(TORONTO – May 1, 2020) Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today marked the first anniversary of the expansion of his mandate to include child protection services and French language services, noting that his office has helped hundreds of young people and Franco-Ontarians in the past year.
On May 1, 2019, the Ombudsman established two new dedicated units for this work, largely staffed by former employees of the offices of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth and the French Language Services Commissioner, which were closed by government legislation. From that day through March 31, 2020 the Children and Youth Unit received more than 1,650 complaints regarding young people in care, and the French Language Services Unit received more than 300.
“When these new areas of jurisdiction were transferred to us, it quickly became clear that it was a unique opportunity to bring the strengths of the Ombudsman’s Office – our expertise in complaint handling and investigation, and our 45-year track record in achieving constructive change within public sector administration – to two important new groups of Ontarians,” Mr. Dubé said.
“Our new colleagues brought their experience and passion for protecting the rights of vulnerable children and of Franco-Ontarians. Working together, we are a formidable force for achieving positive results. Throughout the past year – including while working at home during the present COVID-19 state of emergency – both units have been there for these populations, ensuring that their concerns are heard and responded to.”
The Children and Youth Unit has helped hundreds of children and youth in care who were unhappy with their placements, worried about their safety, or unable to resolve issues related to their care. They ensure youths’ concerns are heard and their rights are respected. They also take complaints from adult family members, service providers and whistleblowers. All children’s aid societies, residential licensees (group homes and foster homes), youth justice facilities and secure treatment facilities are required to inform young people in care that they have a right to contact the Ombudsman.
Director Diana Cooke, staff and the Ombudsman also spoke at numerous outreach events in the child welfare sector this year. They participate in regular briefings with the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services and other key stakeholders in the child welfare sector, and are part of the Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates.
The French Language Services Unit has brought several serious concerns to the government’s attention, including the use of English-only signs by cabinet ministers making public announcements, English-only emergency alerts, and the importance of public health information about the coronavirus outbreak being made available in English and French, including at news conferences by the Premier and ministers.
French Language Services Commissioner Kelly Burke and staff also meet regularly with community stakeholders and senior government officials to proactively address matters important to Franco-Ontarians. Prior to her appointment in January – the result of a nationwide search conducted by Ombudsman Dubé with the aid of an expert panel – the Ombudsman, serving as Interim Commissioner, also met with several community leaders, and he and the Unit hosted an international conference of language commissioners.
Both units follow the general operational model and complaint handling system of the Ombudsman’s office, which handles more than 25,000 public complaints per year and emphasizes direct response to complainants. Ombudsman staff triage cases for early resolution, resolve them at the frontline or local level wherever possible, and escalate matters that cannot be resolved for more intervention or investigation. They also flag trending problems and work proactively with public sector bodies to address them – or assess them for a systemic investigation by the Ombudsman when warranted.
More details of the work of the Ombudsman’s office during the past fiscal year will be released when the Ombudsman delivers his Annual Report, which he is preparing to do in late June, as usual. “I look forward to sharing more details about how our two new units and our central team have helped a broader spectrum of Ontarians,” he said.
French Language Services Commissioner Kelly Burke will release a separate Annual Report later this year. In a statement today, Commissioner Burke highlighted the work of her unit, which she has headed since January 13. “We now have a single, more impactful organization that protects and advances French language rights in the province. We are building a unique and solid pillar in oversight, a model for other such institutions to follow.”
The Ombudsman is an independent, impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature who resolves and investigates public complaints about provincial government bodies, as well as services for children and youth in care, French language services, municipalities, universities and school boards. Complaints can be filed online.
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Linda Williamson, Director of Communications