARTS AND TECHNOLOGY NUMBER OF CASES
Algonquin College 4
Collège Boréal 2
Cambrian College 4
Canadore College 3
Centennial College 6
Conestoga College 7
Confederation College 2
Durham College 12
Fanshawe College 8
Fleming College (Sir Sandford Fleming College) 3
George Brown College 13
Georgian College 9
Humber College 14
La Cité collégiale 5
Lambton College 4
Loyalist College 1
Mohawk College 11
Niagara College Canada 6
Northern College 1
Sault College 12
Seneca College 8
Sheridan College 13
St. Clair College 8
St. Lawrence College 4
Cases where college not specified 1

Note: Colleges that were not the subject of any cases are not listed.


Cases Received About Universities, 2016-2017

Total: 175

UNIVERSITIES NUMBER OF CASES
Algoma University 3
Brock University 4
Carleton University 9
Lakehead University 8
Laurentian University 11
McMaster University 15
OCAD University 4
Queen’s University 3
Ryerson University 7
Trent University 6
University of Guelph 7
University of Ontario Institute of Technology 11
University of Ottawa 10
University of Toronto 28
University of Waterloo 11
University of Windsor 8
Western University 11
Wilfrid Laurier University 4
York University 12
Cases where university not specified 3

Note: Universities that were not the subject of any cases are not listed.


CASES RECEIVED ABOUT MUNICIPALITIES, 2016-2017

Total: 2,667

MUNICIPALITIES NUMBER OF CASES
Addington Highlands, Township of 5
Adelaide Metcalfe, Township of 2
Adjala-Tosorontio, Township of 11
Admaston/Bromley, Township of 1
Ajax, Town of 7
Alfred and Plantagenet, Township of 3
Alnwick/Haldimand, Township of 1
Amaranth, Township of 2
Amherstburg, Town of 1
Armour, Township of 4
Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh, Township of 2
Asphodel-Norwood, Township of 1
Assiginack, Township of 1
Athens, Township of 3
Atikokan, Town of 2
Aurora, Town of 2
Aylmer, Town of 3
Baldwin, Township of 1
Bancroft, Town of 4
Barrie, City of 12
Bayham, Municipality of 4
Belleville, City of 8
Billings, Township of 4
Black River-Matheson, Township of 2
Blandford-Blenheim, Township of 5
Bluewater, Municipality of 1
Bonfield, Township of 2
Bonnechere Valley, Township of 2
Bracebridge, Town of 4
Brampton, City of 26
Brant, County of 3
Brantford, City of 18
Brighton, Municipality of 8
Brock, Township of 3
Brockton, Municipality of 2
Brockville, City of 4
Brooke-Alvinston, Municipality of 3
Bruce Mines, Town of 2
Bruce, County of 11
Brudenell, Lyndoch and Raglan, Township of 1
Burlington, City of 12
Caledon, Town of 13
Callander, Municipality of 2
Calvin, Municipality of 3
Cambridge, City of 31
Carleton Place, Town of 8
Casselman, Village of 3
Cavan Monaghan, Township of 3
Central Elgin, Municipality of 2
Central Frontenac, Township of 3
Central Huron, Municipality of 1
Central Manitoulin, Municipality of 1
Centre Hastings, Municipality of 2
Centre Wellington, Township of 3
Chamberlain, Township of 1
Champlain, Township of 2
Chapleau, Township of 2
Chatham-Kent, Municipality of 9
Chatsworth, Township of 1
Clarence-Rockland, City of 2
Clarington, Municipality of 4
Clearview, Township of 4
Cobalt, Town of 2
Cobourg, Town of 5
Cochrane, Town of 3
Collingwood, Town of 8
Cornwall, City of 4
Cramahe, Township of 3
Deep River, Town of 4
Drummond/North Elmsley, Township of 1
Dryden, City of 1
Dufferin, County of 2
Durham, Regional Municipality of 34
Dutton-Dunwich, Municipality of 2
Dysart et al, Municipality of 1
Ear Falls, Township of 1
East Ferris, Municipality of 1
East Garafraxa, Township of 1
East Gwillimbury, Town of 9
East Hawkesbury, Township of 1
Edwardsburgh/Cardinal, Township o 2
Elgin, County of 1
Elliot Lake, City of 6
Emo, Township of 2
Erin, Town of 7
Espanola, Town of 3
Essa, Township of 2
Essex, County of 1
Essex, Town of 9
Fort Erie, Town of 10
Fort Frances, Town of 7
French River, Municipality of 9
Gananoque, Separated Town of 4
Gauthier, Township of 1
Georgian Bay, Township of 9
Georgian Bluffs, Township of 3
Georgina, Town of 6
Gillies, Township of 1
Goderich, Town of 1
Gravenhurst, Town of 4
Greater Madawaska, Township of 2
Greater Napanee, Town of 1
Greater Sudbury, City of 64
Greenstone, Municipality of 5
Grey Highlands, Municipality of 3
Grey, County of 7
Grimsby, Town of 8
Guelph, City of 10
Haldimand County, County of 6
Halton Hills, Town of 3
Halton, Regional Municipality of 13
Hamilton, City of 86
Hamilton, Township of 3
Hastings Highlands, Municipality of 7
Hastings, County of 8
Havelock-Belmont-Methuen, Township of 1
Hawkesbury, Town of 14
Highlands East, Municipality of 2
Hilton Beach, Village of 1
Hornepayne, Township of 1
Horton, Township of 3
Huntsville, Town of 2
Huron Shores, Municipality of 2
Huron-Kinloss, Township of 2
Huron, County of 4
Ignace, Township of 2
Ingersoll, Town of 1
Innisfil, Town of 2
Iroquois Falls, Town of 1
James, Township of 1
Johnson, Township of 2
Kapuskasing, Town of 1
Kawartha Lakes, City of 20
Kearney, Town of 4
Kenora, City of 3
Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards, Township of 3
Killarney, Municipality of 3
Kincardine, Municipality of 4
King, Township of 2
Kingston, City of 26
Kingsville, Town of 3
Kirkland Lake, Town of 11
Kitchener, City of 4
Laird, Township of 2
Lake of Bays, Township of 1
Lambton Shores, Municipality of 5
Lambton, County of 6
Lanark Highlands, Township of 1
Lanark, County of 1
Larder Lake, Township of 2
LaSalle, Town of 6
Latchford, Town of 3
Leeds and Grenville, United Counties of 6
Leeds and the Thousand Islands, Township of 4
Lennox & Addington, County of 2
Lincoln, Town of 6
London, City of 77
Loyalist Township 1
Lucan Biddulph, Township of 1
Madawaska Valley, Township of 3
Madoc, Township of 2
Malahide, Township of 1
Manitouwadge, Township of 8
Mapleton, Township of 1
Marathon, Town of 2
Markham, City of 10
Mattawa, Town of 2
Mattawan, Municipality of 5
McDougall, Municipality of 1
McGarry, Township of 1
McMurrich/Monteith, Township of 4
Meaford, Municipality of 8
Middlesex Centre, Municipality of 9
Middlesex, County of 3
Midland, Town of 2
Milton, Town of 12
Minden Hills, Township of 4
Minto, Town of 1
Mississauga, City of 59
Mississippi Mills, Corporation of the Municipality 11
Mono, Town of 1
Montague, Township of 2
Moonbeam, Township of 2
Morris-Turnberry, Municipality of 2
Mulmur, Township of 5
Muskoka Lakes, Township of 6
Muskoka, District Municipality of 7
Neebing, Municipality of 2
New Tecumseth, Town of 6
Newmarket, Town of 2
Niagara Falls, City of 23
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Town of 3
Niagara, Regional Municipality of 32
Nipigon, Township of 1
Nipissing, Township of 1
Norfolk, County 23
North Algona Wilberforce , Township of 6
North Bay, City of 16
North Dumfries, Township of 8
North Dundas, Township of 2
North Frontenac, Township of 1
North Grenville, Municipality of 1
North Huron, Township of 2
North Kawartha, Township of 3
North Middlesex, Municipality of 2
North Stormont, Township of 3
Northeastern Manitoulin and The Islands, Town of 1
Northern Bruce Peninsula, Municipality of 6
Northumberland, County of 4
Oakville, Town of 11
Oliver Paipoonge, Municipality of 3
Orangeville, Town of 2
Orillia, City of 7
Oro-Medonte, Township of 8
Oshawa, City of 36
Otonabee-South Monaghan, Township of 2
Ottawa, City of 123
Owen Sound, City of 2
Oxford, County of 6
Parry Sound, Town of 3
Peel, Regional Municipality of 60
Pelee, Township of 1
Pelham, Town of 6
Pembroke, City of 1
Penetanguishene, Town of 1
Perry, Township of 1
Perth East, Township of 2
Petawawa, Town of 1
Peterborough, City of 21
Petrolia, Town of 4
Pickering, City of 4
Pickle Lake, Township of 4
Plympton-Wyoming, Town of 1
Port Colborne, City of 2
Port Hope, Municipality of 8
Prescott and Russell, United Counties of 4
Prescott, Separated Town of 2
Prince Edward, County of 5
Puslinch, Township of 2
Quinte West, City of 4
Rainy River, Town of 1
Ramara, Township of 4
Red Lake, Municipality of 1
Red Rock, Township of 2
Renfrew, County of 1
Richmond Hill, Town of 11
Rideau Lakes, Township of 7
Russell, Township of 2
Ryerson, Township of 2
Sables-Spanish Rivers, Township of 1
Sarnia, City of 43
Saugeen Shores, Town of 4
Sault Ste. Marie, City of 17
Schreiber, Township of 1
Scugog, Township of 4
Seguin, Township of 2
Selwyn, Township of 2
Severn, Township of 4
Shelburne, Town of 1
Shuniah, Municipality of 4
Simcoe, County of 39
Smiths Falls, Town of 5
South Algonquin, Township of 1
South Bruce Peninsula, Town of 4
South Bruce, Municipality of 1
South Dundas, Municipality of 2
South Frontenac, Township of 6
South Glengarry, Township of 5
South Huron, Municipality of 4
South River, Village of 1
South-West Oxford, Township of 1
Southgate, Township of 3
Southwest Middlesex, Municipality of 2
Southwold, Township of 1
Spanish, Town of 2
Springwater, Township of 2
St. Catharines, City of 4
St. Clair, Township of 2
St. Marys, Separated Town of 1
St. Thomas, City of 3
St.-Charles, Municipality of 11
Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry, United Counties of 1
Stratford, City of 6
Strathroy-Caradoc, Municipality of 3
Sundridge, Village of 1
Tay, Township of 6
Tecumseh, Town of 1
Tehkummah, Township of 2
Temagami, Municipality of 4
Temiskaming Shores, City of 1
Terrace Bay, Township of 1
The Archipelago, Township of 4
The Blue Mountains, Town of 3
The Nation, Municipality 6
The North Shore, Township of 6
Thessalon, Town of 1
Thorold, City of 1
Thunder Bay, City of 15
Tillsonburg, Town of 2
Timmins, City of 22
Tiny, Township of 6
Toronto, City of 305
Trent Hills, Municipality of 5
Trent Lakes, Municipality of 3
Tyendinaga, Township of 4
Uxbridge, Township of 4
Vaughan, City of 18
Wainfleet, Township of 2
Warwick, Township of 2
Wasaga Beach, Town of 14
Waterloo, City of 4
Waterloo, Regional Municipality of 16
Wawa, Municipality of 4
Welland, City of 13
Wellington, County of 12
West Elgin, Municipality of 2
West Grey, Municipality of 3
West Lincoln, Township of 10
West Nipissing, Municipality of 9
West Perth, Municipality of 1
Whitby, Town of 16
Whitchurch-Stouffville, Town of 5
Whitestone, Municipality of 3
Wilmot, Township of 5
Windsor, City of 60
Wollaston, Township of 3
Woolwich, Township of 3
York, Regional Municipality of 27
Unspecified 38
SHARED CORPORATIONS NUMBER OF CASES
Alectra 11
Bluewater Power Distribution Corporation 1
Collus Powerstream 2
Conservation authorities 28
Energy + Inc 2
Erie Thames Powerlines Corporation 2
Espanola Regional Hydro Distribution Corporation 4
Essex Power Corporation 2
Horizon Utilities 14
Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro Inc 3
Lakeland Power 3
Ottawa River Power Corporation 1
PowerStream Inc. 19
Veridian Connections (Veridian Corporation) 10
Waterloo North Power 4
Westario Power 2
Unspecified 2
SHARED LOCAL BOARDS NUMBER OF CASES
Algoma District Services Administration Board 1
District of Cochrane Social Services Administration Board 1
District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board 4
District of Parry Sound Social Services Administration Board 1
District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board 9
District of Timiskaming Social Services Administration Board 7
Kenora District Services Board 8
Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board 4
Niagara District Airport Commission 1
Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board 6
Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board 10
Unspecified 10

Note: Municipalities that were not the subject of any cases are not listed.


Cases Received About Closed Municipal Meetings, 2016-2017

Cases about Municipalities where Ombudsman is the Investigator: 76

Cases about Municipalities where another Investigator has been appointed: 33

SUMMARY OF COMPLETED INVESTIGATIONS
Municipality Meetings & Gatherings Reviewed Procedural Violations Found Best Practices Suggested Illegal Meetings
Amherstburg, Town of 3 2 1 1
Brockville, City of 1 2 2 1
Elliot Lake, City of 2 0 2 2
Georgian Bay, Township of 2 1 1 0
Goderich Recreational Board of Management 1* * 1 1*
Greater Sudbury, City of 3 1 2 0
Grimsby, Town of 1 1 2 1
Hamilton Election Compliance Audit Committee 1 0 1 1
Hornepayne, Township of 1 1 2 1
Laird, Township of 1 0 1 0
Leeds and the Thousand Islands, Township of 2 1 0 1
London, City of 3 0 0 0
Niagara District Airport Commission 1 1 2 1
Niagara Falls, City of 1 1 1 1
Norfolk, County of 4 1 5 2
Oshawa, City of 1 0 2 1
Russell, Township of 1 1 0 1
Sault Ste. Marie, City of 1 0 0 0
Temagami, Municipality of 2 0 0 0
The Nation, Municipality of 1 0 3 0
Timmins, City of 3 6 1 2
Walkerton BIA 1 1 2 0
Walkerton BIA & Municipality of Brockton 3 0 2 1
West Nipissing, Municipality of 1 1 0 0
Woolwich, Township of 1 0 0 0

* This report did not focus on a meeting but on whether the board is subject to the open meeting rules.

Financial Summary

Our Office’s budget for 2016-2017 was $18.58 million – unchanged from 2015-2016, when it was increased in recognition of our expanded mandate.

Our actual expenditures were $13.52 million, with continued spending toward our ongoing expansion as well as additional outreach. All unspent funds were returned to the provincial treasury.

EXPENSES (in thousands)
Annual Operating Expense 13,622
Salaries & Wages 8,573
Employee Benefits 1,922
Communication & Transportation 313
Services 2,056
Supplies & Equipment 758
Miscellaneous Revenue (returned to government) 103
Net Expenditures 13,519