Ontario Ombudsman annual report summary 2019‑2020
Published: November 26, 2020
The following summary contains information pertaining to Legal Aid Ontario in the annual report from the Ontario Ombudsman. The original report was released on June 30, 2020.
The Ontario Ombudsman was established in 1975. They are an Officer of the Legislature, independent of the government and political parties and assist Ontarians in resolving complaints and identifying systemic issues within provincial government services and administration.
The Ontario Ombudsman oversees more than 1,000 public sector bodies, comprising more than 500 Ontario government ministries, programs, agencies, boards, commissions, corporations and tribunals, as well as 444 municipalities, 72 school boards, 10 school authorities, 22 universities and 50 children’s aid societies.
In May 2019, the mandate of the office was expanded to include two former offices of the Legislature, the French Language Services Commissioner and the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.
The Complaints department, acting as the liaison between LAO and the Office of the Ombudsman, receives inquiries from the Ombudsman’s Early Resolution Officers on behalf of members of the public. Many of the inquiries received by the Ombudsman’s Office are questions that can be answered by frontline Ombudsman staff and do not require any assistance from LAO.
For the 2019-20 fiscal year, it should be noted that inquiries pertaining to LAO accounted for only 0.5% of all cases received by the Ombudsman (138 out of 26,423 cases). The chart below compares the numbers recorded by the Ontario Ombudsman as compared to the number of contacts recorded by LAO. We find it encouraging that many of the inquiries can be resolved by the Ontario Ombudsman using their knowledge about LAO. Over the years, we have established a good working relationship with this office and they have developed a comprehensive database of LAO’s policies and procedures.
LAO was not among the top‑10 provincial government organizations and programs complained about to the Ontario Ombudsman during 2019‑20.
Complaints against LAO and clinics constituted 12% of all complaints against agencies reporting to the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) even though LAO represents approximately 70% of the agency funding allocated to MAG. There were 1,671 complaints pertaining to MAG and it’s agencies with 138 of those inquiries pertaining to LAO.
The annual report detailed three of their interactions with our organization:
A man reached out to us after trying to get service in French at Legal Aid Ontario on several occasions. One of his concerns was that he had asked for a specific Legal Aid document, related to complaints policies and procedures, but was only given an English copy. We contacted Legal Aid Ontario, which translated the document fully into French and made it available to the man and all its other clients.
A slight correction is required for the above Ombudsman narrative. Although we did assist the Ombudsman’s office, this matter pertained to a legal clinic, rather than Legal Aid Ontario and the Stage III complaint resolution requested that the clinic provide a translated the clinic complaint policy to the client. The final complaint resolution and the inquiry from the Office of the French Language Services Coordinator occurred during the same time frame.
A man who was worried about having to go to court without legal representation sought our help when he could not reach LAO staff to find out about his eligibility. Our inquiries determined that LAO had only tried to call him once, and could not leave a message due to privacy concerns. As a result of our inquiries, LAO reached him, and it told us it would instruct staff to make 3 attempts to reach individuals, not just one.
The existing policy of making multiple attempts to reach clients as well as noting each attempt was reiterated to the Complaints staff member.
We made inquiries with LAO after a woman told us she had waited 6 weeks for their decision on her application for a change of solicitor. LAO responded with the decision within a few days, and has since developed a new internal complaints policy.
Once our review of this inquiry was concluded, we were able to confirm the delay in providing a response to the client. However, there were several extenuating circumstances which contributed to this delay:
- Staffing issues at the District Office
- The seriousness of the client’s allegations
- The client’s failure to attend court and to provide reasonable instructions
Additionally, while the statement pertaining to our new Complaint Policy is correct, there is no mention of this in the client file nor was this a pertinent fact for this inquiry.
We will continue to enhance our relationship with the Ontario Ombudsman and use inquiries to identify possible gaps in our policies and procedures.