What can I expect from the Office of the Ombudsperson?
- Courteous and timely service.
- A careful assessment of your complaint.
- If we do not investigate your complaint, we will tell you the reasons why. When possible, we will suggest another way to resolve your complaint.
- If we decide to investigate your complaint, our investigation will be conducted in a thorough, independent, and impartial manner.
- Regular information about the progress of our investigation.
- Full reasons for any decision made regarding our investigation.
What happens to my complaint?
We receive most of our complaints by phone. In those cases, you will speak directly to a member of our intake team. If you mail, fax or send your complaint to us online, our intake team may also contact you for more information.
Once we have your complaint, our intake team will assess it. If they determine that your complaint falls within our jurisdiction and requires further consideration, they will assign the file to one of our investigative teams. The team manager will assign the file to an ombudsperson officer.
Due to the continuing increase in the number of concerns and complaints we receive, we may not be able to immediately assign all files. If we can’t assign it immediately, the file will remain active on our list of files waiting to be assigned. The team manager will be reviewing the list regularly and will assign files as soon as possible.
If we decide not to investigate, we will explain why. If we know of any other options that might assist you, we will let you know about them.
You can expect to hear back from us within a week to 10 days, and we will let you know the status of your complaint at that time.
What happens in an investigation?
Once an ombudsperson officer is assigned to your complaint, he or she will generally contact you within a week to discuss it with you. The ombudsperson officer will then decide whether our office can play a role in resolving your complaint. If the ombudsperson officer decides to investigate, we will notify the public agency involved and gather information about the complaint. Some complaints can be resolved at this stage. If needed, we will ask you for more information. If the officer decides to close the file, he or she will give you a written explanation of the reasons for ending our investigation.
If it appears that an unfairness may have occurred – for example, a miscommunication of information – the alleged wrong can sometimes be corrected through a balanced and inclusive response to the complaint by the public agency. The public agency may respond and take actions to correct the matter. Our office may decide at this point to close the file, or we may choose to stay involved until we are satisfied that the outcome reached is open, fair and accountable.
Many complaints, however, require further investigation. For example, if the initial investigation does not draw out enough information to allow us to decide that an unfairness has not occurred, and if communication with the public agency has not resulted in what our office would consider an adequate response to the fairness concern raised, the ombudsperson officer will continue to collect evidence and conduct interviews. The conclusion may be that the complaint is not substantiated, or that the complaint has ultimately been settled to the satisfaction of our Office. This process involves ongoing communication and information gathering with both the complainant and the public agency.
If the evidence suggests an unfairness under the terms of the Ombudsperson Act, and if the public agency does not agree that this may be the case and take appropriate action to correct the unfairness, a decision will be made on how to proceed. This decision may include one or more of the following:
- Further consultation with the public agency, likely at a higher level within the agency;
- the Ombudsperson deciding to issue tentative findings under section 17 of the Ombudsperson Act;
- the Ombudsperson deciding to issue findings and recommendations under section 23 of the Ombudsperson Act;
- the Ombudsperson deciding to issue a public report;
- a decision by the Ombudsperson to set aside an investigation to allow for the authority to undertake a defined action, with the Ombudsperson continuing to monitor the situation.
Our office makes a finding of unfairness in very few cases. Once an investigation is underway, agencies are often prepared to resolve the complaint without further investigation. Often many other people are helped when a public agency improves its service delivery and practices, not just the person who made the complaint. On the other hand, in some cases we make findings that no unfairness has occurred and that the complaint is not substantiated.
How long does an investigation take?
Your complaint will be dealt with as quickly as possible. Some complaints can be dealt with in a matter of days. Other complaints may take many months to investigate.
Can the Ombudsperson order a public agency to fix my problem?
The Ombudsperson can, when appropriate, recommend changes to resolve an unfairness. Most of the time, public agencies accept the recommendations of the Ombudsperson. However, the Ombudsperson cannot order an authority to change its process, policy or decision.
Will the Ombudsperson advocate on my behalf and support my complaint?
The Ombudsperson is not an advocate or agent for any party to a dispute. Neither is the Ombudsperson a defender or apologist for the government. Our investigations are impartial and independent.
If you have a question, concern or a complaint about our investigation, the person to contact first is the investigator who is assigned to the file, who is the person most knowledgeable about the issues. If the investigator is not able to provide a satisfactory response, you can speak to his or her manager. The investigator will provide you with the manager’s name and telephone number upon request.