What is an Ombudsman/Ombudsperson?

What is an Ombudsman/Ombudsperson?

An Ombudsman/Ombudsperson assists with the fair and expeditious resolution of complaints in an impartial, confidential and independent manner. Services are free of charge and the Ombudsman/person is not a representative of the person raising the complaint or the organization being complained about. Depending on how it is has been established, Ombudsman/person roles include:

  • The use of informal resolutions for complaints using tools like mediation, negotiation and shuttle diplomacy.
  • The use of Inquiries and structured investigations to determine whether a complaint is founded along with the ability to make recommendations to correct unfair situations, both in individual cases and to address systemic issues.
  • Assistance with resolving complaints through advice, referral and discussion and by exploring available options.
  • Looking for trends and patterns in complaints to identify and make recommendations to address potential systemic issues and seek system-wide improvements to influence positive changes.

In Canada, ombudsman/person generally operate under three types of mandates:

Ombudsman/person established by provincial, territorial or federal legislation with strong powers of investigation and structural independence. [Example: provincial and territorial ombudsman/person, some federal ombudsman/person offices].

Ombudsman/person established by policy or terms of reference by both private and public sector organizations. They primarily use various forms of early resolution methods but may also have the power to investigate and the authority to publish annual and special reports. [Example: ombudsman/ombudspersons in universities and colleges, banks, utilities].

Ombudsman/person established by corporate or organizational policy or terms of reference which generally use only facilitative methods for assisting with the resolution of complaints. [Example: employee ombudsman for banks and some federal agencies].

The first Ombudsman role established in Canada was at Simon Fraser University located in Vancouver in 1965. The majority of provinces followed suit beginning in 1967 and by 1996 nine provinces, one territory and one federal government department had legislated Ombudsman offices in place for the purpose of general administrative oversight. During this time period many universities, colleges, corporations and various government departments and organizations also set up this unique and important role. It is important to recognize that in the first decade of the twenty-first century many new Ombudsman/person roles have been established by a wide variety of governments as well as private and public sector organizations.