The strong voice of a great community
November, 2012

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  Ombudsman has statutory obligation and moral responsibility to citizens


By William Doyle-Marshall

Residents of four Scarborough communities   – L’Amoreaux, Woburn, Malvern and Rouge – are to be part of a very specific outreach initiative by the City of Toronto’s Ombudsman Fiona Crean. This is the first direct attempt for city residents to become aware of the existence of the office so that they could make use of its services. September is the starting time.

   “An ombudsman is an alternative to the courts. You can go to court and fight your battle, assuming you have a lot of money and enough time to do that,” the Ombudsman told members of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council at their meeting earlier this month. “The ombudsman is a free service to the citizenry that is an alternative, where it isn’t about right or wrong. It is about trying to put you the citizen in the place that you need to be in terms of redress,” she explained.

   The Ombudsman investigates complaints by individuals against the city’s agencies and or staff. People are invited to call her office anytime for clarification, information or referral because dealing with City Hall is very complicated. Complaints are not dealt with up front to avoid staff abuse of the Ombudsman’s office. However before a complaint can be lodged the affected individual must first approach the department concerned. There are two exceptions. When nobody answers your call, the Ombudsman considers that a form of mal-administration and she will look into it. The other. exception is where a group or individual is so marginalised or vulnerable that it would be an absurdity to send them back through the red tape and the bureaucracy.

   “You can never undo what has happened. You can only look at what is reasonable and to then look at how did this happen in the first place,” Crean said.

    The four areas were selected based on data collected which showed the further out people live in the city, the poorer they are. “So we looked at this and the importance of getting to those communities and we of course looked at different data sources to say: where do we start?”Crean emphasized.

   Crean believes it is better to go into a fewer number of communities and work more intimately, in greater depth, to begin with and then over time work across the city. The ombudsman valued the chance to meet with members of the council.

   She admitted that the people who come to her office tend to look like her; they are highly educated, computer literate, live on the subway line and are home owners. They have an absolute right to have their complaint heard, but Crean said she knows the vast majority of residents of this city does not look like her; they do not live downtown and are is not upwardly mobile economically etc.

   “It is my view that if you are a single parent working in Malvern, night shift– the last thing you would be thinking about is frankly: what is the ombudsman?

   Crean emphasized her statutory obligation and moral responsibility to ensure that people across the city know about her office. “I think of it a little bit like an insurance. Hope you don’t need it but you need to know about it in the event you do. And you can be sure that public servants aren’t going to invite the resident to go to the ombudsman’s office if something has gone wrong,” the Ombudsman continued.

   Pausing to address cynics about the role of her office the Ombudsman agreed that people are cynical for good reason. “The flip side of that cynicism is actually about fear. It’s actually about ‘there is no point doing anything because nobody is going to help me. So it’s getting people to actually believe that we actually can make a difference.”

 The Ombudsman could be contacted by telephone (416) 392 7062 and TTY 416 392 7100 or by email –