This January marks Kevin Brezinski’s one-year anniversary in office since he began as Alberta Ombudsman and Public Interest Commissioner. We sat down with the Ombudsman to ask about his time in these two important roles and his plans for the future.
“Serving the public and conducting investigations was integral throughout my career in policing. Early on, I understood a collaborative approach would be essential to these roles and I continue to lead with that perspective. However, this year I witnessed firsthand how decisions made in the public sector can affect the lives of Albertans who have reached out to us either for whistleblower protection or because of unfair treatment by authorities. I’m pleased to say I’ve seen meaningful change in my first year thanks to these complaints coming forward. In my first year, I have been impressed with the professionalism of our staff and their ability to complete complex investigations in a timely fashion. I am proud of the work done the past year and excited about the year ahead.”
“Sure. On the public interest side, we released a report into allegations of medical mistreatment by affected individuals at a provincial correctional centre. As a result of the disclosure by a whistleblower, and the subsequent investigation, we determined standards of medical care were not met for a number of patients at the Edmonton Remand Centre. We provided recommendations to Alberta Health Services for improvement of the systemic issues, and I was very encouraged to see the organization’s commitment to implementing the necessary changes.
Speaking to my role as the Ombudsman, a case recently came across my desk about a complaint from the mother of a young person with a developmental disability. Previously, the young person had received government-funded support but had to transition out of the children’s funding program when he turned 18. When his family applied on his behalf to the Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) program, Disability Services (the department) found him ineligible on the basis that his Intelligence Quotient (IQ) score was too high. His mother appealed the denial to the Citizen’s Appeal Panel and the Panel determined the IQ score was not a valid indication of his intellectual capacity. However, no further action was taken to vary the decision. The Panel is mandated to confirm, reverse or vary the department’s decision yet the young person remained ineligible bringing considerable worry and financial hardship to his family. Recognizing the seriousness of the matter, my office opened an investigation and is currently working with the department to highlight where specific instances of unfairness occurred.”
“We know the population in Alberta is growing and this comes with increased pressure on service requirements such as education, healthcare, social and financial support programs. I would say affordability issues affect many of the people who come to our office, as well as children’s services, healthcare concerns and access to adequate housing. I think climate-related issues will continue to test peoples’ resilience this year such as those we have previously seen in communities affected by wildfires, floods, and extreme weather. Despite the prosperity in many circles, there are Albertans who continue to struggle.
When a decision is made about a funding program they rely on or a key service is denied to them, people can come to us with their concerns. An investigation of a complaint may find isolated examples of unfairness, or a systemic issue may come to light. In either case, setting it right creates better services for all Albertans.”
“I usually direct people to our annual reports when I get asked that question. For instance, on the Ombudsman side, many of our recommendations resulted in improvements. In 2022-23, we reported on an environmental complaint that came to our attention when a community battled for over 10 years with longstanding foul odours from a compost facility. Our recommendations in this case highlighted the importance of adhering to legislation and policy designed to protect the environment.
While this case required a formal investigation, almost 250 others we reported on were successfully closed at the early resolution stage. In 30% of these cases, our investigators noted opportunities to improve fair treatment and provided suggestions to the authorities involved. Speaking to the more complex cases, my office closed 120% more full investigations in 2022-23 compared to the previous year and I am pleased to report that all our recommendations were accepted for this time period, resulting in positive changes and improvements for Albertans.
On the public interest side, we have seen an increase in the number of jurisdictional disclosures, meaning that we are receiving more relevant disclosures that we can act on. We continue to highlight the importance of whistleblower protection in our contact with public sector entities to ensure employees working in the Alberta Public Service are aware of a clear process for disclosing their concerns about wrongdoing without fear of reprisal.”
“I am very optimistic about the upcoming year. We recognize that public servants work hard to serve Albertans, especially in times of crisis and uncertainty. We also acknowledge that there is always room for improvement and innovation in public service delivery. That is why we are committed to working with the government organizations to identify and address issues, share best practices, and enhance standards of fairness and whistleblower protection.
Operational efficiencies will be key to ensuring timely and efficient investigations. Further, we aim to assess the emergence of artificial intelligence applications that could impact internals procedures. Educational outreach will play a crucial role for both offices this year. As independent offices responding to public needs, it is vital for citizens to be well informed about the services we provide and how to actively engage with us when the need arises.
I would invite anyone with questions or concerns about our work, or those who need our assistance in resolving an issue with a government organization to get in touch with us. Our investigators care about the work we do and helping Albertans find the resources needed to advance their complaints.”
If you are just learning of our offices or interested in more information, please revisit our website or follow us on social media for the latest news, events and other updates from our offices. To contact the Public Interest Commissioner’s office, call toll free 1.855.641.8659 or visit yourvoiceprotected.ca.