Tabling of the Ombudsman's 2021 Annual Report
Marked increase in citizens’ complaints
The City of Gatineau's Ombudsman, Maryline Caron, submitted her annual report to the elected officials during the plenary committee meeting on May 17. This report outlines the results achieved for the period between January 1 and December 31, 2021.
The Ombudsman's mission is to handle, as a measure of last resort, complaints from individuals who feel wronged by a decision or dissatisfied with a service provided by the City, based on what is legal and fair. The Ombudsman reports directly to the municipal council, ensuring independence from the City’s administration.
In 2021, the Ombudsman received a total of 214 complaints, which represents an increase of 26% compared to 2020. Of these, 93% were processed in 30 days or less, and 72% in five days or less. According to Caron, this is good news, because it shows that the public is increasingly aware of the services she offers. Moreover, the Ombudsman now has a Facebook page – a new feature – in order to be more present and visible to the community.
It is important to note that 149 requests were deemed inadmissible in 2021, the most common reason being "Administrative remedies not exhausted" (55 requests). This type of refusal occurs when a person submits a complaint to the Ombudsman without having previously made two requests to 311. In these cases, individuals were referred to the appropriate resource. Many citizens complained about municipal services in 2021. The majority of complaints concerned the Urban Planning Department (50 requests), the Police Service (36 requests) and the Environment Department (25 requests). The top three grounds for complaints about municipal services were enforcement (43 requests), processing times (23 requests), and policies, administrative procedures and standards (15 requests).
Ms Caron presented nine new recommendations to the City of Gatineau, including three concerning dogs. No less than 20 requests have been made by citizens who want better enforcement of animal control regulations for off-leash dogs in public places and the resulting nuisances. According to some, there is a cohabitation issue in this regard, mainly in the Boucher Forest.
Steve Moran, municipal councillor for the Hull-Wright district, said it was unfortunate that the problem had been known for years, yet nothing was done. The Ombudsman recommended that a dog training course be considered as part of the City of Gatineau's Culture and Recreation program, and that park supervisors be trained to educate dog owners about a code of conduct.
In 2021, there were a total of 15 commitments made; 14 of them were completed during the year. The unfulfilled commitment was carried forward to 2022. A commitment occurs when a department takes action to correct a deficiency identified during the processing of a complaint.
"The year 2021 ended with the pandemic on the rise," said Ms Caron. "Despite this, collaboration between City departments and our office was maintained throughout the year in a climate of ongoing adaptation and understanding. The report tabled today provides an overview of the complaints submitted by citizens as well as the recommendations made to the administration. It is in a spirit of collaboration and continuous improvement that we carry on our work in 2022."
Photo caption: Maryline Caron, Ombudsman of the City of Gatineau
Photo: Courtesy of the City of Gatineau