Author Topic: "The Case for a Permanent and Independent Ombudsman Office"  (Read 426 times)

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This from the DND/CF Ombudsman ...
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The Office of the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces has a governance problem that needs fixing. After eighteen years of existence and five incumbents to the position of Ombudsman, it is time to take a step back to look at the mandate of this office in order to determine what works, what does not work, and why.

The office of the Ombudsman was created by Ministerial Directive1 to be an independent and neutral investigator of issues brought by its constituents, members of the defence community, who have exhausted existing avenues of redress within the system. The Ministerial Directives stipulate that the Ombudsman reports directly to the Minister of National Defence and is independent from the management and the chain of command of the Department of National Defence (the Department or DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). When the office was established, it was set up within the administrative framework of the Department of National Defence from which it received its delegations, budget, and other operating authorities. The intention was to review the mandate and regulate the office of the Ombudsman within six months of its creation. This review never happened and the office of the Ombudsman has been functioning since then with a governance structure that does not meet its operational needs.

The pursuit of a legislated mandate has been a constant for this office and has been repeatedly documented in public statements, Parliamentary Committee testimony and Annual Reports.2 When I was appointed to the position of DND-CAF Ombudsman in April of 2014, I held the view that it was possible to work collaboratively within the departmental framework to deliver the mandate and bring positive change to the defence community. Regrettably, after almost three full years in office, I have reached the same conclusion as my predecessors, all of whom believed that a legislated mandate was necessary.

A review of the historical file suggests that the initial struggles to obtain a legislated mandate were motivated by a concern that the newly created office, which had its detractors, could be ‘eliminated by a stroke of the Minister’s pen’. Further debate focussed on consistency with classical ombudsman theory and political promises to regulate the office. Yet more ink was spilled on the call for legislation when there appeared to be a lack of cooperation with, and even obstruction of, our investigations. At the core of all of these discussions was the issue of the independence of the Ombudsman’s office and, most importantly, its ability to serve its constituents.

The reasons underlying the initial bids for a legislated mandate, however valid, did not result in legislation. I believe that the bid for legislation gained no traction for two main reasons: first, because the office produced good work in spite of the challenges and, second, because the arguments presented were largely theoretical or in response to distinct incidents of administrative frustration.

Now, with eighteen years of operations and documentation, my office has undertaken a comprehensive review of the matter. The findings and supporting evidence presented in this report are premised on two assumptions: First, that there is still a need for the office of the Ombudsman to continue serving its constituents and, second, that the office should have the necessary authorities to operate effectively and efficiently.

It is my conclusion that the dysfunction that has preoccupied every incumbent to this Office is inherent in the governance structure. The sole recommendation in this report is to legislate the office of the Ombudsman. This will give the office permanence and functional independence, neither of which it currently has ...
From the recommendations ...
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... The recommendation is simple.

It is recommend that the Minister of National Defence support the enactment of legislation aimed at giving the office of the defence Ombudsman organizational permanence and independence from the Department of National Defence with respect to all functional authorities.

(...)

There are two options for Parliament to implement this recommendation:

1)    Enact stand-alone legislation with the Ombudsman accountable to Parliament.
2)    Incorporate the office into the National Defence Act ...
“The risk of insult is the price of clarity.” -- Roy H. Williams

The words I share here are my own, not those of anyone else or anybody I may be affiliated with.

Tony Prudori
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