Martin C. Barry
The latest annual report filed by Laval’s Ombudsman confirms that more complaints about city services were dealt with by the Ombudsman than in any other year since the office’s creation six years ago.
According to the report on the Ombudsman’s activities last year, 2018 set a record with 635 dossiers treated, which is 21 per cent higher than in 2017. Of those cases, 62 per cent were dealt with in less than 30 days, while 42 per cent of that number were responded to in five days.
Case by case
The report says that 58 per cent of the complaints concerned the public works, engineering and urban planning departments. More than 40 per cent of the issues were resolved by directing the complainants to the departments in question, the report added.
In only 20 per cent of the cases did the Ombudsman’s office have to intervene directly with the municipal administration. In 38 per cent of these cases the office initiated an in-depth investigation. While 51 per cent of complaints made were filed by men, 49 per cent were from women. Just 6 per cent of all complaints received were from English-speaking persons.
Some 2018 interventions
In its latest report, the Ombudsman’s office provided examples of some of the more noteworthy interventions made in 2018. In one, a property owner who had been impacted by the 2017 floods filed a complaint that he didn’t receive adequate flood damage compensation because the value of his property was underestimated in the latest municipal property roll.
The end result was a substantially lower compensation payment from the Quebec Ministry of Public Security for a flood damage claim. While the Ombudsman determined that the time limit for contesting the property roll had already expired, the office was still able to intervene and explain the situation to the ministry, resulting in an increased compensation payout.
Case referred to legal affairs
In another more serious case, the Ombudsman’s office saw fit to forward a file to the city’s Bureau for Integrity and Ethics (the BIEL, which interfaces with the Laval Police Department), as well as the legal affairs department.
According to the Ombudsman, an investigation by her office revealed that expert consultants with the city were aware of potential traffic problems which were likely to emerge near a major (though unidentified) real estate project being considered for development. Among other things, said the report, conspicuous zoning changes led the Ombudsman’s office to refer the matter to legal affairs and the BIEL.
Caseload growing larger
In an interview with the Laval News, Ombudsman’s office director Nadine Mailloux explained why the number of complaints received has been rising. “When I started in 2013 the office wasn’t very well known,” she said. “When I first arrived at the office there were perhaps 50 complaints waiting for me that year.
“What I have worked at since then is making the Ombudsman’s service more and more well known. There is a consistency in the increase. There were some small increases in the first few years, but since the last three years in particular I think it’s been around 20-22 per cent increases because I think we’re becoming more and more well known.”
Wants to resolve problems
Mailloux said that considering the level of complexity of the complaints brought to her office’s attention had substantially increased in 2018, “we are looking at things from the standpoint of the citizens, our ability to put ourselves in their place and to re-explain things. That is why, in our opinion, the only thing we can do is to be exacting, transparent and vigilant. We are committed to finding resolutions.
“We deal with the dossiers of persons who, like us, hope to be treated with respect and equality,” she continued. “It is possible to act with fairness and empathy, all the while being respectful of the regulations and logic in their application. It is our hope to see this wisdom-filled approach in the interventions made by the employees of the City of Laval.”