Ombudsman de Montréal: 2009 annual report - 218 investigations conducted
following citizen complaints

MONTREAL, April 21 /CNW Telbec/ - The team at the office of the Ombudsman de Montréal handled close to 1,500 requests and conducted 218 thorough investigations during 2009. Thirty-seven of these requests involved provisions of the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, according to the 2009 Annual Report of Ombudsman Johanne Savard.

Because of the expertise and exceptional services provided by the Ombudsman team, the average handling time for files (all types combined) was 4.85 working days, and 91.96% of complainants received a final response in one month or less. For files that required a thorough investigation, the average handling time was 28.72 working days.

At a news conference held today to release her 2009 Annual Report, Ms. Savard explained: "Too many citizens, organizations and municipal representatives are still not aware of the existence of an Ombudsman in Montréal and the role we can play as mediator and agent of change in resolving municipal problems. So I still devote a lot of my time and energy to advise people about our ability to intervene, and to educate employees, managers and municipal elected officials on how their functions and those of the Ombudsman are complementary."

Here are some examples of situations in 2009 in which the Ombudsman's involvement changed outcomes:

    - The Ombudsman de Montréal made a recommendation to the Office municipal
      d'habitation de Montréal (the OMHM, which provides low-rent housing)
      that it give priority, when assigning dwellings, to people who have
      lost their own home following a negative medical diagnosis. The
      Ombudsman specified that, while such people cannot demand their former
      home back if it is already occupied by a new tenant, the new dwelling
      should meet their needs.

    - Users of the washroom adapted for use by the disabled, located on the
      main floor of City Hall, complained that the facility is difficult to
      access because of, among other things, its heavy wooden door that is
      not equipped with an automated opening system. Disabled users often
      have to seek the help of a passerby to open the door so they can enter
      or exit the washroom. The Ombudsman ordered an automated door-opening
      system and paid for it from her own operating budget.

    - Faced with a lack of action in her borough, a citizen sought the
      Ombudsman's help to resolve a persistent problem of wastewater
      discharged into the alley behind her residence. The Ombudsman's
      investigation showed that the effluent was coming from a privately
      owned pipe and contained coliform bacteria. For the sake of
      neighbouring residents' health, the problem had to be resolved quickly.
      Following the Ombudsman's intervention, the borough took several steps
      with the owner and before the courts. The owner finally solved the
      problem by undertaking the necessary work.

    - A citizen waited several months for a reply from the Bureau des
      réclamations (claims settlement office) regarding the financial claim
      he had submitted after a fall on an icy sidewalk. The Ombudsman's
      investigation revealed shortcomings in the procedures for requesting
      information from the boroughs involved, and particularly a lack of
      follow-up when boroughs were late in supplying the Bureau des
      réclamations with information its claims assessors needed. The
      Ombudsman's office prepared a list containing the names and addresses
      of all those responsible for these files in each borough and sent it to
      the Bureau des réclamations, which must distribute it to its assessors
      and update it regularly. To reduce the waiting time, the Bureau des
      réclamations will also require that its assessors follow up more
      closely when their requests for information go unanswered.

The Ombudsman also frequently receives comments from citizens who are worried about nuisances that commercial terraces and their late hours of operation may cause for Montrealers who live above or close to these businesses. The Ombudsman believes it is necessary for boroughs to discuss this situation and to establish precise limitations so that residents can live in harmony with neighbouring businesses.

Regarding her own office's internal organization, Ms. Savard stated: "More and more files submitted by citizens or initiated by our office are complex and require extensive legal analysis. It has therefore become obvious that our organizational structure should be modified to take into account the new reality." The Ombudsman decided it is important to create new positions for lawyers who, in addition to conducting investigations, can provide her with legal opinions that will ensure her office's legal autonomy.

As in the past, Ms. Savard gave many presentations during 2009 to community and citizen groups concerning the mission of the Ombudsman de Montréal and the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities. She also developed a turnkey project for elementary school pupils as part of the Apprentis citoyens (Citizens of Tomorrow) program, which is designed to help 2nd- and 3rd-cycle elementary school students understand the role of an ombudsman in general and that of the Ombudsman de Montréal in particular. They also learn about the importance of alternative dispute-resolution methods such as mediation. The Ombudsman de Montréal also launched a similar program for new comers in Montréal, with the content integrated into their francization courses.

Ms. Savard is in her second term as Ombudsman for Ville de Montréal, having been appointed in 2003. The Ombudsman de Montréal intervenes as a last resort to ensure that the municipal rights of citizens are respected and that their cases are treated fairly and with respect. This service is completely free of charge and contributes positively to participatory democracy, ethics, fairness and justice within Ville de Montréal.

Since January 1, 2006, the Ombudsman de Montréal is also the "guardian" of the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities: it is the only recourse available to citizens who believe that the City's obligations are not being respected.

    Contact information for the Ombudsman de Montréal:

    Telephone: 514 872-8999
    Fax: 514 872-2379

A Petition for Ombudsman's Intervention form and the 2009 Annual Report are available on the website of the Ombudsman de Montréal.

SOURCE Ombudsman de Montréal

For further information: For further information: Guillaume Audy, (514) 282-4697; Elisa Baldet, (514) 985-8270

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