Thursday 27 April 2000
Mr Clare Lewis
STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
Chair / Président
Mr R. Gary Stewart (Peterborough PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président
Mr Brad Clark (Stoney Creek PC)
Ms Marilyn Churley (Broadview-Greenwood ND)
Mr Brad Clark (Stoney Creek PC)
Ms Caroline Di Cocco (Sarnia-Lambton L)
Mr Jean-Marc Lalonde (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell L)
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa PC)
Mr R. Gary Stewart (Peterborough PC)
Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Barrie-Simcoe-Bradford PC)
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener Centre / -Centre PC)
Substitutions / Membres remplaçants
Ms Marilyn Mushinski (Scarborough Centre / -Centre PC)
Clerk / Greffière
Ms Donna Bryce
Staff / Personnel
Mr Andrew McNaught, research officer,
Research and Information Services
The committee met at 1537 in committee room 1.
The Chair (Mr R. Gary Stewart): I call the meeting to order. You have before you the report of the subcommittee. Can I have a motion to approve that, please.
Ms Marilyn Mushinski (Scarborough Centre): I so move.
The Chair: We will read the report for Hansard.
"Report of the subcommittee, Tuesday, April-"
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa): Dispense.
The Chair: You want to find out if I can read or not.
"Report of the subcommittee, Tuesday, April 4, 2000:
"Your subcommittee met on Tuesday, April 4, 2000, to consider its schedule of business, and recommends the following:
"(1) That the committee meet, pursuant to standing order 109(b), on Thursday, April 27, 2000, for the purpose of assigning ministries and offices to standing committees.
"(2) That the committee adopt the attached draft as its report to the House of ministries and offices assigned to standing committees, pursuant to standing order 109(b) [See attached draft].
"(3) That the committee schedule a closed session briefing on Thursday, April 27, 2000, by the clerk of the committee and the research officer respecting the committee's new mandate (standing order 106(f)) regarding the Ombudsman.
"(4) That the committee schedule an introductory meeting with the Ombudsman in open session on Thursday, April 27, 2000.
"(5) That the committee meet, pursuant to standing order 81, on Thursday, May 11, 2000, for the purpose of considering the referral by the Clerk of the House of the following application for private legislation: Draft Bill Pr4, An Act respecting the Certified General Accountants Association of Ontario.
"(6) That the committee invite the following to make presentations during the committee's consideration of the referral application for private legislation: legislative counsel; the Certified General Accountants Association of Ontario; and other interested parties that have contacted the clerk of the standing committee on regulations and private bills.
"(7) That the committee schedule its biannual review with the Clerk of the House regarding the administration of the House and the provision of services to members on Thursday, May 18, 2000.
"(8) That the committee schedule its biannual review with the Sergeant at Arms regarding security on Thursday, April 18, 2000.
"(9) That the committee schedule its annual review of the television broadcast system, the televising of the legislative proceedings, and the television guidelines established by the House on Thursday, May 18, 2000."
Any comments regarding the subcommittee report?
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener Centre): Mr Chair, we know you can't read because item 8 says "Thursday, May 18," not "Thursday, April 18."
The Chair: OK, we've established that.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Broadview-Greenwood): We don't need an opposition. We've got your own member to do it for us.
The Chair: These are supposed to be my friends.
Ms Churley: With friends like that-
The Chair: That's the neutrality of my position here. There was no comment back to him.
Any other comments? If not, all in favour? The motion is carried.
As has been suggested, we will have a closed session briefing of the committee regarding the mandate, and Andrew McNaught is going to do that briefing in a couple of minutes.
The committee continued in closed session from 1541 to 1558.
The Chair: We'll call the meeting back to order. I'd like to welcome our new Ombudsman, Clare Lewis. Welcome, Clare. This is the first time I've had the opportunity to congratulate you on your new position. On behalf of the committee, I welcome you to our committee. I think we all look forward to working with you. Whether there are issues or not, I think it would be very beneficial to all of us if we try and meet on a fairly regular basis.
I don't know whether you know everybody around the table, but if we could start with members giving their name and the riding they represent, it might be advantageous to Mr Lewis, and we'll go on from there.
Mr Clare Lewis: I appreciate it.
Ms Mushinski: My name is Marilyn Mushinski and I'm the member for Scarborough Centre.
Mr Lewis: I used to live in the area.
Ms Mushinski: Yes, I was before you. When I was a councillor in Scarborough, I came to the Liquor Licence Board for a few things.
Mr Ouellette: Jerry Ouellette, the member for Oshawa. It's nice to see you again.
Mr Lewis: I knew your father well.
Mr Ouellette: I know, but don't hold it against me.
Mr Lewis: Or he against me. I was the police complaints commissioner when he was chief, right?
Mr Ouellette: I know.
Mr Lewis: I'm sorry.
Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Barrie-Simcoe-Bradford): Joe Tascona. I'm the member from Barrie-Simcoe-Bradford.
Mr Lewis: Yes, Mr Tascona. It's good to see you again. How are you, sir?
Ms Churley: I'm Marilyn Churley and I'm the member for Broadview-Greenwood. We know each other well. I was Mr Lewis's boss at one time as the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations.
Mr Lewis: You sure were; when I was appointed as chair of the gaming commission, yes.
Ms Churley: That's right.
Mr Jean-Marc Lalonde (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell): Jean-Marc Lalonde, the member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell.
Mr Lewis: Mr Lalonde, how are you, sir?
Mr Lalonde: It's nice to see you again.
Mr Lewis: It's a pleasure to see you again. Thank you.
Ms Caroline Di Cocco (Sarnia-Lambton): I'm Caroline Di Cocco and I'm the member of provincial Parliament from Sarnia-Lambton.
Mr Lewis: It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms Di Cocco.
Ms Di Cocco: It's a pleasure to meet you.
Mr Lewis: How's Point Edward doing?
Ms Di Cocco: Oh, it's just dandy with the new casino.
Mr Lewis: They just opened it, didn't they?
Ms Di Cocco: Yes, they opened it last week.
Mr Lewis: Is it going to compete with the track, Hiawatha?
Ms Di Cocco: The revenues seem to-of course we tap in from the United States.
Mr Lewis: Yes, you've got that new bridge.
Ms Di Cocco: Hey, the revenues are there.
Mr Lewis: Sorry. Pardon me.
The Chair: That's great. Needless to say, you know who I am. I'm the member for Peterborough.
Mr Lewis: Yes, sir. You had me down to your riding where I got beaten up as a faceless bureaucrat-do you remember?-on gambling.
The Chair: Yes, that was the first time I met you. If you can handle this group in my riding-famous Peterborough, demonstrations, all of it. That stuff was great. But anyway, Clare, I do welcome you and look forward to meeting with you on a regular basis. I assume that you're probably going to introduce Ms Crean.
Mr Lewis: I'd like to introduce Fiona Crean, who is the executive director of the Ombudsman's office and has been for five years. She also filled the role of acting Ombudsman, on your recommendation, for the three-month period between Roberta Jamieson and myself, and I'm most grateful for that.
Ms Churley: And a good job she did too.
The Chair: Wayne, do you want to just mention your name and your riding so that Mr Lewis and Ms Crean know.
Mr Wettlaufer: I'm Wayne Wettlaufer, Kitchener Centre.
Mr Lewis: Yes, we chatted on the way in. It's nice to see you again.
Mr Wettlaufer: I thought we had a five-minute recess. That's the only reason I left, Clare. Sorry about that.
The Chair: We will now let you chat with us and maybe make some comments on your new role and how you see us working with it. We certainly know the role that we have to play in the relationship, so I'll turn it over to you, Clare, and let you go from here.
Mr Lewis: Thank you very much, Mr Stewart. I must say it's a great pleasure to come back before this committee today. I was here in a much more, as I said to you, sir, fearful manner back in November, or thereabouts, when I was interviewed, I thought quite thoroughly. I must make a correction, though.
Mr Lalonde, you asked me a question during that interview and I blew it terribly and it has haunted me ever since. The question, which I couldn't hear properly-and you'll find when you speak to me I'm deaf in one ear and I have difficulty in this room. I think the question was, what did I think would be the-
The Chair: Mr Lewis, the interview was in camera. Do you want it on the record?
Mr Lewis: Oh, yes. This is an easy one.
The Chair: OK. I just wanted to make sure.
Mr Lewis: That's why I'm so embarrassed that I missed it, and I can segue in. The question was, I believe, what did I think would be the most difficult part of the learning curve if I were to be appointed. I misunderstood the question entirely. In any event, I'm now in a position to tell you that the steepest part of the learning curve is the complexity of the issues with which I have to deal, the breadth of them from across government. Some of them are really quite complex. I find it fascinating and challenging, but it's still something that I'm very much engaged in, and I'm grateful to staff for that assistance. But I did want you to know that I hadn't forgotten the question.
I'm really very pleased to be able to be here. I'm prepared to say, if I may, Mr Stewart, coming out of the interviews, when you interviewed me, I was asked what priorities I might have if I were to receive the office. I gave you as two of the priorities that I would first call the secretary to cabinet, Ms Burak, to see if I could arrange a meeting with the council of deputies in order to go before them and to start building relationships with the public service at that level as a beginning. I've done that, and I think it was productive and will continue to be productive.
I told you the second thing I would do was that I would seek, through you, to come back before you, not just once but on an ongoing basis at mutual convenience, to keep each other abreast on what's happening in my office and your expectations and concerns, if any. We've now begun that, and I thank you for it.
I'm very pleased of course to be the province's fifth Ombudsman, and I'm grateful to this committee for having nominated me for that purpose. I've been in office now for three months, and it has been a fascinating time and quite a busy time but one that I think has been quite fruitful. The work is something that I find, as I think I suggested to you in the interview, is a natural product of the background that I've had, which included complaint resolution and so on. I've become quite interested in the workings of the office as it exists.
I'm pleased to tell you that my assessment of the office, in the three months I have been there, is that there are some extremely good systems in play and some very competent staff who are dedicated to the work they do on behalf of the people of this province. I'm also pleased to say to you-and it was an important matter for me-that I have no reason to believe they are anything but willing to follow the reasoned leadership of a new Ombudsman and take the cue in the approach to the office from the different perspective a new Ombudsman may have. I have been getting what I find to be considerable co-operation in work as I perform it and in making some changes within the office as to emphases on how we proceed.
To me, it's extremely important early in the time in the office to build relationships. One of the critical relationships is with the elected members, who in fact are entitled under the act to bring forward complaints on behalf of affected parties, and you do. But, as this committee, you are also the face of the Legislature, to which I must report on an annual basis, but rationally, I think, on a more ongoing basis than that. As I said, I also wish to build relationships with the public service, so that I have some hope of success in the resolution of complaints, when they are deserving of resolution. I'm very alive to the fact that the only power an Ombudsman has is that of recommendation. I do not have the power to compel anybody to do anything. Therefore, in order to succeed, in appropriate cases, in having recommendations get a good ear, there have to be reasonably solid relationships in existence, bridges that can be relied upon to come to good results. We've started that process, and I think there has been a good deal of that among staff for some years.
One of the things an Ombudsman has the authority to do, if unable to resolve a complaint at a public service level is, after notifying the minister and the Premier, to lay before the committee final reports which are intended to then be placed before you for the purpose of a debate between the ministry and the Ombudsman as to the merits of the recommendations being made by the Ombudsman. It is then for you, on a vote I guess, to decide whether or not you wish to support the Ombudsman in going before the House to help persuade change in whatever way the Ombudsman asks. I don't expect, and I don't hope, to come here on that basis on a tremendously frequent basis, because a huge number of complaints are resolved to the satisfaction of both the ministries and the complainants long before getting here, and a lot of them are dismissed-I want to make that very clear. We dismiss a good number of complaints, I hope for proper reasons. But during the next five years I do expect to have occasion to come before you, and I look forward to those opportunities when I will have to present my case, presumably in opposition to the ministry or a commission.
At the moment, however, there are four which are before you or have been before you, I think, since April 29 of last year. Roberta Jamieson, Ombudsman for the past 10 years, had brought four before you last year. When I came into office, one of the first things I had to decide was how to deal with those four matters. I talked to your Chair, Mr Stewart, earlier this month and told him that I had either resolved or would be withdrawing each of those. I'm prepared to discuss them with you briefly now and take any questions you have.
Two of the complaints involved the Ontario Human Rights Commission, one involved the Family Responsibility Office and the fourth involved the adoption disclosure registry. I'll start with the first human rights complaint, if I may. By the way, I wrote a letter to Mr Stewart indicating my intent on these matters prior to today. Is that letter before you?
Ms Mushinski: I don't have a copy of the letter.
The Chair: They probably weren't distributed.
Mr Lewis: I believe all members were copied.
Ms Churley: Yes, I have a copy.
The Chair: They were sent out April 17.
Mr Lewis: I think I can be fairly descriptive and brief about them.
One involved a woman named Mrs P, who had a complaint of improper decision-making on the part of the Human Rights Commission at an administrative level with respect to the resolution of her complaint of discrimination by reason of disability. She had a severe fall and she did not believe she was properly accommodated by her employer with respect to the disability. She complained to the commission, and the commission, at the first instance, took the position that there were other means available to her under other legislation than the human rights and she ought to exercise that. In our view, that was in error. There was no other recourse for her on this issue. She then sought reconsideration of that decision. The matter was reconsidered and the same decision was made and, in our view, the same error made. The matter was stalemated.
The commission, in fact, conceded the error. They recognized the error. Mr Norton, the chief commissioner, said, "You're right." My predecessor believed that more than that was in order. Their position was that even if they had been correct and said, "Yes, it's our jurisdiction," they would never have sent it on to a hearing before a board of inquiry because they didn't think it would have succeeded. Ms Jamieson felt that was a bootstrap argument, I guess, justifying an error on the basis that you wouldn't have done anything anyway.
To put the matter to bed, I felt that this was worth a discussion between myself and Mr Norton, and we had it and it was fruitful. He agreed on an ex gratia basis, not to be considered as a precedent-I guess we'll quarrel about that later-that a payment in the amount of $2,250 would be made to Mrs P and an apology made. Indeed that was done, and she was very pleased with the result. So I am, with respect and with your permission, withdrawing that matter from consideration before you, although I'm prepared to discuss it if you wish.
The Chair: Are there any questions on that one?
Ms Mushinski: I have one question. I'm interested in your comment about precedent.
Mr Lewis: Perhaps I shouldn't have said it, but he was concerned that an error not necessarily be a case of a financial response. I couldn't do other than say, I think properly, that I would not treat this particular case, given the history of it and their strong feelings on it, as an example should another case of somewhat the same nature come forward. I would have to make an independent case for any other cases.
Ms Mushinski: So I take it that the compensation reflected that.
Mr Lewis: To a degree. I'm not sure I understand, Ms Mushinski, but it's less than what my predecessor had recommended but more than I thought was appropriate, personally. The amount she got was in the range that I thought was appropriate in that had she succeeded before the board, I believed it would be very close to that amount. Given the history of awards by the commission in like cases, I thought it would be very similar. The original amount was one that I wasn't prepared to argue for. So it's a good result from the point of view of the complainant. The commission, I believe, is pleased not to come forward, and we will continue to deal with the commission on an ongoing basis.
The second matter with the Human Rights Commission was the issue of delay and not reaching their goal of arriving at a current caseload that is an up-to-date caseload and getting rid of the backlog. The problem here for me as Ombudsman is that the material before you is now over a year old, based on a report well in excess of a year old, and the statistics are simply not relevant to today's status of the agency. I would not be able, in my view, to persuade you that last year's concern was today's matter of fact. I have satisfied myself that some real improvements have been made in the office.
I don't want to say for a moment that I'm suggesting the Human Rights Commission backlog is non-existent or that it is not going to be a matter of concern for the future; it will be, I have no doubt. But I wish to say that it's clear they have taken some real steps with respect to their case management system and with respect to their resolution of complaints. I can tell you today that I believe they have fewer cases in their backlog-something like 1,800 at this moment-than they resolved last year, some 2,450. That is the first real sign, from the commission's point of view, that they are starting to come towards a current caseload. I believe they haven't seen a backlog that low in lo these many years.
I'm not able to come forward with the original report. Again, I don't wish to suggest that we don't have on-going concerns. We do receive ongoing complaints and we're going to look at them and we're going to be concerned about it. We're going to monitor this issue. It's just a natural between our offices. It's not going to go away, but there are efforts being made. I know Mr Norton is eager to continue that process.
Ms Di Cocco: Why is the caseload so high, the backlog? What are your findings?
Mr Lewis: I will tell you a little bit about complaint resolution from a personal point of view, because I was the police complaints commissioner for eight and a half years. There are not very many complaints organizations, be they human rights commissions, Ombudsman-although I'm going to say that's not true of us-or police complaints commissions and so on, that don't run into serious backlog problems.
One of the reasons is bad management; from early days, really plain bad management. These organizations often in the early days were staffed by people with real commitment to the issues involved, and properly so, they should be, but skills in one thing aren't necessarily skills in another. I've lived that experience through the police complaints process. Time gets taken that is often unwarranted. Disputes arise within the organization that become really quite difficult themselves, and I think it's public knowledge that was true of the Ontario Human Rights Commission for some time. They are a little bit like the-I'll probably get this one wrong-Elysian stables: They take a lot of sweeping. Sweeping has begun to a large degree through technology and more professional managers, who have recognition that they just have to deal with it or the substratum of the agency is going to fail, they are just not going to be able to perform their duty, the job they really want to do.
I'm going to make a statement right now about the Ombudsman's office and one of the best pleasures I had when I walked into the place. Roberta Jamieson and Fiona Crean instituted a case management system in the Office of the Ombudsman which is bar none among Ombudsman offices and in fact, for the benefit of the general revenue, is on sale and has been sold to other institutions. It's absolutely essential. If you can't get control of the cases and their orderly passage through, you're doomed and it grows. When I was police complaints commissioner, I'll confess, I don't think we ever had that thoroughly under control, although towards the end-and we certainly didn't have effective management. We were busy battling other issues. But I think there are things turning around in the area. Does that help?
Ms Di Cocco: That helps. You say management improvement is always an end that we all want. But on the other hand is staffing a different factor? I'm just trying to understand, because it does affect-we're talking 1,800 people, and when you talk about these agencies, as you said, conflict resolution or issues resolution, it's important that they be expedited as quickly as pos-sible.
Mr Lewis: Absolutely.
Ms Di Cocco: That's really important. So there are areas of management that have to be addressed, and also the actual facilitating of it, the bodies to facilitate it, the people. What's your take on that?
Mr Lewis: As agencies are downsized there are problems that go with that, there's no question. The organizations have to reinvent themselves in order to meet the current demand, and that has happened in the Office of the Ombudsman. There's been enormous change in that office from when I knew it originally. It's now a much flatter organization and so on. I'll posit that it's getting to a point beyond which it would be hard to be as good as I think we can be. There will always be exceptions within your caseload but it's important to try to get to what they call a current caseload operation, so that if the Human Rights Commission can get rid of as many complaints or more complaints in a year than they can receive, then they will have eliminated the backlog in time and they will be able to stay current. Because there are a lot of people who are aggrieved and they become doubly aggrieved by the delay, there's no question about it. I think that delay is very harmful to the people involved. I will have something to say about that in particular on the last matter I raise.
The Chair: Any other questions on number 2?
Ms Mushinski: It's perhaps not so much number 2 as it is all four of them. I'm looking at your letter to Mr Stewart and I was just wondering if you could explain to me what you mean by "own motion." Is that when you develop a case based upon the information that's received?
Mr Lewis: An "own motion" investigation is not based on an individual complaint from a member of the public; it's a matter of the Ombudsman, who is empowered under the act to do this, raising his or her own complaint, or creating a complaint, if you will, and beginning an investigation. Although I'm not at liberty today to disclose this to you but will be shortly, I've done one myself since I've been in office. I began an "own motion" investigation and closed it, within about five weeks. But it was an issue that I thought was alive. We didn't have a complaint on it but I believed it needed to be addressed, and it was.
So "own motion" means the Ombudsman started it, as opposed to an individual complainant. However, I have to tell you that most "own motion" investigations get started because there has been a series of complaints from members of the public, and finally there is a decision to put them together in a particular way that may not be well expressed in the individual complaints.
Ms Churley: I'm looking forward to getting on to the next two as well. I'll make a comment about those in connection with the ones we are discussing, though. The Human Rights Commission has some control over the cases it takes on. I'm not sure if the criteria have been changed in any way. I guess what I'm getting at is that there has been downsizing there; we all know that. There are fewer staff. But you are saying there has been a change in management, and I believe, for the record, that Mr Norton is doing a very good job. But I have some concerns-and I have no proof of this, it's just concerns-that the backlog is dropping while the organization has been downsized, and there is some control over which cases are taken on. In the next two, the Family Responsibility Office and the birth searches, the ministries have no control over those cases, whereas the human rights and in fact your organization do. I have some concerns that that may be part of what's happening in the Human Rights Commission to get this caseload down.
Mr Lewis: I think that's a very cogent concern, and I'm not saying it doesn't happen. There are those who say there is a reason for it to happen in some cases. I can tell you, and I'm not afraid to say this to you, that a section of my act says that effectively I don't have to investigate a complaint if it's more than a year old after the time it came to the person's attention. I had a similar section in my police complaints act. But the attitude of the office, and I know the former attitude of the Human Rights Commission, was to never exercise that and to take every complaint that came. The Legislature gave it a power, albeit a discretionary power that should be used with care, and I think discretionary powers should be exercised. There's a reason the Legislature placed it in there, and there's a reason not to get yourself buried by complaints that are never going to be able to be resolved.
Ms Churley: But you have to know where that balance is.
Mr Lewis: You have to know where the balance is, and that takes good leadership. I think your point is excellent, and one we'll be looking at as we go along, to ensure that they're not dumping at the front end. But I can tell you that I have every intent, in the operation of my office, to do early assessments of cases and make early decisions. If they are not deemed to me to be of merit, I'll get them out, because I have cases that are going to be good and I want to be able to deal with them. But it's a good point, and I'll undertake to keep on top of that, OK?
Ms Churley: OK. Thank you.
The Chair: I think we can go on to the third.
Mr Lewis: The third is the FRO, the Family Responsibility Office.
Mr Lewis: What can I tell you? My statistics are out of date, big-time.
I have met with the deputy, Andromache Karakatsanis, in some detail. As you know, she appeared before the public accounts committee last month, I suppose in response to the Provincial Auditor's report, and she certainly went through a thorough grilling there. However, there have been improvements. There are increases in the work being done. There are some policy issues that I know are being debated, about whether you allow opt-outs and that sort of thing, but I don't propose to deal with those. However, I am of the position at this stage that our report, which I think was absolutely appropriate at the time it was filed, is not one I can properly bring before you today. I think the Family Responsibility Office requires monitoring-and I'll get the opportunity, because I continue to get the complaints-to see whether they are indeed taking advantage of some more monies and some better systems they are getting in. We have reason to believe there are some improvements of significance, but it's a huge responsibility with terrific impacts.
You talk about the grief, Ms Di Cocco. The Toronto Star must be pretty proud of itself today. Did you see what happened? You know the man who they revealed about a month ago was living with his parents in Toronto and in Florida and had $103,000 owing to his 12-year-child? Yesterday a judge jailed him for nine months. In truth, that was a result of the Toronto Star. Well, the Toronto Star found him; that's what they did. They found the guy, which the collection agency had failed to do, but FRO acted. They brought their action and got a jail term. So I bet you'll find that all of a sudden there's some parental money going in there.
Ms Churley: A lot more dads paying up.
Mr Lewis: Do you think he'll do nine months, Ms Churley?
Ms Mushinski: I guess I have to be careful, because I'm on the public accounts committee, which is currently discussing this very issue and it's still in camera, so I don't want to divulge those discussions. But I am interested in what led to your "own motion" investigation with respect to the FRO's processing of its caseloads. It sounds to me as if that's not an individual case-
Mr Lewis: It's not.
Ms Mushinski: Was it an individual case that led you to the investigation of the overall operations of the FRO?
Mr Lewis: Ms Jamieson, who was the Ombudsman, had been involved with FRO for five years.
Ms Mushinski: Going back to pre-1995?
Mr Lewis: Yes, from the time of the transfer of the program from family support to FRO. I guess you will remember the troubles that occurred at that time, when they moved out to Downsview and so on. That was one of Ms Jamieson's central investigatory commitments. She felt it was sufficiently important and in sufficient disarray that she was on it all the time, and it was very much a continuing thing. She made ongoing reports and finally took the position, as I understand it, that this was a real Ombudsman's "own motion" investigation; you couldn't deal with it on a complaint basis. We had so many complaints; something like 15% of our caseload was FRO. So you weren't going to resolve them that way; you had to do a system-wide investigation. That, by the way, is something the Ombudsman's office does. We do it in corrections, where we have a very high caseload; some 30% of the office's caseload is out of corrections. We can't do it on an individual basis; we do it system-wide. In a month, when I give the annual report, I think I'll be able to show you some very good productive results with that. That's what precipitated the "own motion."
Ms Mushinski: Do you have a direct relationship with, let's say, the Provincial Auditor-
Mr Lewis: Yes.
Ms Mushinski: -to perhaps send in a value-for-money audit, for example?
Mr Lewis: No, we can't do that.
Ms Mushinski: But could you make that recommendation?
Mr Lewis: Yes, I guess we could.
Ms Churley: I wonder how it is going now in terms of complaints. Have they gone down?
Mr Lewis: I should know the answer to that. Marginally, yes.
Ms Churley: I know our office is still getting a lot, and I guess my-it's more like a comment, but I would ask you as well, are you continuing to monitor that very closely?
Mr Lewis: Oh, yes.
Ms Churley: One of the issues we are getting complaints about now is the fees.
Mr Lewis: You mean on the postdated cheques?
Ms Churley: Yes, the fees that have been imposed if people-it's my understanding that if they download electronically they don't have to pay the fee, but otherwise they do.
Mr Lewis: Not if they send their cheques in one at a time. It's if they send in postdated cheques that they get charged, I believe.
Ms Churley: No.
Ms Mushinski: That's changed.
Mr Lewis: Is that changed?
Ms Churley: But it costs money to get information.
Mr Lewis: Yes, sure.
Ms Churley: Some of the complaints I am getting in particular, and I don't know if you have, are that people are saying-and I'm sorry, I didn't bring the details with me-that it's mistakes the family support office actually made themselves. They need some information because the information they previously had was wrong, and they are having to pay the fee to get information. I don't know if you are hearing about those complaints, but I think it is something we need to keep an eye on. I certainly have had some of those cases brought forward.
Mr Lewis: Just last week the Toronto Star reported one, a considerable mistake.
Ms Churley: I'm sure it is. But this is an opportunity to tell the Ombudsman about issues I am hearing about and ask if they are keeping and eye on it. It's an oppor-tunity to have another body take a look at it.
Mr Lewis: Could I give one more answer?
Ms Churley: Yes.
Mr Lewis: We wrote to the deputy on April 1 expressing our concern about the user fees, and we are going to monitor.
Ms Churley: OK. Thank you.
Mr Ouellette: Coming from Oshawa, I should put this in these terms: I would just like to get on the record that the Family Responsibility Office is an extremely well-oiled machine, and I certainly hope and expect from your comments today that you will be able to thin that 500-weight oil we are dealing with.
Mr Lewis: The?
Mr Ouellette: The 500-weight oil we are dealing with.
Ms Churley: Five hundred what?
Ms Mushinski: Five-hundred-weight oil.
Ms Churley: Oh. OK. Got it. Thank you.
Ms Mushinski: He's Canadian; I'm English.
The Chair: That's right. An analogy. Any other questions?
Ms Di Cocco: I just want to say I am really pleased to see that if there is a tendency to see a systemic problem of some nature-like Ms Churley has stated, our office has been deluged with errors and all kinds of things that haven't been processed properly.
Mr Lewis: I'm sure.
Ms Di Cocco: So I thank you for continuing on that journey.
Mr Lewis: Well, I suppose it's really the only way to go, and it's the only way we can function, because we are going to go into a quandary, and we can't cope if we don't do it that way.
Ms Di Cocco: Does the ministry do strategic audits of these offices, for instance, the Family Responsibility Office, as businesses do? Strategic audits meaning that-
Mr Lewis: Internal?
Ms Di Cocco: Strategic in the sense of whether it is doing what it is supposed to be doing. It isn't just money but-
Mr Lewis: It's the value of it.
Ms Di Cocco: It's more than value. It's actually how it is working, how it's functioning. I have known them in the term of "strategic audit."
Mr Lewis: I can't speak for the Ministry of the Attorney General. I don't know that.
Ms Di Cocco: You haven't-
Mr Lewis: No. But it has certainly been done to me before.
Ms Di Cocco: Do you look at that when you are doing a value or investigating?
Mr Lewis: Yes, absolutely.
Ms Di Cocco: OK.
The Chair: If you would like to move on to number four, please.
Mr Lewis: I think this is a success story. The adoption disclosure register was in a unique position. Here is a case of a service of government which really, I guess, causes a lot of people anguish. People who come to this program have real concerns about their birth parents and so on.
A year ago, they had a backlog of 16,000, and the backlog was fascinating. Once an investigation is commenced, it takes up to eight months-if they find a parent, they go through a fairly sophisticated counselling process before they try to put people together-to actually finish the file. The problem was that it was taking 7.3 years to start the investigation. The backlog was horrible, and this was a hard-working and, I understand, quite dedicated staff of people. But they had this huge number of cases and a very complex process. Coping with these issues is touchy. If you find the mother and you try to put them together, it takes time and whatever. They couldn't get to them. This was the one case, I suppose, where I thought I was really going to have to come before you and make the argument for.
I met with the deputy, Mr Costante, and it was a fascinating meeting. He was certainly ready for me. The ministry has committed $2.4 million and 24.5 full-time equivalent new employees to the elimination of this backlog within 18 months. I think that's great; I just do. There it is, the Ministry of Community and Social Services. It's a real achievement, and I'm very pleased at it and I think a lot of people will be. It's a case of a government program that, if government thinks it should be offered, just cannot continue to be offered in the way it has been going on, and it looks as though it will be addressed. We will watch it, but I have no reason to believe it should be other than successful.
Those are the matters I had to bring before you formally. If you have any questions about any of them, I'm happy.
Ms Churley: I'm very happy to hear what you said about the fourth one. As you know, I have a personal interest in this, and I'm glad you are watching it closely. I'm not convinced, when there's that big a backlog, that 24.5 staff can eliminate it in that amount of time. But I'm still happy that that advancement has been made.
I'm just wondering if you receive any complaints from birth parents or adoptees not about the waiting list but about the process they have to go through-
Mr Lewis: I don't know that.
Ms Churley: Maybe you could hear the whole thing before you ask Fiona-the mandatory counselling, which lots of people don't want and it's forced on them. The second thing is that many people, as I know very well, don't like to have to go through this process, especially the adult adoptees. I'm wondering if you get complaints from people that they even have to go on this waiting list to wait to see if the other party is actually registered before action can even be taken.
Mr Lewis: They certainly accelerated the match. Do you mean to see whether the other person is registered so they can get an automatic match?
Ms Churley: That's what the system now is. I'm not going to go into a great deal of detail on this. I'll close it here. The system now is that you have to have a match. If not, the adult adoptee cannot get any further information.
Mr Lewis: That's right.
Ms Churley: Of course, I'm trying to get a bill through the House to change that. I'm just wondering if there are actual complaints about the process.
Mr Lewis: The answer is no, and I'm grateful for that. I hadn't heard of any. The issue has been the length of the process.
Mr Tascona: I have two questions. What is your understanding of the birth relative searches and what was the problem, in your view, about what was happening?
Mr Lewis: What the problem in the search process was?
Mr Tascona: What is involved in the birth relative searches, and what was the problem?
Mr Lewis: They didn't have enough staff; that was clearly true. They had an extremely high caseload that is dropping naturally, because adoptions are dropping in this province. Undoubtedly, a lot of people aren't asking any more because they have learned it is not going to-
Ms Churley: Or died.
Mr Lewis: Yes, or died. A lot of people have just died off, it's true.
The basic problem was that the process does involve mandatory counselling, which is time-consuming. They didn't have all the tools for the search, and they're getting some of those now. For instance, they are now hooked into the Ministry of Transportation's driver data bank. They are tied into another one, which I just learned about. They now have access to vital statistics, which didn't happen before. I don't think they've gone right across the country on that, but they've got them here.
They've been maximizing voluntary matches by comparing databases with private adoption registers; that's been happening. I think a lot of it was they just didn't have enough people; it was truly under-resourced for the mechanics they had.
Ms Churley is right, the process is onerous; it's a tough one. It just doesn't lend itself to a fast resolution, and so once you're into it, you've got to spend a lot of time on it. I gather that whether the people who are the recipients of the service like it, many of the people doing it are really very serious about it and take it seriously. I think that's it.
Now, there are different views as to how it should be done, and I think that's what you're talking about; you've got other ideas.
Ms Churley: This process is ridiculous, it's time-consuming, costly-
Mr Lewis: Well, there you go.
Ms Churley: -most in the adoption community in this day and age, which is why-
Mr Tascona: I just want to finish that point. You're talking about an administrative process?
Mr Lewis: Yes, sir.
Mr Tascona: Is there going to be allocation not just for manpower but technological-
Mr Lewis: Technological advances as well as staffing?
Mr Tascona: Yes.
Mr Lewis: Yes, I understand there are some-out of the $2.4 million, it's going to technological; 24 staff won't cost that much money.
Ms Churley: I can actually answer to some extent because I follow this closely. One of the good things that's happening right now and will be very helpful if we do move towards a different system-they're not exactly centralizing all the records. I think we're the only province in Canada which has all records really decentralized, which makes a bit of a problem for the new system we want to put in place. But what they are doing is finally connecting all of the centres, however many there are-there are quite a few-by computer, so finally information can be retrieved centrally from all across the province. And now, as far as I know, they're trying to deal with implications of that-who should get the information, under what circumstances, what information when, that kind of stuff-under the existing legislation. But there are some really good advances being made in the centralization of the records in that sense, in terms of the connections through the computer system.
Mr Lewis: I understand there was an announcement made in the House this afternoon with respect to that. Is that correct?
Ms Churley: There was?
Mr Lewis: Yes, so I'm told.
The Chair: Ms Mushinski, did you have a question?
Ms Mushinski: Actually, Mr Tascona asked the question.
Mr Tascona: I wasn't finished, Mr Chairman, but I am now.
Mr Wettlaufer: Clare, you talked about a current caseload and you mentioned that one thing you would look to is that there wouldn't be any more cases coming in in a year than would be handled in a year. Coming from the business world, at one point I considered a current caseload getting done today what came in today. There are times of course when that can be extended to as much as a month but it would be unacceptable for a caseload to go beyond a month. In one of the cases we were discussing here, you mentioned 18 months. What would you consider to be an acceptable current caseload?
Mr Lewis: It varies. It varies on the complexity of the individual case, there's just no question about that. We have cases in our office, for instance, that we believe should be disposed of within three months. We've got lots of others that are disposed of the same day and within two weeks, but these are very quick matters and they don't become very formalized. But once we get into a true investigation, we then start to look at, what's the three-month, what's the six-month? If it gets to nine, then you've got to start worrying.
I have to tell you, I don't know of any of these agencies that don't have some considerably longer, but I can say that Mr Norton thinks they've got rid of most of their old cases in human rights. By "old" cases I mean some of them were probably several years old. We all know that. I don't know of any complaints agencies that haven't had those experiences. Personally, I feel it's not the business world and there are in fact internal differences to the process, but I think a year is a long time in a complaint and I hope to be working more in the six- to nine-month range at our tops. We're not there yet, but we're working on it.
Mr Wettlaufer: What about some of these other agencies-the Human Rights Commission, for instance? What is your opinion of what would be an acceptable current caseload?
Mr Lewis: If the Human Rights Commission were doing its cases within a year, I'd say that was an amazing success.
The Chair: Any other questions?
Mr Lewis, do you have any wrap-up that you might want to make?
Mr Lewis: I'd like to tell you that we're working on our annual report now. They told me I can forget the weekend. It should be coming out in about the middle of June. It's filed with the House through the Speaker, and the committee is always copied. I don't believe the Ombudsman has been invited before the committee to discuss the report in several years. I encourage you to have me in and, I guess, put me through it. I'd be happy to discuss it with you. It will have, first of all, my message, but it will also have, aside from financial information which is also there, a number of small case stories about the scope of the work we do, the kinds of complaints, ones where we uphold them, where we don't uphold them, whatever. There will be some corrections from FRO, from human rights and other agencies. Then there's a pile of statistics that go with it as well. They may well be of interest to you. You may want to discuss them, and I'd be happy to talk to you about it-areas where we think we're doing well or maybe we could do better. So I'm asking you to have me back.
The Chair: We certainly will do that. I think your first report should be presented by you, or certainly discussed by you. Needless to say, it's a lot easier to keep this group together if it's prior to the day that the House rises. You're suggesting the end of June.
Mr Lewis: I think it should be the middle of June.
The Chair: If it's the middle of June, I'm quite sure we'd be quite satisfied.
Mr Lewis: I want to say I'm pleased that the Ombudsman is now dealing with this committee.
Ms Churley: Early June would be better. Wait, we're getting partisan here.
The Chair: I know nothing. I'm just suggesting the middle of June might be OK.
Mr Lewis: That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
The Chair: Any other questions of the Ombudsman?
I would just like to pass on our sincere appreciation. Again, good luck in your endeavours over the next five years. We certainly look forward to meeting with you on quite a regular basis. We appreciate it.
Mr Lewis: If I could just say one final thing, I do appreciate the confidence of the committee in nominating me for this position. I hope over the next five years I'll justify your confidence.
The Chair: We appreciate you coming.
I don't think there is anything more on the agenda. We will meet on May 11 at 3:30.
The committee adjourned at 1654.