Frequently Asked Questions

Seeking answers about the Alberta Ombudsman?

The answers may already be here for you.

The word “Ombudsman” is a gender-neutral term of Swedish origin that means “people’s representative”. When a person makes a complaint to an organization about the services, he or she received and the organization did not handle the complaint in a satisfactory way, 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.

The Office

What is the Alberta Ombudsman's Office?

The Ombudsman is an independent Officer of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, a role brought into force when the Alberta government proclaimed the Ombudsman Act in 1967. The Ombudsman is impartial, operating independently from the government, political parties and elected officials. The Ombudsman is approachable, responsive and offers services free of charge.

Who is the Alberta Ombudsman?

Marianne Ryan was sworn in as Alberta’s ninth Ombudsman in the Alberta Legislature on July 4, 2017. Prior to this appointment, Marianne served as Commanding Officer for the Royal Mounted Canadian Police (RCMP), the culmination of a 35-year career in leadership with the RCMP.

Why is the Ombudsman necessary?

It is not realistic to expect that government administration can always operate without adversely affecting someone in an unfair way. Similarly, it is not reasonable to expect that average citizens have the time or resources to tackle an issue of unfairness by hiring a lawyer or by appealing to an elected official. In Alberta, the Ombudsman has the legislated authority to respond to complaints of unfair treatment by authorities and organizations named in the Ombudsman Act.

Can the Ombudsman intervene in a complaint?

No. Section 12(3) of the Ombudsman Act states all available appeals or reviews must be exhausted before the Ombudsman considers commencing an investigation. Once the individual has received a final written response they believe is unfair, they may contact our office with their complaint. To learn more about what to expect when you are considering filing a complaint, please visit our Before Filing a Complaint page.

Filing a Complaint

Do complaints have to be submitted in writing?

Yes. Section 14(1) of the Ombudsman Act states every complaint to the Ombudsman must be made in writing. While an individual may call our office to speak to an investigator regarding their concerns, in order for the Ombudsman to investigate the complaint, the individual must submit it in writing.

We accept written complaints via email, through our online complaint form, mailed through Canada Post, or by fax to our office. Please visit us here for important contact information that will assist you in submitting your complaint.

What happens if a complaint dates over 12 months?

Section 15(2)(a) of the Ombudsman Act allows the Ombudsman to refuse to investigate a complaint if it relates to a decision, recommendation, act or omission an individual has known about for more than 12 months before submitting their complaint to the Ombudsman. If an individual submits a complaint after more than 12 months have passed, we ask that they provide an explanation as to why they took longer than 12 months to submit their complaint. The Ombudsman will consider their explanation and then decide whether to investigate the complaint.

How are attachments sent via the online complaint form?

Our online complaint form offers a secure, confidential way to submit complaints.  In sharing information with us, we encourage you to attach content in file form instead of copying large bodies of text into the complaint form fields.  Allowable files are .jpg, .jpeg, .png, .gif, .pdf, .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, and .txt. To attach a file (maximum 5MB), select browse, locate the desired file on your computer and double click to attach.

As an alternative, you may choose to e-mail documents directly to us at [email protected].

The Process

What happens after the complaint is submitted?

Once our office receives a complaint, we will assign it to an Ombudsman investigator. To process the complaint, the investigator must first determine if the Ombudsman has jurisdiction to review the complaint. If the answer is yes, the investigator then has to find out if the decision received by the complainant is final. If the decision is not final or the complained about authority does not fall under the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, the investigator will provide the complainant with a referral. If the complaint is jurisdictional and the decision is final, the investigator will attempt to resolve the complaint at the earliest point possible – a step in our investigative process called early resolution.

What is early resolution?

The intent of early resolution is to isolate the core issue of the complaint and provide an objective and impartial assessment based on the information gathered. We consider a complaint to be resolved when we are satisfied the authority’s administrative process was consistent with relevant legislation and policy and the outcome was administratively fair. In determining fairness, the Ombudsman uses guidelines rooted in natural justice and administrative law.

To find additional information about our administrative fairness guidelines and to download a copy of our Administrative Fairness Guidebook, please visit our Administrative Fairness Guidelines page.

What happens next in the Ombudsman's investigation process?

If the complaint cannot be resolved through early resolution, we may proceed and launch a full investigation. The Ombudsman has sole authority to open investigations. If she decides to proceed, the issue for investigation is identified and official correspondence is sent to the administrative head of the authority. This allows the authority an opportunity to respond to the official correspondence. From there, the investigator completes the investigation, working with both the complainant and the authority in an objective and neutral way. Steps may include reviewing applicable legislation, policy, and regulation, a file review, and interviews with the authority and the complainant.

The investigator will then prepare a report presenting their findings to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will decide whether to make recommendation(s) to the authority.

The Outcome

What are recommendations?

Section 21(3) of the Ombudsman Act states the Ombudsman can make any recommendation the Ombudsman may see fit. Recommendations may impact a complainant but in some instances, they may focus on improving the administrative processes used by an authority. Some examples of recommendations are:

  • An addendum to a decision
  • A rehearing of a matter
  • Creation of a policy or procedure to address a specific issue

If the Ombudsman conducts an investigation and the complainant is still dissatisfied, what options are available to them?

The Ombudsman’s office is the office of last resort. The decisions of the Ombudsman cannot be challenged in any court.

What types of complaints do you receive?

The Ombudsman receives complaints from people experiencing challenging, difficult or even grave personal circumstances; others recognize systemic issues and speak out in favour of improving government services for everyone. To name just a few, we receive calls from Albertans concerned with flooding to their property, grandparents seeking visitation with grandchildren in child protective services, patients with unique needs concerned about their healthcare, inmates from correctional centres and municipal residents experiencing what they perceive as unfair tax penalties.

Municipalities

What complaints about municipalities does the Alberta Ombudsman investigate?

Amendments to the Municipal Government Act and the Ombudsman Act grant the Ombudsman authority to investigate the fairness of administrative decisions made by municipalities. This new authority means the Ombudsman is able to review matters where final the decision was made by a municipality on or after April 1, 2018.  If a decision was made prior to April 1, 2018, the Ombudsman does not have any authority to investigate.

To note, the Ombudsman investigates matters of administration and not political decisions of elected officials.

What can a municipality do to prepare for working with the Alberta Ombudsman?

We offer many tools and resources to the authorities within our jurisdiction to educate staff on the role of the Alberta Ombudsman. These include:

We also conduct regular outreach events to spread awareness of our office.

What other resources are available to municipalities?

Did you know that Municipal Affairs, in partnership with Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA), and Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), prepared tools designed to aid municipalities in the implementation of the amendments to the Municipal Government Act (MGA)These included:

An important resource capturing all the changes made to the MGA and when the requirements must be completed.

One to two-page fact sheets developed to support the understanding and implementation of the legislation by elected officials, administrators, industry stakeholders and the public.

This handbook titled What every councilor needs to know!: a council member handbook is intended to help newly elected councilors understand their individual powers and duties as well as those of a municipal council as a whole.