Posts Tagged Ontario Ombudsman
(Ontario Ombudsman Taking A Hands Off Approach To Systemic Issues With Ontario’s School Boards)
Just as the Ministry of Education’s probe of more mishandling of public funds at the York Region District School Board becomes clearer, the Ontario Ombudsman has sent a strong message to tax payers that it will not comment on the lack of systemic investigations into the education sector.
In a response to questions this blog sent into the Ombudsman’s office outlining several concerns of those that have written into this office over the past two years, spokesperson Lina Williamson had this to offer:
Your email asks our office to comment on complaints and issues in a public forum (your blog). Due to the confidentiality of our process, this would not be appropriate. We invite you and any parents with whom you are in contact who have unresolved issues with school boards to contact us through our confidential complaint process (more info at this link):
Williamson also has a message for parents of special needs kids that have complained into the office and feel that the Ombudsman isn’t taking the issues seriously:
[Their] allegations that the Ombudsman has not been tackling issues that matter to Ontarians are unfounded and contrary to the facts. The Ombudsman and his team are deeply committed to enhancing governance in the public sector by promoting transparency, accountability, and fairness. We do that by resolving more than 21,000 complaints and inquiries every year in the most efficient manner and at the lowest level possible. In fact, 80% of cases are resolved within two weeks. In the 19 months since his appointment, Ombudsman Paul Dubé has published two Annual Reports, reported on 47 investigations of closed municipal meetings, and published five reports on systemic investigations, calling for policy and procedure reforms in police training, the placement and tracking of inmates in solitary confinement, supports and services for adults with developmental disabilities, and most recently, the provision of school busing services in Toronto. All of the Ombudsman’s 161 recommendations in these investigations have been accepted, and the organizations in question have pledged to implement them.
The office seems to be deeply concerned about transparency, accountability, and fairness just not within the education sector or for children with disabilities this sector serves. With respect to the Ombudsman’s mandate, Williamson had this to offer:
As is typical of a Parliamentary Ombudsman, we are an office of last resort. The Ombudsman is appointed by an all-party committee of the Legislature (not by the government), is impartial (not an advocate), and is completely independent of government, all political parties and interest groups. Anyone with questions is welcome to contact us through our website or at 1-800-263-1830.
Finally, our office recommends all school boards and municipalities have independent integrity commissioners. This is a widely recognized best practice, as local accountability mechanisms within the communities they serve can usually resolve complaints and issues more efficiently (the province recently amended legislation to require all municipalities to have an integrity commissioner by March 2019). The Ombudsman does not replace local accountability officers, but can take complaints about them.
Once again, anyone who has an issue with a school board or other public sector body within our mandate is encouraged to contact us through our confidential online form, complaints phone line, or by emailing email@example.com/
UPDATED: 11/9/2017 7:15pm
In the quest for transparency, I’ve followed up with the Ombudsman’s office regarding their responses. There’s been some back and forth since the original posting. Here’s what has transpired:
JK: The allegations surrounding your office not tackling the issues in the education sector, are not my own. Those allegations come from those who have directly complained to your office and are being referred back to their respective boards for complaint resolution. Your response below to questions regarding a specific mandate the Ombudsman has on the education sector, seems to be more generalized. Are you stating on the record here, that the reason why the Ombudsman hasn’t followed through with SORT investigations into the education sector, is because those complaints that have come into your office regarding school boards have been resolved? Can you please clear that up.
LW: “Are you stating on the record here, that the reason why the Ombudsman hasn’t followed through with SORT investigations into the education sector, is because those complaints that have come into your office regarding school boards have been resolved?”
No. First, the Ombudsman has done a SORT (systemic) investigation in the school board sector: The report The Route of the Problem was released in August, and all of Mr. Dubé’s recommendations were accepted. It can be found here: https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Investigations/SORT-Investigations/Completed/Toronto-school-busing-issues.aspx
Second, we cannot discuss individual cases with third parties. To reiterate, anyone who has a problem that they have been unable to resolve at the school board level is welcome to contact our office through our confidential complaint process.
For your general information, we oversee more than 1,000 public sector bodies and receive more than 21,00 complaints per year. Most are resolved informally. Receiving multiple complaints on an issue does not necessarily mean the Ombudsman can, should or will conduct a systemic investigation. Several factors go into any decision to conduct a systemic investigation, including the number of complaints, available resources, whether other resolution mechanisms can address the matter, whether there is evidence of a systemic issue, whether the matter relates to administration rather than broad public policy, and whether is being addressed by the institution in question.
JK: I’m not asking you to comment on individual cases, just systemic issues that your office should be aware of through individual complaints, and media reports. While I congratulate this office for ensuring school children get to school on time in an isolated incident within the province, I’m more than curious to see such a reluctance to put forth investigations on what happens when these kids get to school, the lack of support for special needs, the lack of application of the education act systemically, and a general lack of accountability within the school system itself. These issues are not just widely known to your office through individual reports, they are widely documented in media.
There’s no valid excuse for not following your mandate when it comes to the education sector. It’s truly unfortunate that our most vulnerable are caught in the middle and paying a heavy price due to the unwillingness to further, and independently investigate. That will surely reflect on policy discussions as it comes to any future mandates your office will or will not receive by government post 2018. The lack of engagement by your office on education issues over the past two years has been duly noted by Ontarioians who have written in to your office for help and have been slapped in the face by this office, and their respective boards. It’s unfortunate.
JK: While the discussion revolves around recent issues, I’ve attached a response this office gave to 400 individual complaints in 2010, in which your office has outlined concerns regarding the lack of independent oversight on the education sector. There has been very little movement in law regarding those concerns since 2010 other than your mandate. As a result the education system is in crisis, with our most vulnerable taking most of the hits in the classroom. I’ve attached this offices 2010 response, and I’ve highlighted what should be self-explanatory. Your office is fully and completely aware of the problems. While I know that your office can not comment on these 400 individual complaints, it will make for some interesting public discussions around your mandate moving forward. I’m still waiting for an interview with Dupe. The people of Ontario would like to hear directly from him on his mandate and the independence of this office please.
What has your experience been with the Ombudsman’s office, and the school boards? We would like to hear from you. Leave a comment, or message us anonymously at jkobopoli at rogers dot com
(Ontario’s Ombudsman Paul Dube is Falling Short on The Provincial Education Crisis and May Not Be Following His Mandate)
With media reports of students across this province being under supported almost on a weekly basis now, frustration with parents who often approach the Ombudsman’s office on lack of compliance of board staff on the education act, to what looks to be systemic misappropriation of tax payers funds by school boards, to education sector unions demanding more money be spent on their members rather than kids – I thought it might be necessary to write into the Ombudsman’s office and find out why after two years of his mandate which is retroactive, there has been not one systemic investigation into the education sector on these issues in this province with a crisis growing by the day.
Below is a list of questions/concerns I sent into the Ombudsman’s communication department. Apparently they don’t have a canned response to handle any of the below, and I am told this has been moved up the ladder to the Ombudsman himself, and his staff. I’m told I should be receiving a response to this “soon” and I will post that response when it comes in.
I’m a syndicated blogger and contributor to a political and policy blog called Mind Bending Politics which follows political policy in Ontario and Canada Wide. I’ve been following the crisis in our education system now for over ten years. The predecessor to your office Andre Marin was quite adamant in getting this mandate to look into Ontario’s education sector since your office was fielding a number of complaints regarding the lack of compliance within the education act on a systematic level. I was one of the primary advocates to ensure that your office received a mandate through the province in investigating complaints within the education system.
Two years into your mandate, we’re not seeing a reduction of these issues outlined in the above article, in fact since your office has received your mandate on the educational sector, we’re seeing the lack of compliance within law grow exponentially across the province.
I have followed quite a number of complaints into your office, which should have sparked SORT investigations into the public education system, and the lack of compliance with the education act that is systemic and has been for some time.
I’ve received word by several parents that have written into your office that instead of actively investigating complaints on systemic non-compliance of the education act, you are telling parents that you are a last resort option and referring 100% of these cases I am aware of back to their respective boards where often these complaints end up being not resolved with respect to compliance with the law.
I have a few questions I would like to ask.
1. First, since your mandate the York Regional District School Board has and is the latest board to come under fire for non-compliance of the education act, and misappropriation of public funds, and systemic racism. It took a parents complaint into the human rights tribunal regarding racism before the province decided to step in. Can you explain how or why your office over the past two years were not aware of the situations within the York Regional District School Board that were later outlined by provincial investigators as being long term systemic issues across the YRDSB? Many parents within the YRDSB have written into this office regarding compliance with the education act, and your office has thus far refused to get involved. Can you further explain why that is?
2. Second, in your 2016/2017 annual report, this office gave praise to boards like the YRDSB who are setting up a self policing integrity office, and recommended that other boards do the same. Can you further explain why this office is advocating for a non-independent integrity review when your office has the mandate to independently and systemically investigate compliance with the education act? Why would an integrity office would be needed with your mandate, and why is this office endorsing a non-independent review of the integrity of board employees in the first place?
3. Since September 2017, I’ve seen almost weekly reports in the media and social media of special needs kids being sent home pre-maturely, not properly supported in the education system, lack of compliance with the education act on IEPs, a lack of hiring properly trained staff. Is this office monitoring those reports, and if so could you please offer comment as to why your office isn’t taking any public initiative to conduct a SORT investigation into special needs education in the province of Ontario?
4. Recently Janis Jaffe-White, co-ordinator, and Reva Schafer, resource parent, of the Toronto Family Network wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star outlining concerns regarding the lack of compliance with the education act province wide for special needs students. I would like this office to further comment on this op-ed and what this office plans on doing to thoroughly investigate these issues with compliance with the education act both at the board, and ministerial level.
(Ontario’s Watch Dog Caught Not Watching)
The Ontario Ombudsman’s office recently got new powers to investigate school boards, municipalities and universities. The early months of these new expanded powers has seen this office more run like a customer service wing of government rather than one with investigative powers to resolve issues. In fact, the Ontario Ombudsman hasn’t launched any investigations at all on the complaints they are receiving as a result of those expanded powers.
I’ve been a strong advocate in the past and a strong voice within the victims rights community with respect to expanding the Ontario Ombudsman’s office powers to investigate school boards. Even starting a facebook group to push for new legislation in 2010 and featured in local media. Advocates I’ve worked with before in the victims rights community are reporting that the Ombudsman’s office is refusing to investigate issues at the school board level, often disposing of complaints without a full resolution, or investigation. There have been no investigations on the complaints received against school boards since her expanded powers came into effect in September 2015.
I’ve recently got a call from the Ombudsman on a complaint I was sure the office would investigate. It’s well within this offices jurisdiction to investigate. As a result of my own family situation in having a wife and child who are autistic, I’ve had to put a lot of my life on hold to take care of my family. It’s a full time job, on top of the problems we’ve encountered in the housing system, and also having to fight tooth and nail for services my son needs. We live in social housing.
My family and I have been through hell over the past two years while I started my own probe into the public housing sector to see what problems within the law are creating an environment ripe for abuse and fear. Many who qualify for housing and are on waiting lists may not be getting a fair shake as a result of the lack of accountability and legal enforcement primarily as a result of lobbyists efforts on legislation, and inaction of government to deal with a crisis situation. Money allocated at all levels of government may not be making it’s way to where it’s needed most to improve the system, nor improve living conditions for those who are living in social housing. This is especially important now to come forward with all of this due to the influx of refugees, and commitments from all levels of government to hand out more money for affordable housing. The last thing we all want is for these people to move from one dictatorship to another.
A lot of our most vulnerable in our society are being taken advantage of and squashed like little ants, in large part due to a huge troll of a lobby group called the Canadian Co-Operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHFC). There’s a lot of money I’m suspecting in the system that is unaccounted for, primarily as a result of our politicians not taking co-operative members with any serious credibility. Someone needs to investigate the amount of abuse in the system, in order to better improve financial accountability, and ensure that civil rights of low income individuals who require affordable housing are being actively respected. The Ombudsman’s office is refusing to investigate, and told me to follow up with my MPP. So here is my letter to MPP Julia Munro:
I contacted your office last week regarding my Ombudsman complaint against York Region being punted back to your office as a result of a change in the law that is required to ensure financial accountability within the co-operative housing sector.
There are now two issues attached to this. The first is the utter refusal of the Ombudsmans office to investigate the system that is in place for not just financial accountability issues but what I would suspect to be a huge number of civil rights issues due to the way the Co-operative Corporations Act is enforced. I was a huge advocate to get the Ombudsman involved in investigating complaints regarding the MUSH sector. I’m hearing from anti-bullying advocates and also through my experience that the Ombudsmans office is currently disposing of complaints that are well within its jurisdiction and mandate to investigate. I was told by this office that since I think there needs to be a change in law they would not investigate my complaint told me to get a hold of you all the while claiming to the public that the office looks for accountability issues and works with Government to make proper changes to legislation to improve the system (which is the basis for my complaint into the Ombudsman in the first place):
Myself and quite a few that advocated for the Ombudsman’s oversight of the MUSH sector will be coming forward publicly on our concerns regarding the conduct of this office since they have been granted expanded powers. That’s the first issue.
The second issue is how the law legislation is enforced under the Co-operative Corporations Act. In order for the co-operative or members of the co-operative to enforce bi-laws or breach of bi-laws passed by the members, it requires an expensive trip to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (SCJ). In 2013, the Ontario Legislature introduced Bill 14 Non-profit Housing Co-operatives Statute Law Amendment Act, 2013, which essentially allows for the co-operative to enforce evictions by way of the Landlord Tenants Board (LTB) under certain circumstances. This amendment does NOT allow members of the co-operative to approach the LTB to get their concerns regarding mismanagement and harassment of boards, and staff to be addressed. Members must still file at the SCJ. An excellent article on the passing of Bill 14 Non-profit Housing Co-operatives Statute Law Amendment Act and the concerns regarding that act is here:
Essentially since the conception of the Co-operative Corporations Act in 1990, there has been only one co-operative member that made it to present her case before the SCJ. The rest have been fought out of court on legal technicalities. Something that the Canadian Co-Operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHFC) acknowledged in 2013 during testimony before the standing committee on Bill 14 Non-profit Housing Co-operatives Statute Law Amendment Act. It’s also worthy of note that only a few co-operative members were able to provide testimony in the 2013 committee and time allocated for these members to speak in committee was dramatically cut compared to those who represent the co-operative sector, most likely due to the lobby efforts of CHFC.
Every lawyer that I’ve approached on my specific situation here has told me to basically shut up and not to speak out as a result of legislation being highly lopsided towards co-operative administrators and boards. My worry is as a result of the lack of enforcement of the Co-operative Corporations Act and lack of enforcement of member passed bi-laws as a result, some boards and admins (as the case in my situation) feel that they are above the law, threaten and harass members from coming forward or exercising the democratic spirit of the act and co-operative living (several co-operative members came forward with similar concerns in committee on Bill 14 in 2013). If there’s no accountability under the act, I suspect the system is ripe for abuse of public funds, and also civil liberties that need to be properly looked at. In fact, Durham Region Police posted one specific example of how things can get out of control due to the lack of enforcement, and members afraid of speaking out that amounted to fraud, in which Durham Regional Housing refused to provide proper legal assistance to ensure that money lost was recovered:
What co-operative members need is the LTB to handle complaints by members with respect to bi-law enforcement on boards and co-operative staff. Having low income members shoulder full costs of enforcement of the act is representative of how lopsided the law has become and the utter decimation of our rights as co-operative members under law. The co-op has money to enforce their rights under law, but us members have no money, and no affordable legal assistance to bring that enforcement to bear. CHFC has been handling a lot of these complaints outside of court, however CHFC is quite obviously NOT the appropriate place to bring concerns regarding boards and admins, since they are the primary lobby group for the co-operative housing sector, and their primary focus is to protect co-operative boards and staff, not members as cited in my Ombudsman’s complaint.
I hope you guys can help. I’m tiring real fast on being pointed in every which direction, because no one wants to deal with this, and I’m getting real sick of this. My family has been through enough.
The issues here, fall directly within the Ombudsmans jurisdiction and new powers to investigate. A huge amount of evidence was provided to this office, including e-mail chains from the Region of York, and York Regional Council, actively refusing to look at financial accountability issues that are present in the system.
The second part of this post will deal specifically with the Ombudsman quickly disposing of complaints made against school boards in the province. If you have filed a complaint into the Ombudsman since their expanded powers. I would like to hear from you. Please e-mail me your stories at jkobopoli at rogers dot com.