50 Years of Ombuds in Canada
2015 marks the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of the first ombudsman role in Canada at Simon Fraser University in 1965 – the first academic organization to have an ombudsman in North America.
FCO planned and implemented a number of activities:
1. PowerPoint presentations about the 50th anniversary and brief history of ombuds in Canada: English and Bilingual
2. Map showing FCO/ACCUO members in Canada
3. FCO Bursary Program: Essay Contest and Research Grant
4. Video from ACCUO on 50th Anniversary of Simon Fraser Ombudsman
5. Survey on “What is fairness?”
6. Facebook page “ombuds50”
7. FCO webpage on “Need an ombuds?”
8. Info on Creating an Ombuds Office (ACCUO)
Video from ACCUO on 50th Anniversary of Simon Fraser Ombudsman
50 years of fairness / 50 ans d’équité
Essay Contest Winner
We are pleased to announce the outcome of the FCO 50th Anniversary Essay Contest: In selecting the recipient of this award FCO used the common practice for assessing the essay submissions by using a single blind review whereby all of the authors’ names and identifying information and affiliations was removed prior to the material being circulated to the reviewers. As a result, the reviewers were not informed of the identity of the author of the winning submission until the FCO announcement made this information public.
Ms. Heather McGhee Peggs, winner of the Essay Contest, received a bursary for the cost of enrollment in the FCO/Osgoode ‘Ombuds Essentials’ course which was held September 28 – October 2, 2015 in Toronto. Funding was provided through the Laura Bradbury Research Award.
Heather is the Manager of the Conflict Resolution Centre for Graduate Students at the University of Toronto and is formerly the Assistant Ombudsperson at the Office of the Ombudsperson at Ryerson University. Ms. Sandra Morrison, a member of the FCO Board of Directors, organized the review process.
Research Grant Awarded
Following a national competition, FCO has awarded funds in the amount of $10,000 to support an Ombuds-focused research project that will contribute to higher levels of effectiveness in the implementation of the Ombuds/man/person role in the Canadian context.
FCO is pleased to announce, that Professor Marina Pavlović from the University of Ottawa will be the recipient of the research grant for a project exploring the role of private-sector industry ombuds schemes as tools for increasing access to justice for consumers.
Prof. Pavlović’s project is based on a 2007 study exploring legal problems experienced by Canadians. The study found that a large percentage of all Canadian legal problems deal with consumer issues, and that consumers, generally, are ignorant of their consumer rights. Additionally, in the last decade, Canada has been experiencing an access to justice crisis, forcing those with legal problems to deal with long delays and unsatisfactory options for obtaining redress. Prof. Pavlović’s project suggests that meaningful access to justice in the area of consumer rights requires consumer empowerment, allowing consumers to become effective self-helpers with access to customized and subject-specific dispute resolution mechanisms. Her proposed research will examine the role of private-sector industry ombuds schemes as tools for increasing access to justice for consumers of financial, telecommunications, and air travel services. The final report will offer suggestions for reform in both the relevant industry sectors and, more generally, private-sector industry ombuds schemes.
In a recent blog post for the Faculty of Law’s Centre for Law, Technology and Society, Prof. Pavlović addresses the topic of access to justice for consumers of telecommunications services. This post complements her new research project in its call for a tailored access to justice approach that empowers consumers while offering low-cost dispute resolution mechanisms. Click here to read the blog.
Prof. Pavlović’s research focuses on the areas of access to justice, dispute resolution, consumer protection, and law and technology policy. She is also the consumer-groups appointed director on the Board of the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services.
Fifty Years of Fighting for Fairness
Nora Farrell, President, Forum of Canadian Ombudsman
Lorne Sossin, Dean and Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Canadians have a much better ability to fight for their rights than they did fifty years ago. And one of the reasons is the increasing number of Ombudsman across the country. It all began with the establishment of the first Ombudsman in Canada, at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver in 1965. Back then the idea that citizens had rights and legitimate expectations about their treatment by organizations was a radical concept. Governments did not willingly subject themselves to having limits and being accountable for their actions. Now Ombudsman offices are almost commonplace, they flourish throughout Canada, in organizations as diverse as banks and universities, municipalities, provinces and territories, and federal departments.
We know that Ombudsman are effective. They have successfully held a number of governments and organizations to account. In 1976, Ontario Ombudsman Arthur Maloney fought for fair compensation from the provincial government for residents who had their lands expropriated for an airport in Pickering. In 1979, Alberta Ombudsman Randall Ivany condemned the provincial government for using heavy-handed tactics in a mineral dispute with the Alberta Federation of Métis Settlements. He not only got them an apology but also the establishment of a joint committee to review the province’s relationship with the Métis. In 1984, British Columbia Ombudsman Karl Friedmann fought a challenge from the government over the extent of his jurisdiction. He took it all the way to the Supreme Court and his victory established the precedent that statutory ombudsman in Canada can investigate virtually any actions of government, aside from legislative and political decisions. In 2013, the federal Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers exposed systemic discrimination against aboriginal people in the federal prison system.
These examples reflect the type of Ombudsman work that most people think of: one established by government. But Ombudsman in both private and public sector institutions have made great strides as well. Over 40 university and college Ombudsman work tirelessly to solve staff and student issues across the country. The Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments, Doug Melville, has successfully pushed for fair compensation for customers badly treated by financial services companies.
We owe a debt of thanks to Sweden who established the first Ombudsman in 1809 to safeguard the rights of citizens and hold government to account. Today in Canada, the role has been refined but the goal is much the same. Ombudsman serve as agents of fairness, holding government and organizations to account for good administration and service. Ombudsman are independent from the entities they oversee and often act as an office of last resort to solve peoples’ complaints.
In an increasingly rule-bound and red-tape filled society, Ombudsman bring common sense to the decisions that are made by big government and complex organizations. They exist because we all know that, even with the best of intentions, an unhindered bureaucracy can lead to unfair treatment of citizens, residents, taxpayers and customers. An Ombudsman may not be the first place people turn to solve their problems, but it is the invaluable last resort for those who feel they have nowhere left to turn.
Ombudsman act impartially and are an easy, efficient and effective alternative to the courts because they can resolve a complaint through mediation, negotiation and sometimes investigation, all the time guided by principles of fairness and good governance.
In addition to settling individual complaints, ombudsman can have a dramatic impact on the lives of thousands of people all at once by looking into far-ranging and systemic problems in administration. An Ombudsman can have a real and sustained influence after an investigation, when they make recommendations and advocate for solutions. While Ombudsman have no authority to enforce these recommendations, governments and industry have found it difficult, if not impossible to withstand the moral suasion and pressure for the acceptance of their recommendations.
The Forum of Canadian Ombudsman is celebrating “50 Years of Fairness” when it meets in Vancouver this month. It’s a fitting theme for the conference, and one that encourages us to celebrate an institution that, in the words of Supreme Court of Alberta Chief Justice Milvain, “can bring the lamp of scrutiny to otherwise dark places, even over the resistance of those who would draw the blinds.”
The Ombudsman’s Contemporary Challenge: Bringing Added Value and Ensuring it is Valued
As Quebec Ombudsman since April 2006, Raymonde Saint-Germain has witnessed the evolution of this highly demanding function and how it is exercised, which poses a challenge to all ombudsmen. Their effectiveness is essential to their survival. Below, Ms. Saint-Germain presents her analysis of the situation.
Perceived by some complainants as their counsel and by some members of their organization as controller, ombudsmen, be they called mediators or protectors, are in fact neither. Above all, they must not be perceived as adversaries of an administration nor as ipso facto defenders of those administered by it.
Over the years, as more and more ombudsman’s offices have been created in private industry, academic institutions, governments and parliaments, the title has been somewhat usurped. The end goal of ombudsmen must always be to protect, defend and promote justice and equity within the private or public organization that appointed them. Their impartiality, fundamental to their credibility, can only be achieved through autonomy and independent action.
One of the challenges facing most ombudsmen today, in Canada and elsewhere, is ensuring that an organization’s response to pressure to improve its administrative performances does not result in the unjust or unfair treatment of any citizen or client, and that every individual’s rights, in counterbalance to individual obligations, are upheld in all circumstances. In general, there is no question that the resources invested in an ombudsman’s office, be it private or public, provide a return beyond the monetary value of the investment.
Nonetheless, proper governance of any organization requires measurement of its performance, and ombudsmen cannot be excluded. Given their specific mission, the indicators chosen to assess their performance must be well-considered and suitably adapted. Simply importing a cost/benefit approach to evaluate an ombudsman is the worst pitfall. The same is true for the performance evaluation of a police service or a court. Two dimensions, quantity AND quality, must be taken into account in any system used to evaluate an ombudsman’s results.
Herein lies the main contemporary challenge facing ombudsmen: bringing real added value to their organizations and making sure this value is appreciated.
What indicators can be used to assess this added value? Most are qualitative. Without giving an exhaustive list here, there are several elements of an organization’s positive performance to which an effective ombudsman can contribute. For example, he or she can inspire self-regulation, and his or her input often fosters the development of an organizational culture focused on satisfying the clientele’s needs. The results of an ombudsman’s actions provide the model for response in other similar situations; this is known as the collective effect. The instructive nature of the ombudsman’s recommendations, which lead to lasting improvements, has an undeniable qualitative value. These improvements can also have a financial value.
This is how an ombudsman helps to maintain – and in some cases restore – the organization’s good reputation among its clientele. And this action has a definite value. The value of trust in a public agency, a university, a business is a qualitative benefit that classic evaluations are not sufficiently refined to take into account. As well, this trust has positive economic impacts for an organization.
Being able to accurately measure their (still under-estimated) added value and ensure it is appreciated is a huge contemporary challenge for the different types of ombudsmen. It is our duty to ensure this added value benefits administrations and those administered by them, as well as businesses and their clienteles.