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Manitoba Ombudsman releases 2007 Annual Report under The Ombudsman Act, FIPPA, PHIA and The Public Interest Disclosure Act

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Jul 28, 2008

Manitoba Ombudsman Irene Hamilton has released her Annual Report for the calendar year 2007. This is the first reporting year on her mandate under The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act, which became law on April 2, 2007.

“Changes to the structure and focus of the office as discussed in my two previous annual reports are now substantially implemented. Through our enhanced intake services team, our increased outreach efforts in both the Ombudsman and Access and Privacy divisions and more comprehensive systemic investigations, we are reaching more Manitobans. We are also now better able to assist public sector bodies in affecting positive change for Manitobans,” said Hamilton.

“Additions to the mandate of the Ombudsman and increased activity by my office are still underway. Our new responsibilities under The Public Interest Disclosure Act are only beginning and on proclamation of The Children’s Advocate Enhanced Mandate Act, we will assume responsibility for monitoring the implementation of recommendations made by the Children’s Advocate after her review of the deaths of children involved with the child welfare system. As well, my office will be devoting increased efforts in the area of privacy practices and monitoring in view of growing risks and opportunities to information privacy protection resulting from more accessible and increasingly sophisticated technology.”

Highlights Concerning The Ombudsman Act

  • The Ombudsman reported on monitoring of her 2005 interim report to Justice on the Thompson Holding Cells. The report provided an overview of concerns relating to inmates generally and incarcerated youth in particular. Hamilton said “While the Department’s efforts are commendable in attempting to reduce the negative impacts of the conditions at the Thompson Holding Cells, they are not a substitute for long term solutions that are needed, and should not deflect the pursuit of such solutions.”
  • The Ombudsman again reported that holding intoxicated youth in the Manitoba Youth Centre, a correctional facility, is wrong. Hamilton said, “The issue does not require continued study or analysis and is one that the authorities responsible have been aware of for over a decade. It is an issue on which there is consensus: intoxicated youth should not be detained in jails.”
  • The Ombudsman found that inadequate notice by the Municipality of Killarney-Turtle Mountain and a breakdown in oversight by Intergovernmental Affairs and The Municipal Board resulted in residents of the Municipality being denied the right to speak on an extraordinary expenditure of public monies for a new recreational facility, monies for which they are now responsible. The Ombudsman recommended that the municipality hold a meeting immediately to hear the concerns of citizens. As well she issued recommendations to Intergovernmental Affairs, resulting in standard requirements for public notices for proposed local improvement plans.
  • In 2007, investigations by the Ombudsman identified cases where concerns about the incarceration of inmates living with mental illnesses or mental disabilities continue to exist. The Ombudsman has taken the position that resolution of issues, affecting high risk, high needs inmates, requires the collaboration of Health and Family Services and Housing, with Justice.

Highlights Concerning FIPPA And PHIA

  • The Access and Privacy Division opened 401 cases and closed 396, the highest numbers in any year. This year also saw the Ombudsman issue the highest number of recommendations (18), 13 of which were directed to one department, Conservation.
  • Complaints about access to information (88% of the total 401) significantly outnumbered complaints about privacy (5%), with the balance of cases relating to auditing, monitoring, informing or commenting under FIPPA and PHIA. In addition to case work, the office proactively conducts privacy awareness activities.
  • In five access to information cases, the length of time the applicant waited for a response from Conservation was so wrong and unfair that the Ombudsman recommended the Department refund to the applicant the search and preparation fees totaling $840. The Department refunded the fees.
  • The Ombudsman reported that the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation acted proactively by requesting the Ombudsman to comment on its proposed use of facial recognition software in Winnipeg casinos. The Corporation had also taken the initiative of conducting a privacy impact assessment by which it systematically considered the potential impact of the technology on privacy and measures to mitigate the impact. The Ombudsman was of the opinion that the collection, use and disclosure of personal information related to the facial recognition technology and the policies and procedures of the Corporation in relation to it, were generally in compliance with FIPPA.

Highlights Concerning The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act

  • The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act gives government employees and others a clear process for disclosing significant and serious wrongdoing in the Manitoba public service and provides protection from reprisal. Included in the term “wrongdoing” is an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons or the environment (not including dangers that are normally part of an employee’s job) and gross mismanagement.
  • The Ombudsman is one of the parties under the Act to whom a disclosure may be made. The Act sets out other specific duties for the Ombudsman including responding to requests for advice, investigating complaints and handling requests to be exempted from the requirement of having a designated officer to deal with disclosures of wrongdoings under the Act.
  • In 2007, there were 99 requests from government organizations to be exempted from the requirement to have a designated officer. The Ombudsman denied 60 of the requests and approved 39 on the basis that these were smaller bodies for which it would not be practical to have a designated officer.
  • Three disclosures of wrongdoing were received, one of which was investigated under The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act and two of which were more appropriately investigated under The Ombudsman Act.