Focus on the people who lodged a complaint, rather than the substance of the complaint resulted in a biased and unfair outcome, the Ombudsman found after looking at an investigation by the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee ( the public guardian).

The public guardian protects the interests of vulnerable Albertans by providing services, tools and support for financial and personal matters.  In this case, a private citizen lodged a complaint with the public guardian against an individual serving as a private guardian.  The complainant, acting on behalf of her mother, accused the private guardian of not acting in the best interests of the person in his charge by socially isolating him in a nursing home away from the complainant’s mother, with whom he had a personal relationship.

The public guardian hired an independent contractor to investigate.  However, the investigation mistakenly identified that the complainant’s family was being deceitful, employing trickery and making false statements.  The public guardian included the unsubstantiated allegations and conclusions about dishonesty in the final decision.  Also of note, a senior employee signed a decision letter on behalf of the public guardian.

There are circumstances when a decision-maker may consider a complainant’s credibility.  In this case, the independent contractor reached inaccurate conclusions about the family’s honesty.  It appeared statements that the complainant’s family may never have made significantly influenced the contractor’s conclusions.

In order to satisfy a complainant that they have been heard, it is important that an investigator address all of the complainant’s important issues.  In this case, the contractor did not address one issue by concluding he did not have the legislative authority to look at it.  However, from the Ombudsman’s point of view, the public guardian’s decision should still have included an explanation why the issue was not addressed.  Without an explanation, the complainant did in fact conclude the public guardian missed the issue, even though it was correctly not addressed.

Senior staff from the Ombudsman’s office met with their counterparts from the public guardian’s office. While our staff acknowledged the initial mistakes were made by a contracted investigator, all agreed legislation assigns the public guardian ultimate responsibility for the decision. It is the decision-maker’s task to ensure the investigation focused on addressing the initial complaints. The decision-maker must weigh the evidence, be satisfied the investigation was complete, and take responsibility in coming to an informed decision. The contractor may have gone astray but he also didn’t make the decision.

Eventually, the public guardian agreed with the Ombudsman that he would review the initial decision and write a new one (if he decided further investigation wasn’t necessary). Later, the public guardian made a second decision to address the issues thoroughly and importantly, explain to the complainant why the non-jurisdictional aspects were not investigated. The removal of provocative allegations against the complainant alleviated the apprehension of bias. Unfortunately, the unproven statement the complainant allegedly made was once more included. Rather than reinvestigate, the Ombudsman investigator employed early resolution techniques. The decision was reissued a thrid time with corrections made.

While the Ombudsman is satisfied the public guardian made a fair decision in the end, this case illustrates the importance of following fair practices and writing balanced reports.