Op Ed: Introducing the Yukon’s new Ombudsman, as we mark Ombuds Day this month
Tue, Oct 11, 2022
Note: This op-ed was written by acting Yukon Ombudsman Jason Pedlar, who will be sworn in as Ombudsman on October 14th, 2022. It was submitted to Yukon newspapers and was published in the Whitehorse Star on Tuesday, October 11th and will be published in the Yukon News on Friday, October 14, 2021.
Over the past four years I have worked for the Yukon Ombudsman’s Office to help Yukoners with concerns and complaints regarding what they see as unfairness, either in a service provided, an outcome or a process of the Yukon government or other authorities covered by the Ombudsman Act. These complaints may be about such things as delays in receiving a decision, not being given the opportunity to provide input to a decision, or barriers to accessing a service, amongst other potential issues.
On July 13th this year, an all-party committee of the Members’ Services Board of the Yukon Legislative Assembly recommended that I be appointed as Ombudsman, Information and Privacy Commissioner and Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner. This week I am being sworn in, becoming the Yukon’s 5th Ombudsman. I would like to thank all members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly for their support and all Yukoners for trusting me with their concerns. It is an incredible honour.
It seems fitting that Ombuds Day, which highlights and promotes the work of Ombuds worldwide, falls on October 13th this year, during a week of renewal for our office. It provides a great opportunity to remind Yukoners of the important work that we do and to re-state that we remain available to you, free of charge, to listen to your concerns of unfairness in the delivery of programs and services by the government and other public authorities and to provide our expertise in helping you resolve your complaints.
As Ombudsman, I am an independent officer of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, which means that I am responsible to the legislative assembly as a whole, not the government. This provides my office and me with the independence to impartially investigate matters of unfairness raised by Yukoners and to provide opinions to both public authorities and citizens on whether an unfairness exists and, if an unfairness is established, to make recommendations on how to ensure a fair process, service or outcome. I like to say that we are not advocates for citizens or authorities but rather an advocate for fairness.
Our office works proactively with authorities to assist them in delivering services more fairly. Public authorities subject to the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman include Yukon government departments, schools, Yukon University, hospitals, crown corporations and more. To this end, my team and I have worked hard to become a trusted resource for authorities who want to ensure fairness in the processes and services they deliver.
Over the past four years, I have seen first-hand not only authorities’ willingness to work with our office but often a genuine interest in improving how they deliver their programs and services. Often this comes when authorities recognize that we are not looking for a “gotcha moment,” but instead, we want to highlight where we find unfairness and work with the authority to fix it. A “win-win,” as we mediators like to say.
Over the next few weeks, our office will launch an updated resource that I and representatives of several other Ombuds offices across Canada have developed, called Fairness by Design: An Administrative Fairness Assessment Guide. This resource is intended to help authorities evaluate their programs and services for fairness.
The work of an Ombudsman provides independent investigation of matters of administrative unfairness. It is a role, including its unusual name, that dates back hundreds of years, with its origins in Sweden. In Canada, all provinces and territories except Nunavut have Ombuds. In addition, many federal departments have an Ombudsman.
In the Yukon, the Ombudsman Act was passed in 1995 and has been through relatively minor revisions. One fundamental limitation of the Act is that we are the only jurisdiction in Canada and possibly the world where the Ombudsman cannot conduct a complaint investigation on their own motion, i.e. without having a complaint submitted by an affected person. There are times when we may hear about a potentially unfair matter; however, without a “personally aggrieved” citizen submitting a complaint, we do not have the authority to investigate.
Another limitation is that municipalities responsible for providing key programs and services to their citizens are not considered an authority under the Ombudsman Act. Municipalities themselves can submit a complaint to our office for investigation, but not the citizens who reside within the municipality. This, again, is out of step with Ombuds legislation across Canada.
Over the coming months, I hope to meet with lawmakers to highlight our work, answer any questions on my vision for our office and provide recommendations on improving the Ombudsman Act to help our office fulfill its mandate. It is my hope that authorities see the Office of the Ombudsman as a resource they can use to improve their processes and ensure they are meeting the needs of Yukoners in a fair and transparent way.
I also intend to meet with citizens of Yukon communities to hear about their concerns and to inform them of the services we provide. Even if someone does not need our assistance now, knowing who can help if and when they face a roadblock can lead to quicker resolutions of their complaints.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the team of skilled and dedicated investigators and support staff I work with daily. Without them, we would not be able to effect the change or reach as many Yukoners as we do. I want to thank each and every member of my staff for the meaningful work they do, helping Yukoners resolve their complaints and helping public authorities deliver their programs and services fairly.
If you feel that you have been treated unfairly by the government or other public authority, please reach out and we can provide guidance on your next steps.
Jason Pedlar, Yukon Ombudsman, Information and Privacy Commissioner and Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner