“Ombudsman” is a gender-neutral Swedish word that means “citizen’s representative” – an independent official who investigates complaints from the public about problems in government administration. The first parliamentary ombudsman was created in Sweden in 1809. Today, about 90 countries around the world have independent ombudsman offices.
The Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario was established in 1975 , under the Ombudsman Act. The Ombudsman is an impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature, independent of the government and all political parties, who is appointed by an all-party committee of the Legislative Assembly every five years.
The Ombudsman is Mr. Paul Dubé , who began his term on April 1, 2016.
The Ombudsman resolves and investigates more than 20,000 public complaints every year about Ontario government organizations and municipalities, universities and school boards. The Ombudsman recommends solutions to individual and systemic administrative problems. Read about the Ombudsman’s values, mission and vision, and read about the type of work we do.
Contact the Ombudsman if you have a problem you have been unable to resolve with an Ontario government body, municipality, university, or school board. You can also contact us for information about our work or our processes.
The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about Ontario government ministries, corporations, agencies, boards, commissions and tribunals, with some exceptions. The Ombudsman can also investigate complaints about all of Ontario’s municipalities, publicly funded universities and school boards. Check the list of Who We Oversee to find out whether we oversee a particular organization.
The Ombudsman cannot investigate individuals, private businesses, the courts, politicians, local police, or the federal government – and some matters within the mandate of other officers (e.g., hospitals, long-term care facilities and children’s aid societies).
To find out if the organization that is the subject of your complaint is within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, please see Who We Oversee.
If the organization is outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, another office might be able to help you. For example:
• The Ombudsman cannot take complaints about hospitals, long-term care homes or Community Care Access Centres. The Patient Ombudsman, oversees these bodies.
• The Ombudsman cannot take complaints about children’s aid societies. The Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth oversees these bodies.
• The Ombudsman cannot take complaints about municipal police services or police conduct. The Office of the Independent Police Review Director handles complaints about police conduct.
• The Ombudsman cannot investigate complaints about matters within the mandate of the City of Toronto Ombudsman.
If you are still not sure where to turn, contact us and our staff will do their best to help.
Anyone can complain, and there is no cost to complainants or to the organizations that are the subject of complaints.
The Ombudsman is an office of last resort. This means that you should try any available complaint mechanisms or appeals before submitting a complaint to our office. If you are not sure what mechanisms exist, contact us for help. When you submit your complaint to the Ombudsman, we will ask you to provide any relevant documentation, correspondence or other information, including what steps you took to address the issue.
Our staff will contact you, if warranted, for more information. Our first step is always to resolve the complaint informally, as quickly as possible. Our staff also make note of trends in complaints that indicate systemic problems that could affect large numbers of people, and they flag urgent cases.
Most complaints are resolved informally – more than 60% in two weeks or less. In the rare cases that cannot be resolved informally, the Ombudsman can issue a formal notice of investigation to the relevant organization.
You will be informed about the outcome of your case. Organizations that are formally investigated are given a chance to respond before the Ombudsman makes findings and recommendations.
No, in fact, most cases are informally resolved and formal investigations are rare. Statistics for all complaints are reported in our Annual Reports, along with selected summaries of resolved cases. The Ombudsman does report publicly on formal investigations, often in special reports as well as in the Annual Report.
No. Complaints are often resolved without need to contact the relevant organization. Similarly, when our staff contact a public sector body to gather information, it does not mean we are investigating. When the Ombudsman launches an investigation, we give written notice to the organization in question.
The role of the Ombudsman, in Ontario and all around the world, is to be impartial – not to advocate for one side or another (the complainant or the body being complained about). Once the Ombudsman has made findings, based on evidence, he makes recommendations for constructive change – and makes the case for his recommendations to be accepted.
The Ombudsman Act sets out the Ombudsman’s powers of investigation, which include the authority to issue summonses, request documentation from public sector bodies, require evidence under oath, and inspect premises. It is an offence under the Ombudsman Act to mislead the Ombudsman or to obstruct an Ombudsman investigation. All provincial government organizations and municipalities, universities and school boards must co-operate with the Ombudsman’s investigations.
No. The Ombudsman cannot enforce his recommendations, nor can he overturn decisions. However, most of his recommendations are accepted, and the Ombudsman and staff follow up to ensure they are implemented.
The Ombudsman and staff can help people navigate the bureaucracy, cut through red tape, identify and rectify unfair administrative conduct, and prompt broad reforms affecting millions of people. Examples of individual case resolutions are featured in our in our Annual Reports. Results of the Ombudsman’s major systemic investigations are published in separate investigation reports and updated in our Annual Reports.
You can make a confidential complaint through our online complaint form, or by phone, email, regular mail or in person (details on our Contact page).
We cannot accept complaints through our Facebook or Twitter accounts because posts there are not confidential.
Yes, calls may be recorded for quality assurance and training purposes and/or to ensure an accurate record.
In most cases, our staff ask for your name and other relevant information in order to address your complaint, but all complaint information is kept strictly confidential, and complainants are not identified without consent.
We will respond as quickly as possible. Most complaints are responded to and fully resolved within two weeks or less.
Most cases are resolved without need for formal investigation. The Ombudsman can decide to launch a formal investigation if an individual complaint cannot be resolved, or if he identifies what appears to be a systemic problem potentially affecting a large number of people. Investigations can arise from a trend in complaints or just one complaint – and the Ombudsman also has the power to launch an investigation on his “own motion,” without a complaint.
After the issue is assessed and the decision is made to investigate, a notice of investigation is sent to the appropriate organization. Investigators then gather evidence (by reviewing documents, interviewing people involved in the matter, etc.), upon which the Ombudsman bases his findings and recommendations. The organization has a chance to respond before the Ombudsman’s recommendations are finalized and made public.
Yes. The Ombudsman can choose not to pursue a complaint based on such factors as whether or not the issue is still current, the complainant is personally affected, alternative remedies exist, the matter involves public policy rather than administrative issues, or the complaint is frivolous or vexatious.
The results of major investigations and notable cases are published in our Annual Reports. For investigations related to systemic issues, as well as those involving municipalities, universities and school boards, the Ombudsman usually publishes separate investigation reports.
When the Ombudsman’s recommendations are accepted, he also asks the public sector body in question to report to him on its progress in implementing them. We monitor this progress, as well as any new complaints that might indicate recurring issues, and publish updates in our Annual Reports. The Ombudsman can also reopen an investigation if warranted.
Our Office is in the process of hiring to reach 143 full-time employees. Our budget is $18.5 million, and unspent funds are returned to the provincial treasury each year. In 2016-2017, actual spending was $13.5 million. Expenses are published quarterly online.