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Manitoba Ombudsman releases 2006 Annual Report under The Ombudsman Act, FIPPA and PHIA

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Jun 11, 2007

Manitoba Ombudsman Irene Hamilton has released the first combined annual report under The Ombudsman Act, The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and The Personal Health Information Act. The report encompasses the activities of her office in 2006 and builds upon the internal change process reported in the 2005 annual report.

“The changes in 2006 will increase the effectiveness of our office. The value of the office to both the government and the public should reflect the powers and responsibilities vested in the office in The Ombudsman Act, FIPPA and PHIA, each of which clearly sets an expectation that the office will do more than investigate individual complaints,” Hamilton writes.

Changing the Climate

“I believe that an office charged with the impartial role of monitoring administrative accountability and its responsibility in the framework of parliamentary democracy must be understood by the public. Raising the public’s awareness of the office is a priority for us,” said Hamilton. Many organizational changes in the office were made to enhance the office’s capacity to reach Manitobans.

A new Intake Services Team has been created, to enhance the public’s initial contact with the office. The team readily provides information on the role of the Ombudsman, how to file a complaint and basic information about administrative and access and privacy matters. The team also provides assistance to help people deal directly with government. The team responded to 2647 inquiries by providing assistance and information, completed initial investigations in 680 cases, 568 of which were transferred for detailed investigation under The Ombudsman Act, The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and The Personal Health Information Act.

Joining the Herd, A Handbook on Participating in Manitoba’s Government, was created to provide learning activities to educate students about the Ombudsman’s role and function in the democratic process. This handbook was designed for use with the Grades 6, 9 and 11 Manitoba Social Studies curriculum and has been distributed to about 850 schools across the province.

Changing the Perception

The report contributes to the discussions by government officials and the media about the merits of appointing a commissioner to oversee access and privacy legislation, by addressing the key issues of the differences between an order model and recommendation model of oversight, and the distinction between a commissioner and an ombudsman.

“Based on our own experience and information from our colleagues across the country, we are in a unique position to contribute to that discussion by providing factual information about the oversight models used in Canada, and the acknowledged merits of both.” There is sometimes confusion between the functions of the two models and the names given to the oversight bodies. “I hope that information in the Annual Report helps to clarify these two key issues,” said Hamilton.

Changing the Focus

The office has the authority to investigate complaints from individuals about an act or decision of a public sector body, department or agency. In some instances, a single complaint can identify significant issues affecting many Manitobans. In others, the ombudsman may initiate an investigation on her own initiative, or be requested to review the cause of a problem within a system. In 2006, two such reviews were undertaken.

Child Welfare Review

“The report on the child welfare review, Strengthen the Commitment, An External Review of the Child Welfare System, has significant implications for children and families involved with the child welfare system, and for the governments responsible for the administration of the system.The provincial government has committed to fully implementing the recommendations of the report and if this is achieved, the face of child welfare in this province will be significantly improved for the future,” the Ombudsman writes.

Access to Information Audit

An audit was initiated by the Ombudsman under the authority of the access and privacy legislation due to the increasing volume of complaints received about Manitoba Conservation’s failure to respond to applications within the required 30 days under FIPPA, and the frequency with which those complaints were found to be supported. Hamilton reports fifteen recommendations were made to the government, all of which were accepted and most of which have now been implemented, and her office continues to monitor the issue.

“This kind of systemic investigation can highlight concerns that affect large numbers of people at one time and benefit government by identifying gaps or deficiencies in programs and services that result from imperfections in the policies and systems under which they operate. Reports of systemic investigations can be issued to inform the public of our finding and the recommendations for change that we believe will correct the problem,” said Hamilton.

Changing the Future

The report anticipates future changes resulting from responsibilities under The Public Interest Disclosure Act (whistleblower legislation) and the proposed role for the Ombudsman to follow up on recommendations in reports on the circumstances surrounding the deaths of children in care.

The Ombudsman’s Annual Report is available on CD and our web site and includes:

  • publications of the four new pamphlets in the Rights of Youth series
  • the first two editions of the Ombudsman’s newsletter, OmbudsNews
  • questionnaires to assist the public in making privacy complaints
  • 35 practice notes to assist public sector bodies in handling access and privacy issues
  • Strengthen the Commitment, An External Review of the Child Welfare System.