EDMONTON – On Thursday, October 8, 2020, provincial and territorial offices of the Ombudsman from across Canada will celebrate Ombuds Day, a day to recognize a profession that has existed for centuries yet remains relatively unknown and underutilized: the Ombuds.
“The role of the Ombudsman is in ensuring citizens with a right to access a public service are treated fairly in the course of accessing that public service. Ombuds Day gives us the chance to reach out to the public, explain the services we provide and remind them we are here when they need help,” said Marianne Ryan, Alberta Ombudsman and Public Interest Commissioner.
Marianne was appointed to her dual roles in July 2017 and assumed leadership of her office as Alberta’s ninth Ombudsman. The first of its kind in North America, the Alberta Ombudsman’s office was established on September 1, 1967 as a parliamentary Ombudsman responsible for responding to complaints of unfair treatment by authorities and organizations identified in the Ombudsman Act.
The word “Ombudsman” is a gender-neutral term of Swedish origin that means “people’s representative”. Around the world, Ombudsman or Ombuds provide oversight to ensure fair administrative processes are followed in the delivery of public services. When a person makes a complaint to an organization about a poor experience and the organization does not handle the complaint in an administratively fair manner, an Ombudsman may be able to help. An Ombudsman does not take sides but can look deeper into the issue while acting independently of the two opposing parties.
Ombudsman work in and with many types of institutions, including governments, colleges and universities, corporations, non-profits, hospitals, and news organizations. They act as neutral and independent third parties for people who wish to complain of unfair treatment without fear of retaliation. Organizational leaders also benefit from the Ombudsman’s involvement when they are made aware of the service experience on the front lines. As experts in procedural fairness, Ombuds provide administrators with the opportunity to improve fair decision making which in turn contributes positively to the overall well-being of the organization itself.
“Raising awareness about the profession of Ombuds will encourage average citizens to get the help they need in navigating an unfair situation,” stated Marianne Ryan. “We will also take time today to recognize and celebrate the work of our peers across the country as they improve government services and address systemic unfairness one complaint at a time.”
As part of an ongoing outreach strategy, the Alberta Ombudsman’s office is working with other provincial and territorial Ombudsman offices across Canada to build peer-to-peer relationships, network and share best practices.
On Thursday, October 8, 2020, we also launch the Fairness by Design: An Administrative Self-Assessment Guide resource developed by Ombudsman offices from across Canada. It is a publication created by five Canadian provincial and territorial Ombudsman offices to encourage public organizations to internally assess their programs and evaluate the fairness of their systems, policies and practices. It also provides advice on how to develop policies that will ensure delivery in a fair and reasonable manner from the start. Learn more here.