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Concerns Impacting Those Vulnerable to Criminalisation

Ontario Ombudsman

by sheryl jarvis

Ontario's Ombudsman - Andre Marin
Ontario's Ombudsman - Andre Marin

Ontario’s current Ombudsman, Andre Marin has proven himself to be a brave and outspoken critic regarding concerns within provincial government policy and law.  Each year the Ombudsman prepares an end of year report documenting the most serious issues investigated by the Ombudsman's office that year.  Many of the problems they identified are deeply systemic issues that impact the most vulnerable amongst us more often, and more harshly than other people.  

Those who live in poverty, who suffer the effects of trauma, people of colour, those who use drugs, people living with disability or health issues like HIV/AIDS, and the LGTBQ communities are just a few of those most vulnerable to systemic violence.

Mr. Marin identified 10 of the top problems and/or changes needed within provincial government services.  Some of these issues, he has a mandate to oversee, others he does not, and can do little more than to continue advocating for oversight.  

This article focuses on those areas Andre identified which are most likely to impact on the above populations.  

 

You can read the entire document at:

http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Newsroom/Press-Release/2011/Ontario-Ombudsman%E2%80%99s-Top-10-Highlights-of-2011.aspx?lang=en-CA .

 

1.   Special Investigations Unit (SIU) - InvestigationNumber one on Andre’s list is an Ombudsman’s office investigation into operations at Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU).  They are a civilian organization, mandated to investigate issues where police have been involved in causing injury or death to civilians.  Mr. Marin pointed out that the SIU does not have enough bite and the power it does have, often is not used.  Andre pointed out incidents where police refused to communicate with the SIU, ignoring letters and holding back notes.  In some cases police even refused to fill out shift reports until they had been vetted by legal council.  When hearings into deaths and injury’s were taking place, those officers involved and other police witnesses used the same council.  Mr. Marin and others pointed out the conflict of interest problem and stated that this routine opened the possibility of collusion.2.   Mush Sector InvestigationLack of Ombudsman oversight of the so called MUSH sector has been an ongoing complaint for 35 years in Ontario.  MUSH stands for Municipalities, Universities, School Boards, and Hospitals.  It includes things like long term care facilities, nursing homes, student unions, police, and child protection services like the Children’s Aid Society (CAS).  The Ombudsman’s office receives hundreds of calls each year surrounding issues in these sectors, yet they cannot investigate.

a.  Municipalities (MUSH)

There were 758 complaints regarding municipalities, which included things like evictions and delays in obtaining public housing, and poor service in the administration of welfare.  In 2009 the city of Toronto instituted its own Ombudsman to oversee municipalities.  However this covers only a small portion of agencies within the MUSH sector and it leaves out the rest of the population of Ontario. 

b.  Universities (MUSH)

Most of Ontario’s vulnerable populations will not be given the opportunity to attend university.  There are a host of reasons for this, but to sum it in a few words, vulnerable people face more barriers than the average person.  Its why we are referred to as vulnerable.  When marginalised persons are able to overcome multiple barriers to higher education, often it will be a college level program.  And thankfully, here Mr. Marin can intervene.  However for those who manage to persevere and push on to university, the Ombudsman's office is unable to step in when problems do arise.  There were 39 complaints in the 2010/2011 year.

c.  School Boards (MUSH)

The ombudsman received 99 complaints about school boards.  Most of those complaints revolved around issues with boards not providing adequate support to students with special or disciplinary needs.  It also included issues with transportation services and bullying.  These issues are likely to impact the children of vulnerable families most often.  Because families are subjected to issues such as poor wages, low welfare rates, poor enforcement of job related rights, inadequate access to healthcare and counselling services, because these families are often singled out for criminalisation, they face a great deal of instability.  These are forms of violence with intergenerational impacts which for children can include poor school attendance, an inability to focus, and certain behavioural effects.

d.  Children’s Aid Societies (CAS)   (MUSH)

Probably the single greatest impact on marginalised families is at the hands of these arms length government officials.  Also I believe the least talked about, even within progressive communities that care.

People who are criminalised and who have children will also be targeted to have their children apprehended.  There are many CAS workers in Ontario who despite changing policy, believe that parents who use drugs are automatically “bad” parents and may have their children stolen while they are in school.  Children’s Aid requires no warrant to apprehend a child.  They will be required to define their reasons later on in a court room.  However it is highly unusual for a judge to go against a CAS official.  They are given a great deal of latitude and until a judge has reason to believe this “impartial” worker is anything less than that, they will assume there is no reason to suspect wrong doing.  This idea that people who use drugs can’t be good parents is of course a moral and hypocritical one.  The majority of people in this province drink alcohol, about 1/3rd smoke cigarettes.  These substances are known to do more harm both individually and socially than all other substances combined.

People who use drugs are not the only ones targeted for CAS exploitation.  Single parent families are prime suspects, as are those who school their children at home.  New immigrants to Canada, and those with cultural practices that vary from the Canadian “norm” are also targets of CAS intervention.

Anyone wishing to launch an official complaint can expect lots of red tape, and a solid wall of silence, a culture of collusion, and an environment of animosity from that point forward.  you better be sure this is your last option, because from here on out it will get worse.  The people who you need to complain about will be the same ones investigating the complaint.  Complaints must first be launched at the office where you have an issue.  If supervisor’s here fail to resolve the issue, you may than take it to the Child and Family Services Review Board at the Ministry of Children and Youth.  Keep in mind that these people are mandated by the same legislation as individual CAS offices and they often work together on policy and procedure.  The Ministry is not independent from the Children’s Aid Society.

The Ombudsman’s office received 386 complaints about CAS’s this past year.

There are citizen action groups attempting to make CAS’s a purview of the Ombudsman, as well as documenting the behaviour of individuals within the organization.

Please visit some of the below sites to learn more about the child protection industry in Ontario and the terrible impacts on those with little power to fight back.

(this group has been unfairly shut down before as a result of supporters of CAS complaints)

Parents and Grandparents Doing Their Own Advocacy:

e.  Police  (MUSH)

An obvious service when talking about impacts on marginalised people.  The Ombudsman’s office received 356 complaints about police and an additional 15 complaints about the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), which is the Ministry of the Attorney General’s service to investigate civilian complaints.  The Ombudsman does not have power of oversight with regards to the police.

 

3.   G20 InvestigationMr. Marin’s office was able to investigate police actions during the G20 through their investigation into the use of the 1939 Public Works Protection Act (PWPA) which was brought into effect during an era of world unrest and prior to Canada’s implementation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The implementation during the G20 of the PWPA expanded police powers of search, seizure and arrest.

Some of the main findings of the Ombudsman’s investigation were, criticism of the Minister’s decision to implement war time measures during a time of peace; the Public Works Protection Act was not legal in the context to which it was applied during the G20; It was intended to be used for the protection of infrastructure and not visiting world leaders; Mr. Marin called the use of this legislation opportunistic and inappropriate; hundreds of people were unnecessarily arrested under authority of the PWPA; the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects people against arbitrary arrest or arbitrary detention; “The police had no business detaining anyone without lawful authority, and ordinarily – where no special laws operate – their lawful authority to arrest or detain is closely restricted in the interests of civil liberties.”

To read the full report, Caught in the Act, from the Ombudsman’s Investigation of events during the G20 see; http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Investigations/SORT-Investigations/Completed/G20-summit--Caught-in-the-Act-br---December-2010.aspx

4.   Use of Force Investigation 100 prisoners called the office of the Ombudsman to report incidents involving excessive use of force during the 2010/2011 year.  No results have been released yet regarding this investigation.  In a press release the Ombudsman’s office stated that they would investigate how incidents involving excessive use of force are handled within the system as well as allegations by prisoners that these incidents are often ignored or covered up.  Because reports of cover up come from many institutions, the Ombudsman will investigate a suspected “code of silence” among correctional staff.

 

check here for updates: http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Newsroom/Press-Release/2011/Ombudsman-to-investigate-handling-of-excessive-for.aspx

 

All of the investigations the Ombudsman carries out are on serious issues and allegations.  As Ontarians we should consider these issues with a critical lens.  And decide for ourselves whether increased support of investigative powers for the Ombudsman is warranted.  

 

I believe we could go a long way to resolving many of these issues by completely eliminating those  bodies, services, and organizations doing damage to our families and to us as individuals. We could than create civilian committees to direct ideas, and insight towards just and reasonable solutions which are inclusive of all those involved.

 

To sign a petition giving the provincial Ombudsman in Ontario oversight of the MUSH sector go to: http://ontariocfa.com/

 

To see work students at York University in Toronto are doing around this issue:  http://www.yugsa.ca/?section_id=6&content_id=561


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