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Frequently Asked Questions
What is an Ombudsperson?
An Ombudsperson is an independent and impartial official who investigates complaints from the public about unfair government administration. Many countries around the world have Ombuds roles.
Who is the current Ombudsperson?
Jay Chalke was appointed Ombudsperson in May, 2015 by unanimous motion of the Legislative Assembly and reappointed to a second six-year term starting July 1, 2021. Read more
What does the Ombudsperson do?
The Ombudsperson listens to, and investigates approximately 8,000 complaints each year about local and provincial organizations in BC (provincial government ministries, Crown corporations, hospitals & health authorities, public schools, colleges and universities, local governments & regional districts and more). The office also investigates allegations of wrongdoing and reprisal from current and former employees of the provincial government.
What is an Independent Office of the Legislature?
British Columbia has ten independent offices of the Legislative Assembly. To ensure their independence and impartiality, these offices do not report directly to government or a specific minister. To further underscore their independence they have:
annual budgets reviewed by an all-party parliamentary committee
authority to hire staff
An independent process is also used to select statutory officers for appointment and for setting remuneration.
How can I inquire about public presentations or outreach opportunities?
If you would like to learn more about what we do and how we can help, please contact us. We would be pleased to meet with you and your staff.
How do I order brochures or posters for my organization?
All of our brochures can be downloaded here. However, if you prefer to order a brochure by mail, please contact us. Let us know the brochure you would like to order, your preferred language, the number of copies as well as the name and address of your organization, and we’ll be sure to fill your request.
How much do your services cost?
Our services are free and confidential. There is no charge.
What kinds of complaints can be investigated?
We receive a wide-range of complaints about how local and provincial public sector organizations deliver services, make decisions, and communicate with the public. People may have complaints about how or why a specific decision was made, why they are not getting benefits they believe they are entitled to, or may be experiencing lengthy delays in receiving service. These are all examples of complaints we can investigate.
If we cannot handle a complaint, we will do our best to refer you to an organization that can.
Are there complaints that cannot be investigated?
While the Ombudsperson has jurisdiction over more than 1,000 local and provincial public sector organizations in BC, there are some we do not oversee, such as:
The BC Ombudsperson listens to complaints from anyone who feels they have been treated unfairly by a public sector organization.
Translation services and Telus Relay Service (TRS) are available to ensure all British Columbians can access, and benefit from our services.
How can I resolve a complaint on my own?
Resolving complaints directly with the public organization involved, is usually the most efficient and effective way of resolving complaints. For some tips that may help you when you bring your complaint forward click here.
We will respond to your complaint as quickly as possible, usually within five business days. Depending on the nature of your complaint or enquiry, we may be able to provide the answers you need right away, or if your complaint requires extensive investigation, gathering and analyzing he information we need to determine what happened in your case could take several months.
How does the Ombudsperson work to resolve my complaint?
We hear a wide-range of concerns from people about how they have been treated. With each complaint, our job is to determine how best we can help.
To learn more about how our process for handling complaints works, please click here.
Is there anything I should know before I make a complaint to the Ombudsperson?
The Ombudsperson is an office of last resort. Before coming to us, we recommend going through the organization’s internal complaint process. Dealing with individuals directly involved can often resolve issues more efficiently and effectively.
If you have tried to resolve the issue, please reach out to us. We may be able to help.
I am ready to make a complaint. What type of information should I include?
The more information you can provide us, the better. Try to have the following information ready:
the organization your complaint is about
who you have contacted (names, titles, and contact information is ideal) and when
the specific details about your complaint and why you think you’ve been treated unfairly
what you have done to try to resolve the issue
what you hope the outcome to be
What outcomes can I expect from an Ombudsperson investigation?
If we investigate and find that the public sector organization has acted unfairly, some common outcomes include:
Reimbursement of expenses
Access to a benefit previously denied
A clearer explanation on how or why a decision was made
A change to a policy or procedure
Can the Ombudsperson decline to look into my complaint?
Yes. The Ombudsperson’s powers and jurisdiction are set out in the Ombudsperson Act and the Public Interest Disclosure Act. These two laws mandate how we work, including what we can and cannot investigate.
The Ombudsperson can choose not to pursue a complaint based on factors such as:
whether the issue is still current
alternative remedies exist
the matter involves public policy, not administrative issues
the complaint is frivolous or vexatious, etc.
How does the Ombudsperson make sure recommendations are followed and that problems don't recur?
When the Ombudsperson’s recommendations are accepted, the public organization is asked to report back on its progress in implementing them. We monitor this progress and publicly publish status updates.
How do I make a complaint if I am unhappy about the Ombudsperson's decision or service?
We value complaints and continuously strive to improve our services. You are welcome to make a complaint directly to us, preferably in writing, but you may also contact us by phone if you are unable to complete a written complaint form. Please identify the decision we made, action we took or inaction on our part that concerns you. It is important that you explain why you disagree with our decision or were dissatisfied with our service. Please be as specific as you can and indicate what outcome you are seeking. We will acknowledge receipt of your complaint as quickly as we can. Please note, we reserve the right not to respond to complaints that contain abusive, discriminatory or threatening language directed at our staff.
The BC Ombudsperson is mandated under the Public Interest Disclosure Act to investigate allegations of wrongdoing from public sector employees.
The Ombudsperson also investigates complaints from employees who believe they have been retaliated against for reporting wrongdoing, seeking advice about doing so, or cooperating with an investigation under the Act.
The Ombudsperson conducts fair and impartial investigations and makes effective recommendations for corrective measures when wrongdoing or reprisal is found.
The Office of the Ombudsperson can also provide advice about PIDA to employees and public bodies.
How am I protected?
PIDA prohibits reprisal against employees who seek advice, report wrongdoing, or cooperate with an investigation. Reprisal can include demotion, disciplinary measures, termination of employment or any measure that adversely affects an employee’s employment or working conditions.
Employees can make a complaint to the Ombudsperson if they experience reprisal.
What privacy and confidentiality protections does the Act provide?
If an employee reports wrongdoing, the law requires that their personal information and identity will be kept confidential to the extent possible. The Ombudsperson conducts investigations in private and the identity of the person who made the report will not be included in the Ombudsperson’s report.
The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act provides that investigative records of the Ombudsperson are exempt from disclosure. This means that members of the public cannot access the office’s records that relate to a report of wrongdoing or reprisal complaint through a freedom of information request.
What is “wrongdoing”?
Wrongdoing is conduct that occurs in or relating to a ministry, government body or office of the legislature that is:
a serious act or failure to act that, if proven, would be an offence under the laws of BC or Canada;
an act or failure to act that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons, or to the environment, other than a danger that is inherent in the performance of an employee’s duties or functions;
a serious misuse of public funds or public assets;
gross or systemic mismanagement; or
knowingly directing or counselling a person to commit wrongdoing described above.
Not all misconduct is wrongdoing under PIDA. For example, minor or isolated transgressions may not meet the seriousness threshold in the definition of wrongdoing. Furthermore, disagreements about policy or human resource disputes involving purely personal interests are unlikely to qualify as wrongdoing.
If you want to discuss your concerns or learn more about the investigation process, contact our office to speak with an investigator.
Can I get advice before I decide to reporting wrongdoing?
Yes. You can seek advice from your supervisor, your designated officer, a lawyer, your union representative or the Ombudsperson. Under PIDA, you are protected from reprisal when asking for advice from these parties.
Who can report wrongdoing under PIDA?
An employee or former employee of a ministry or office of the legislature can report wrongdoing.
Employees can report wrongdoing that has happened in the past, is currently taking place or that they believe is about to happen. An employee can report wrongdoing regardless of whether they are a permanent, temporary, casual, part-time or full-time employee.
Former employees can only report wrongdoing that they discovered, or that occurred, while they were employed.
We may ask you to prove that you are an employee or former employee in order to determine that you are eligible to report wrongdoing.
I am a contractor. Am I protected under PIDA?
Contractors are protected from reprisal under the Act. PIDA prohibits persons from cancelling contracts, withholding payment, or refusing to enter into future contracts because a contractor or their employees cooperated with a PIDA investigation.
The Ombudsperson can not investigate complaints of reprisal from contractors. Contractors who believe that they have experienced reprisal may wish to seek legal advice.
Can I report wrongdoing that happened a long time ago?
Yes. PIDA does not have any time restrictions. However, it may not be possible to investigate wrongdoing that happened a very long time ago if evidence or witnesses are no longer available or there would be no useful purpose in an investigation.
How can I report wrongdoing?
Employees can report wrongdoing:
to your supervisor or the Designated Officer in your workplace; OR
to the BC Ombudsperson.
Employees can choose where to report wrongdoing. Employees do not have to exhaust other options before coming to the Ombudsperson.
Can I report wrongdoing to the media?
In most circumstances, PIDA does not cover reports of wrongdoing to the media. However, if an employee believes that there is an imminent, substantial and specific danger to people or the environment, and the employee has consulted with and obtained the consent of the appropriate protection official, an employee can make a public disclosure.
Protection officials are
the provincial health officer (for a health-related matter);
the provincial administrator as defined in section 1 (1) of the Emergency and Disaster Management Act
the police, for any other matter.
PIDA does not authorize employees to report wrongdoings publicly without first obtaining the consent of the appropriate protection official.
Do I have to talk to my supervisor before reporting wrongdoing?
No. Employees can report wrongdoing without first raising their concerns with their supervisor or employer.
I took an oath when I started with the public service. What happens if I break that oath?
PIDA allows employees to share otherwise confidential information for the purpose of reporting wrongdoing, except information that is protected by solicitor-client privilege or another rule of privilege. Reporting wrongdoing under the Act in good faith is consistent with the employee’s oath of employment.
Can I report wrongdoing anonymously?
Yes, employees can report wrongdoing anonymously. We may investigate anonymous reports if there is enough information for the allegations of wrongdoing to be properly assessed. However, we are required to determine if an anonymous report is made by an employee or former employee so we may ask the anonymous reporter to provide certain information so we can determine this.
We encourage employees who fear identifying themselves to contact our office to discuss our investigation process and the protections that the Act provides. That contact may be anonymous if you prefer.
What happens after I report wrongdoing?
An Ombudsperson Officer will contact you to get more information about your report. Your report will be assessed to determine whether it is eligible for investigation under the Act, and if it is, whether or not an investigation should proceed.
Each issue brought forward to our office will be assessed on its merits to determine if an investigation will be conducted.
You will be notified if we decide to investigate your report. If we decide not to investigate your report, we will provide you with reasons for our decision.
What happens at the end of an investigation?
At the end of an investigation, the Ombudsperson will provide a report to the chief executive of the public body. The report will set out the Ombudsperson’s findings, including any recommendations for corrective measures. The Ombudsperson will monitor the implementation of any recommendations made.
If the Ombudsperson does not find that wrongdoing took place, the employee who made the report is still protected from reprisal.
The employee who made the report will receive a summary of the outcome of the investigation.
I am a witness in a PIDA case. Will what I say affect my employment?
PIDA prohibits reprisal against employees who co-operate with a PIDA investigation. If an employee experiences reprisal because they cooperated with an investigation under PIDA, they can make a reprisal complaint to our office.
We conduct our investigations in private, and we will only share information about your identity as necessary to further the investigation.
Fairness Resources FAQs
What is administrative fairness?
Administrative fairness is the standard of conduct people can expect from government organizations. It is the expectation that public sector organizations will act reasonably when delivering their programs and services, and in a manner that is consistent with relevant policies, procedures and laws. It also means that public organizations follow fair and transparent decision making processes, and explain reasons for decisions to those affected.
Who attends fairness education workshops and how do I sign up?
Public sector staff including managers, team leaders, complaint handlers and frontline staff who have an interest in learning about administrative fairness in public service delivery are welcome to join out workshops. You can find more information here.