André Marin, National Post | 13/07/16 | Last Updated: 13/07/15 3:42 PM ET
Mahatma Gandhi is often quoted as saying: “The true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.” The quote has been attributed to many great thinkers beyond Gandhi, but it provides a useful test: By this measure, how is Ontario society faring in 2013?
In my work as Ontario’s ombudsman, I hear from thousands of vulnerable people when their public institutions fail them. Going by the nearly 20,000 complaints I received this past year, the news is not encouraging.
For example, few would dispute that prisoners, held at the mercy of their jailers, are among our most vulnerable. But my office’s investigation into the province’s correctional system revealed a dysfunctional and corrupt culture where correctional officers used sadistic force against inmates — sometimes when prisoners were already restrained — and conspired to cover it up by manufacturing and falsifying evidence.
We also found an outdated “suck-it-up” attitude within the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) towards officers suffering from operational stress injuries. Police, like soldiers and others whom society puts in harm’s way, are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress, suicide and other such problems. Our investigation roused the OPP leadership from its time warp and prompted it and government to do more to support those who serve and protect us.
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At least we were able to look into these serious systemic issues for police and inmates. For patients in hospitals, residents of long-term care homes, and children and families involved with children’s aid societies, the news was worse.
While other provincial ombudsmen dealt with systemic and individual problems in hospitals, we turned away 369 complaints, because only in Ontario are hospitals barred from ombudsman scrutiny. In Ontario, the routine excuse to keep my office out is the network of some 100 “patient advocates” — including at the Ornge air ambulance service.
But “advocates” are not ombudsmen. They report to hospital management, with no power to investigate, no independence or power to report publicly. The top task listed in the job posting for Ornge’s advocate was to report “compliments and complaints.” This is hardly the description of an independent champion for the vulnerable, who wait in vain for hospital horrors to be investigated.
Camille Parent captured a nightmarish video of abuse and neglect at his mother’s long-term care home in Peterborough that we cannot investigate
Similarly, a new law in New Brunswick has left Ontario the only province with no ombudsman scrutiny of long-term care homes. My colleagues in Quebec, B.C. and Saskatchewan all helped people at long-term care homes this year. Meanwhile in Ontario, Camille Parent captured a nightmarish video of abuse and neglect at his mother’s long-term care home in Peterborough that we cannot investigate. Instead, the government pledged to hire 100 more inspectors that will report to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
Ontario’s child protection system is the only one in Canada immune to Ombudsman oversight
As for child protection, Ontario’s system is, again, the only one in Canada immune to Ombudsman oversight, simply because we are the only province where government doesn’t directly run the system. That leaves our 46 CASs out of my office’s reach, and vulnerable children and their families without the recourse that we offer to Ontarians who complain about every other government service.
Perhaps former premier Dalton McGuinty was thinking of Gandhi — or whoever first coined the “most vulnerable” test — when he told me, mere days before my annual report last year, that he was ready to start extending our mandate, and “it is not a matter of if, but when” this new jurisdiction would be granted.
Public support for change is strong, too – as demonstrated in more than 41 petitions presented in the legislature this year alone, and grassroots efforts like the drive by a Windsor citizen just last week in support of Bill 42 (a pending private member’s bill to give us oversight of CASs, with support from MPPs of all parties).
Unfortunately, despite the current government mantra of wanting a “fair society,” we do not appear any closer to opening up hospitals, long-term care homes or children’s aid societies to Ombudsman scrutiny, and the true measure of Ontario society is that much diminished.
André Marin is the Ombudsman of Ontario. He releases his Annual Report on Tuesday, July 16 at 11 a.m. The report and live webcast can be found at Ombudsman.on.ca