TORONTO, June 25, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today reported on an historic year in which his office handled a 30% surge in complaints and saw its mandate expanded for the second time in four years.

In his fourth Annual Report as Ombudsman, Mr. Dubé details the highlights of the 27,419 complaints his office received from the public in 2018-2019, and updates numerous investigations and case resolutions related to provincial government bodies, municipalities, universities and school boards.

The Ombudsman and staff not only helped the public and bureaucrats with issues arising from the impact of significant political changes in 2018, they worked to promote the rights of a wide range of Ontarians, from social assistance recipients to transgender and Indigenous inmates, to journalists, Mr. Dubé writes in the report.

“The stories in this report serve as reminders of the profound human impact our work can have,” he says, noting that he hopes to make similar strides with his new oversight of French language services and child protection, which were transferred to his office as of May 1.

Describing the past year as a “defining moment” for his office, the Ombudsman says: “Political change and the administrative changes that go with it tend to make offices like ours busier, as the public and government officials alike seek answers about everything from good governance practices to the execution of political decisions.”

The Ombudsman’s role, he stresses, “is not to police politicians, or to intervene in or overturn political decisions,” but to assist in “ensuring that the execution of those decisions, through the delivery of government services, is fair.”

The report cites numerous examples of how the Ombudsman and staff helped complainants and bureaucrats alike with the impact of such decisions on public services, such as:

  • The federal legalization of cannabis and the opening of the online-only Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) prompted more than 2,400 complaints to the Ombudsman as the OCS struggled with delays, delivery problems and customer service issues. A dedicated team of Ombudsman staff worked with OCS to flag issues and resolve complaints quickly.

  • The cancellation of the Electric and Hydrogen Vehicle Incentive program as a result of the government ending cap-and-trade led to more than 300 complaints. Ombudsman staff helped owners navigate the system for obtaining program rebates.

The top category of complaints to the Ombudsman continues to be “law and order,” particularly issues related to correctional facilities (5,711 complaints, up 14% from last year). “I and several staff members visited correctional facilities across the province, where we sometimes observed unacceptable housing conditions,” Mr. Dubé says. “Our staff also assisted many transgender and Indigenous inmates in ensuring their specific rights were accommodated.”

The Ombudsman’s office continues to work with the government to ensure it implements promised reforms to the segregation (solitary confinement) of inmates and police training in de-escalation techniques – issues that affect vulnerable people, including those with mental illness.

Complaints about municipalities – which were added to the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction in 2015-2016, along with school boards and universities – increased 20%, to 3,002. As in previous years, almost all were resolved without formal investigation (the sole new investigation launched, into the controversial hiring of Niagara Region’s chief administrative officer, is ongoing) – but the report cites several cases that resulted in improvements to local administration.

For the first time, the top category of municipal complaints was not local councils themselves – a change Mr. Dubé’s report welcomes as the result of now-mandatory integrity commissioners at the local level: “Local issues are best handled at the local level,” it says. “Our Office does not replace these officers; our role is to ensure they are working as they should, and to intervene as warranted in areas where they cannot reach.” The top municipal topic was by-law enforcement.

The Ombudsman also released an update on his office’s work in the two new areas that were transferred to his jurisdiction as of May 1, when new legislation eliminating the formerly independent offices of the French Language Service Commissioner and the Provincial Child Advocate for Children and Youth took effect.

Largely staffed by existing employees of those offices, the Ombudsman’s new French Language Service and Children and Youth units have dealt with hundreds of complaints since May 1, and are pursuing ongoing investigations as well as emerging issues, Mr. Dubé says.

Acknowledging the “tremendous work” done by his predecessors in these areas, the Ombudsman adds: “We are committed to building on their success” in building relationships with the francophone community and with children and youth in care.

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Full report, backgrounders and video of the Ombudsman’s 11 a.m. news conference can be found at www.ombudsman.on.ca

For further information, please contact:
Linda Williamson, Director of Communications, 416-586-3426, lwilliamson@ombudsman.on.ca