Nearly two hundred years ago, the government of Sweden recognized that large, complex bureaucracies could be difficult places for people to be treated like individuals. Sweden recognized that bureaucracies evolved as a way to deal with large numbers of people and a large number of activities, but that from time to time, individual’s needs and best interests could get lost in the tendency to consider only the needs of the whole, or only the needs of the system. As a result the role of the Ombudsperson was created to ensure that individual rights were protected in an increasingly complex governmental structure.
Sweden’s solution to this dilemma was the creation of a government Ombudsperson to help individuals gain access to decision makers in the bureaucracy or to assist individuals in raising their concerns within or about the bureaucracy. The concept re-emerged in Denmark in 1953 when an independent ombudsman was appointed to deal with citizen’s complaints concerning the government’s administrative practices. All but one of the Canadian provinces and five states (Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Iowa and Nebraska) now have Ombudsman offices, as do numerous counties and municipalities, and about 34 colleges and universities in Canada. Many corporations and professional organizations have Ombudsman offices as well. These offices rely on rich heritage to assist their communities in resolving disputes.
When the term was first used, “man” in Swedish meant both “man” and “one”. Many Ombudsman offices in North America favour the use of the traditional term, which is used internationally, but others have changed it to “Ombudsperson” or else shortened it to “Ombuds”.
There are two broad categories of Ombudsman: the classical Ombudsman and the organizational Ombudsman.
Classical Ombudsman offices are typically created by legislation (statute or ordinance) and generally have broad powers to investigate and report findings about complaints brought to their attention by members of the public. Classical Ombudsman offices do fact-finding aimed at evaluating complaints about government systems and attempt to find remedies for problems uncovered in the course of an investigation.
Organizational Ombudsman offices are typically created by an executive head (Corporation, President or CEO, Chancellor etc.) and generally work informally to help resolve problems within an organization. Organizational Ombudsman offices typically do not issue investigative reports or assign blame, but focus instead on constructive recommendations for change. While these generalizations are broadly true, it must be said that an Ombudsman mandate varies from country to country, from municipality to municipality and from organization to organization. Ombudsman are today, often known as Ombudspersons.
Ombudspersons follow a professional code of ethics. The following principles have been developed by university and college ombudspersons across Canada and the United States. This page explains how we put our principles into practice.
Note: The Office of the Ombudsperson at Confederation College is a member of the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons (ACCUO) which is an independent association of Ombudspersons in colleges and universities across Canada.
All contact with the Office of the Ombudsperson is confidential. The Ombudsperson will not take any action or intervene in any way unless there is explicit consent (either verbal or written) from the student who raised the concern. The Ombudsperson is not required to maintain confidentiality in situations involving the commission of a serious crime or where there is an imminent risk of physical harm to the student or others.
Parents, friends and community members may contact the Office to discuss general concerns, but unless there is explicit consent, no information will be disclosed about a specific concern or the identity of the student released (i.e. without permission, the Ombudsperson cannot confirm or deny the existence of a particular complaint, nor whether or not an individual has contacted the Ombuds Office).
Only the Ombudsperson has access to their files (notes made or other records copied during the course of their work) and the information is kept secure. Members of the College do not have access to these files. If the student requests that no records be kept of the contact, all information which would identify the student are promptly removed or destroyed. Faxes received are confidential to the Ombuds office and viewed only by the Ombudsperson. E-mail is not used for discussion of concerns because it is not a secure method of communication. Information will be used statistically and sometimes in case summaries where care is taken to vary or omit any and all details that could lead to the identification of the student.
The Ombudsperson will meet outside office hours or off-campus should a student be concerned about being identified as a complainant.
The Office of the Ombudsperson is an “off-the-record” resource and an office of “last resort”. However, the Ombudsperson may provide information when an issue arises e.g. where to start and who to speak to. The Ombudsperson is able to assist students to resolve issues in an informal manner. A formal investigation cannot be started until all other avenues for resolving an issue within the College have been exhausted.
The Office does not accept notice on behalf of the College or any other party. In other words, if a student wants to give the College notice of a complaint, the student will be referred to the appropriate person within the College who can accept the complaint.
The Office of the Ombudsperson is an independent office that is jointly funded by the College and the Student Union.
In order to fulfill the mandate, the Ombudsperson has access to all official College files, records and information as required, in accordance with Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The Ombudsperson hears all concerns impartially without taking sides. An Ombudsperson is guided by a concern for fair process, where individual interests are carefully considered and appropriately balanced with consideration for the good of the greater community. This includes an understanding of the use and misuse of power and authority.
The Ombudsperson avoids the reality of, and the appearance of, bias or conflict of interest with any individual or group.
If a matter is investigated, it is done so in an impartial fashion. The principles of natural justice are followed at every step. If a conclusion is reached on the merits of a case following an investigation, a recommendation may then be made to the appropriate authority or decision-maker.
(Reprinted with approval from Heather McGhee Peggs, Ombudsperson, Ryerson University)
To these ends, the Ombudsperson will:
- treat everyone seeking an appointment the same way ‘€“ first come, first served
- listen to every person with the same attention and respect
- not believe one person over another just because of their rank or status in the College
- have no stake in the outcome (the Ombudsperson is an advocate for fair process)
- be mindful of possible conflicts of interest
The Ombudsperson pledges to:
- Adhere to the Professional Code of Ethics for College and University Ombudspersons in Canada and the United States which include the principles of confidentiality, impartiality, objectivity, accessibility, independence and justice; justice is pre-eminent.
- Hear and investigate complaints objectively. Objectivity includes impartial attention to all available perspectives on an issue and may or may not entail support of any particular issue.
- Act as independently as possible of all other offices and avoid conflict of interest, external control and either the reality or appearance of being compromised.
- Be readily accessible to all students of the College, promote timely solutions to problems and avoid either the reality or appearance of bias toward any individual or group.
- Treat with confidentiality all matters. The Ombudsperson remembers and at all times protects the right to privacy of all parties.
- Pursue equity and fairness using a sensitive approach respecting the dignity of all parties.
- Provide all students of the College community a safe place to talk about their concerns, explore options and make informed decisions.
- Build and preserve collaborative relationships with those with whom we work.
- Identify College trends and provide feedback.
- Hold to the highest ethical standards to earn and maintain the trust and respect of those we serve.
- Rely on the goodwill and cooperation of students, administration, support staff, and faculty in order to achieve fair resolutions to problems.
- Find ways to address a problem that are acceptable to the student or that do not compromise the identity of the student, where that student reports a serious problem but is unwilling to be part of any steps taken to address it.
- Not act on third party complaints.
- Maintain and improve professional skills, promote impartial dispute resolution in the College and assist in the development of new practitioners where feasible.