The role of the Ombudsman is to protect the rights of members of the public. This article looks at the office of the Ombudsman from two perspectives--its relationship to government and the services provided to the public.
The Ombudsman is an independent officer of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. He or she is appointed by an all party committee of the Legislative Assembly for a term of six years, renewable for one further term of six years. The Ombudsman Act was proclaimed in 1970 and the first Ombudsman was appointed that same year. I am the fourth Ombudsman appointed in the province.
The purpose of the office is to promote fairness, equity and administrative accountability through the investigation of complaints about government by an impartial and non-partisan office.
The Ombudsman has oversight responsibility under The Ombudsman Act, The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and The Personal Health Information Act.
Under The Ombudsman Act, I can investigate any administrative act or omission by the provincial government, or an agency, commission or board appointed by the government; or by any municipal government including the City of Winnipeg.
The Ombudsman has broad powers of investigation under the Act. I have the powers and protection of a commissioner, appointed under The Evidence Act. This allows me to summon witnesses and examine them under oath. Wilfully obstructing the Ombudsman in performing her duties is an offence under the legislation.
The Ombudsman is not authorized to investigate any decision of the legislature, executive council or a resolution or bylaw of a policy nature made by a municipal government. The Ombudsman cannot investigate the decision of a judge or a judicial officer, or a decision made by an arbitrator under The Arbitration Act.
I may decline to investigate if there is an avenue of appeal available to the complainant that he or she has not exercised, although I can act if I believe that it would be unreasonable to expect the complainant to have exercised the right of appeal.
The Ombudsman can refuse to investigate if the complaint relates to something about which the complainant had knowledge for more than one year, or the complaint is frivolous or vexatious. If, on balance between the public interest and the person aggrieved, the Ombudsman is of the view that the matter should not be investigated, the Ombudsman can refuse to do so, or may find that the circumstances of the case do not require investigation.
In fact I rarely refuse to investigate a complaint. Even though the subject matter may seem unimportant, it is always necessary to consider the complaint from the perspective of the person who feels aggrieved. This is so, especially when the position of the complainant in relation to the state is such that the state exercises considerable or even complete control over that person's life. This would be applicable to inmates in provincial correctional facilities, persons held as involuntary patients in mental health facilities, or persons who are dependant on the state to provide or collect the funds they need for themselves or their children.
Relevance to the Government
When The Ombudsman Act was passed in 1970, it gave the Ombudsman the responsibility to investigate complaints about maladministration in the provincial government, its agencies, commissions and boards. Since the creation of the office, there have been a number of changes that have resulted in the Ombudsman in Manitoba having a broader scope of responsibilities. In 1988, The Freedom of Information Act was proclaimed, providing Manitobans the right of access to any record in the custody or control of a provincial department or agency. The Ombudsman was named as the oversight body in that act.
In January 1997 the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman was expanded to include …