Ombudsman releases first plans for new child and youth mandate

February 21, 2019

21 February 2019

New units will handle oversight of child protection and French language services.

(TORONTO – February 21, 2019) Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today outlined his plan for assuming the investigative functions of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth by May 1, as mandated by recent provincial legislation.

As part of the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018 (or Bill 57), introduced last November 15 and passed three weeks later, the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction is being expanded to include certain responsibilities of Child Advocate Irwin Elman and French Language Services Commissioner François Boileau.

The law eliminates the positions of those two officers and gives the Ombudsman the power to investigate matters formerly within their purview. The Ombudsman’s team has worked for the past few months to plan for this change, based on the terms of the legislation.

“With the added expertise of colleagues from the two former offices, we will focus on conducting high-quality investigations and bringing constructive change to these two new areas of our jurisdiction,” Mr. Dubé said. “We will establish dedicated teams for both areas – bearing in mind that we must also work within the parameters the government has set in this legislation.”

The legislation transfers investigative powers to the Ombudsman with regard to children’s aid societies and child protection matters, but not the advocacy function of Elman’s office. Instead, the government has said that advocacy for children and youth will be co-ordinated within the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, and that it will create “advocacy roundtables” to that end.

As a result, the advocacy-focused positions within the Advocate’s office, along with some support functions, will be eliminated, Mr. Dubé said. This includes winding down an office in Thunder Bay that is devoted to advocacy, although the plan also includes consulting with northern and Indigenous communities to ensure they are aware of and can access the Ombudsman’s services. The exact number of positions affected will be determined in the next few weeks.

“It must be understood that an ombudsman is not an interest advocate; an ombudsman is an impartial investigator who advocates for fairness and good governance, but not for individuals,” Mr. Dubé said. “That is the strength we bring to this new task, and our new child and youth unit, which will include experienced investigators from the former Advocate’s team, will help us ensure our new responsibilities toward children are met.

“I am confident that the standards, methods, integrity and effectiveness of the Ombudsman’s office will not only ensure that the rights and interests of children and youth are protected, but will benefit them through our proven ability to address issues and drive positive change.”

Plans for the French Language Services Commissioner’s office will be finalized soon, Mr. Dubé added. Because the legislation directly transfers that office’s functions to the Ombudsman – including the establishment of a Commissioner at the level of Deputy Ombudsman – few immediate changes are expected. A dedicated unit within the Ombudsman’s office will also be created for French language services issues.

The Ombudsman will present a supplemental budget to the Board of Internal Economy in the coming weeks to fund the increased responsibilities associated with the assumption of the two new mandates. Some other key points are yet to be determined – including the exact date the changes will take effect, Mr. Dubé pointed out. “The legislation says it will be May 1 at the latest, but it could be proclaimed in force before then,” he said, noting his team is prepared for the transition to take place as early as April 1 (the normal start of the fiscal year).

In the interim, the services of all three offices continue as usual, including receiving complaints, conducting investigations, releasing reports, and advocacy.

The Ombudsman is an independent, impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature who resolves and investigates more than 20,000 public complaints per year about more than 1,000 public sector bodies, including all provincial ministries, agencies, corporations, boards, commissions and tribunals, as well as municipalities, universities and school boards. He also has the power to investigate broad systemic issues and issue reports and recommendations. The Ombudsman’s recommendations have been overwhelmingly accepted, resulting in public sector improvements affecting millions of Ontarians.

For more information, contact:
Linda Williamson, Director of Communications 416-586-3426