QUÉBEC CITY, Sept. 17, 2015 /CNW Telbec/ - Today, Ombudsperson Raymonde Saint-Germain presented the findings and recommendations from the 2014-2015 Annual Report of the Québec Ombudsman. The most frequent grounds for substantiated complaints concerning departments and agencies were long wait times (29.9%), followed by failings with a financial impact, at 27.7% (up 12.3 percentage points from 2011-2012), and infringement of rights, at 18.1%.
Agence du revenu du Québec (Revenu Québec)
Revenu Québec has a mission that is important and legitimate: tax collection. However, its aims in that regard cannot be achieved by disdaining citizens' rights, procedural fairness and the principles of administrative justice. Despite this, complaints to the Québec Ombudsman showed that failings of this kind had occurred. For example, as part of a large-scale audit operation, Revenu Québec wrongly issued notices of assessment based on simple presumptions, without allowing the taxpayers concerned to make their arguments. It also maintained rigid legal interpretations in processing certain files. Further to action by the Québec Ombudsman, Revenu Québec agreed to review several decisions. In some cases, this intervention made it possible to rectify a collective wrong for a great many citizens and to keep disputes pitting Revenu Québec against taxpayers out of the courts.
Commission administrative des régimes de retraite et d'assurances (CARRA)
When they retired or a few months afterwards, citizens learned that their pension had been reduced or that they would have to reimburse CARRA for amounts they had been overpaid because of a mistake it made when it processed their application. The Québec Ombudsman believes that CARRA can be held liable for its negligence if it is to blame for calculation mistakes that beneficiaries cannot be expected to notice. However, CARRA refused to see it this way and insisted that it did not have to compensate the beneficiaries.
Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST)
The CSST can suspend or reduce payment of a worker's indemnity if the worker fails to comply with one of the obligations of the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases without just cause. However, the Québec Ombudsman has noted that the CSST tends to levy this penalty rigidly, without always taking the worker's version into account. When the CSST does this, the financial security of the workers who have been penalized unjustly is directly affected. However, in a number of cases brought to the Québec Ombudsman's attention, the CSST mended its ways and, in the end, agreed to reconsider its position.
Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST) – Direction de l'indemnisation des victimes d'actes criminels (DIVAC)
Crime victims have been deprived of benefits provided for in the Crime Victims Compensation Act because of DIVAC's clumsy handling of their file. This is what happened in the case, one of many, of a victim who had suffered repeated sexual assaults since childhood. When she finally felt able to approach DIVAC, her application was rejected because she had not filed it within a year of the injury. As the Québec Ombudsman sees it, it was impossible for this person to do so sooner because of the situation she was in. The Québec Ombudsman deplores that DIVAC did not amend its decision. Thus, since it feels that the decision is unacceptable, it continues to lobby regarding this file.
Ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques
Further to complaints concerning private waterworks systems providing residential drinking water, the Québec Ombudsman conducted an investigation. What emerged was that the Department did not exercise its responsibilities regarding the monitoring of private waterworks' operating permits and fees. Another worrisome fact: private waterworks systems remain under boil-water and do-not-drink-water advisories for long periods (months, or even years). When this happens, Department employees have no guidelines that they can follow. The Department accepted the Québec Ombudsman's recommendations. It also committed to increase its monitoring and control of private waterworks systems and it produced an appropriate action plan.
Ministère de l'Éducation, de l'Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche
Concerned about the difficulties that children with a precarious immigration status have in accessing public education, the Québec Ombudsman addressed the issue in an investigation report released in November 2014. The Québec Ombudsman considers this lack of access a violation of the basic right to education of these children, which contravenes the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by the Government of Canada and to which Québec has declared itself bound. The inclusion of children with a precarious immigration status in the free public education system must be viewed as an issue separate from legitimate action to monitor immigration. The Department accepted all of the Québec Ombudsman's recommendations and promised to implement them and committed to a timeline for carrying them out.
Ministère de la Famille
Even though home childcare coordinating offices are 100% government-funded and play a leading role in the establishment and operation of the childcare resources they are tasked to supervise, they do not have government agency status. As a result, these offices are not subject to the Act respecting administrative justice and the obligations stemming from it. This means that a candidate whose application for recognition as a home childcare provider is turned down by a coordinating office has no recourse against this decision. In the opinion of the Québec Ombudsman, coordinating offices should be governed by the same prescriptions as those for government agencies, and it recommended as much to the Department. It in turn committed to begin work in 2015-2016 to implement this recommendation.
Ministère de l'Immigration, de la Diversité et de l'Inclusion
This year, the number of complaints regarding the Ministère de l'Immigration, de la Diversité et de l'Inclusion nearly doubled compared to last year. Most involve the adverse effects of changes in the way of validating document conformity in applications for the Québec selection certificate. The Department's recent practices have been such that highly qualified people were likely to be disqualified because of a procedural detail, without their file being assessed, and after having paid examination fees and having waited several years for the file to be processed. The Québec Ombudsman noted that further to the action it took, candidates were provided with a review mechanism for applications for the Québec selection certificate. The Department also made improvements to document requirement information to candidates so as to reduce the number of applications rejected due to noncompliant documents.
Ministère de la Sécurité publique
The Code of Ethics of Québec Police Officers provides that police officers must always have identification on their person when they interact directly with civilians. However, there is no regulation or act that defines the nature of this identification. Consequently, it happens all too often that police officers involved in breaches cannot be identified, leading to closure of the complaint file by the Police Ethics Commissioner after a preliminary examination. The Québec Ombudsman approached the Ministère de la Sécurité publique to recommend that the kind of identification police officers must wear in interacting with civilians be specified. The Department concurred.
Ministère du Travail, de l'Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale
The Department is not allowed to recover amounts owed by a recipient who is contesting a claim before the Tribunal administratif du Québec (TAQ). This year, on several occasions, the Québec Ombudsman saw that the Department had withheld amounts from recipients' last resort assistance even though their cases were before the Tribunal. In addition, recipients filed complaints about the Department's lack of compliance with TAQ decisions which resulted in their assistance being cancelled despite an order proscribing cancellation. In these situations, the Department recognized that it had made a mistake and acted on the Québec Ombudsman's recommendations.
Office de la protection du consommateur
Municipalities that offer sports activities enjoy an exemption under the Consumer Protection Act. However, it often happens that municipalities delegate responsibility for sports activities to non-profit organizations. In such cases, the Office considers these organizations as merchants within the meaning of the Consumer Protection Act. As a result, if a person asks to be reimbursed mid-season, the Office considers that the organization must issue refunds for the cost of the unprovided services even if this contradicts the refund policy given out to its clients. Such a practice may endanger the very existence of the organizations concerned. The Québec Ombudsman considers that the exception that the Act recognizes for municipalities should be accorded to these organizations, as if the cities provided the sports activities themselves. The Québec Ombudsman recommended that the Office review its interpretation of the Act. Concerned about this situation, the Office set about conducting an analysis of the issue and pledged to inform the Québec Ombudsman about the outcome.
Société de l'assurance automobile (SAAQ) – highway safety code
When a health professional sends SAAQ a declaration of incapacity because he or she believes that a person is no longer fit to drive, the agency may immediately place any restrictions it deems necessary on the person's driver's licence. In emergency situations, it informs the person immediately by phone. However, if the situation is less urgent, the restriction is immediately entered in the person's driving record and the person is informed by mail. This means that between the time the letter is mailed and the time the drivers get the letter, they are unaware that there is a restriction on their licence. If they drive during that period, they unknowingly violate the Highway Safety Code. Here, SAAQ infringes a principle of the Act respecting administrative justice, namely, the obligation to give notice to a person before rendering an unfavourable decision concerning him or her. Further to the Québec Ombudsman intervening, SAAQ reviewed this practice.
Société de l'assurance automobile (SAAQ) – compensation
In matters of adapting vehicles, a directive provides that highway accident victims who owned a vehicle at the time of the accident can be reimbursed for the optional equipment they need (for example, automatic transmission) because of their impairment. However, the situation is different if they did not own a vehicle when the accident occurred and they are left with impairments that limit access to a vehicle or to using one. If they buy a vehicle after their accident, the SAAQ does not reimburse them for the cost of the optional equipment. Given the rehabilitative purpose of the Automobile Insurance Act, and in light of Tribunal administratif du Québec case law, the Québec Ombudsman considers that the distinction made by SAAQ between these two categories of accident victims is inappropriate. SAAQ committed to changing the directive as it applies to reimbursement for the cost of automatic transmission. However, unless there are exceptional circumstances, the same problem exists when it comes to other optional equipment that is common and necessary. This is why the Québec Ombudsman is continuing to act on this front.
See the 2014-2015 Annual Report of the Québec Ombudsman.
SOURCE Protecteur du citoyen
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