Monday, September 17, 2012

A Toothless Watchdog

The Office of the Ombudsman, what really is it? It claims to be “Ontario's Watchdog,” but how is it really the watchdog. Many of us believe that if wrong-doing by government has been identified that such issues can be brought to the Ombudsman for investigation. Yet how many know that the powers of the Ombudsman are limited to our elected representatives. In truth there is no oversight body at all in existence in Ontario that has any authority over the elected representatives of government. It is up to the individual citizen to find the money and hire a lawyer to bring the issue to the courts. As often the case, the politician has more money and a more expensive lawyer.

We are faced today with the example of Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford's limitless arrogance awaiting adjudication by Ontario's courts. Toronto's Integrity Commissioner found Mayor Ford in breach of the Municipal Act Conflict of Interest Legislation. Mayor Ford ignored the Integrity Commissioner and it has been up to a private individual to take action and bring Mayor Ford before the court. Ford's lawyer is quoted as saying, .... “You don't have to obey the law, an order, that is clearly unlawful.” (Natalie Alcoba, National Post)

Who decides that a law is improper or fair? Regardless, there is no sign of the Ombudsman nor any real action other than empty words by the Integrity Commissioner.

A budget of 10.75 million dollars for the 2011-2012 operating period and a staff with titles such as 'early resolution officer', the Office of the Ombudsman makes some impressive claims. In Ontario the Office of the Ombudsman was instituted in 1975, with powers and authorities set out in the Ombudsman Act. The Ombudsman is independent of government and political parties, and his job is to hold government accountable by reviewing and investigating public complaints about the administration of government services.

Sounds impressive, more so as the Ombudsman has the power to enter any government premises to gather evidence, and the power to compel witnesses to give evidence. “He may investigate and report his findings publicly if he finds that a decision, recommendation, act or omission of a body he oversees was contrary to law, unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, discriminatory, based on a mistake of law or fact, or simply wrong,” (Wikipedia, Ontario Ombudsman).

These powers are augmented by teams at the Ombudsman's office such as SORT and OMLET. Yet the reality is simple and somewhat alarming, that not one elected representative's egg has ever been cracked to date. SORT (Special Ombudsman Response Team) brags of training hundreds of investigators and ombudsman around the world since the inception of its annual training course titled “Sharpening Your Teeth.” Still all of this looks good in annual reports to justify the 10.75 million dollar budget, the reality paints a different picture one that is far less impressive.

Our Ombudsman has no authority at all to do anything with those elected into public office regardless how dishonest, arrogant or plainly corrupt they might be. He cannot question, compel or investigate in any way a cabinet minister regardless of how definite the evidence is that proves that minister's breaches. OMLET, SORT and all the “Sharpening” of Teeth is simply a fallacy.

Our Ombudsman and his team was provided with clear evidence of a cabinet minister who had instructed directors from his ministry to lie and alter reports that had been entered into official record. It was not a simple allegation without supporting evidence.

Minister Jim Bradley, Minister of the Environment had requested Lisa Feldman Director of Investigation and Enforcement to alter what were instructions set out in a ministry report of February 16th 2011. Minister Jim Bradley requested Director Bill Bardswick to alter and add to a report submitted in March 2010. Ministry of the Environment reports are official documents submitted under the protocol of the Environmental Bill of Rights. A copy is provided to the individual who had applied for an investigation under the EBR and a copy to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. The ECO then combines MOE reports into his annual report which he presents to the Ontario Legislature.

Official documents were being altered by an elected member of our Ontario Provincial Parliament. Clear evidence was provided to support these very serious allegations and the Office of the Ombudsman appointed an Early Resolution Officer, one Maggie DiDomizio to conduct the investigation. It is difficult to understand what is the role of an 'early resolution officer' at the Office of the Ombudsman. Who are these 'officers', what experience or knowledge do they have. According to the Ombudsman's Act they have some authority at their disposal. The title of such an individual infers that it is their job to find some form of resolution to a situation therefore avoiding an investigation? In this case no resolution was possible and only an investigation at a senior level was required. Maggie DiDomizio found herself out of her depth and that became alarmingly apparent with her actions.

True the Ombudsman has no power or authority over the Ontario government, its ministers or how it conducts its business of politics. Still one would think there is enough authority to question the directors and other employees of a ministry and comprehend the material provided. DiDomizio presented a report in relation to file #187333, and proved the real impotence of the Office of the Ombudsman. In fact DiDomizio simply became a mouthpiece for Director Feldman in presenting another lie and now altering a part of the original report submitted by the MOE. DiDomizio ignored written confirmation provided by the author of the original report of 2011 and totally ignored what was presented in relation to Director Bardswick. When questioned about the status of any investigation of that situation, DiDomizio simply refused to reply and claimed she was out of the office till September 17th.

DiDomizio in her report states “She (the Director of Investigations and Enforcement) said that, while there is no MOE offence relating to the parking of the vehicles, the MOE made a suggestion that the vehicles be moved as their location could possibly be a concern for the City of St. Catharines.” The original MOE report of February 16th 2011 states “As a preventative measure, the property owner has already been advised to move the damaged vehicles away from the property lines so as to lessen the potential for fluids to move offsite and to clean up any spills detected in a timely manner.”

The original report of February 16th 2011 was signed by Ass. Dep. Min. Kevin French. On behalf of Kevin French an email was sent on July 16th 2012 by Jayne Harten, Issues Manager and Strategic Advisor Office of the ADM Operations Division. Jayne Harten states, “Ministry staff spoke to the property owner of Sun Collision, Mr. Sam Demita, during their visit on January 5 2011 and followed up with a written letter dated January 13 2011, requesting that the damaged vehicles be parked away from the fence line as a preventative measure. This request was outlined in the EBR decision summary which was sent to you in February 2011. A copy was also provided to Sun Collision.”

A copy of the original report of February 16th 2011 and of the email by Jayne Harten on behalf of Ass. Dep. Min. Kevin French were provided and at the disposal of DiDomizio. In addition to both of these documents DiDomizio had a copy of the letter from Director Feldman, in fact DiDomizio states “I note that the Director said in her June 13 2012 letter that the MOE would convey your concerns to the City...” Feldman had this to say in her June 13th letter, “You have expressed concerns in your emails about damaged vehicles parked by the fence on the Sun Collision property, a concern that you also raised in correspondence to Minister Bradley in February of 2012. In response to those concerns, the Ministry determined that there is no evidence of an offence in regards to this matter, and as such no action will be taken by the Ministry with respect to that issue.”

Nowhere at any time did it state that the MOE suggested the vehicles be moved because it may be a concern to the City of St. Catharines as is now claimed in the report by DiDomizio. Both the report of February 2011 and the email from Jayne Harten on behalf of Ass. Dep. Min. French made it clear that Sam Demita of Sun Collision was told to move the damaged vehicles in three separate ways, and on three separate occasions. It would seem that the MOE meant what they said, going to such lengths. Yet Director Feldman lied to an investigator from the Ombudsman's office, why? DiDomizio had all this at her disposal and yet monkeyed Feldman's lie! Is DiDomizio so ignorant of the evidence or did she have another motivation, one less pleasant to discuss? DiDomizio compromised the Office of the Ombudsman and must be investigated now herself.

It was not enough that DiDomizio parroted new lies by the Director of Investigations and Enforcement she also lied herself as to the author of the original complaint brought before the Ombudsman. DiDomizio states that in relation to the complaint “You questioned how the property owner could refuse to comply with MOE's instructions without consequence and alleged that the MOE had intentionally falsified its February 16 2011 report, which you claim is a breach of the Environmental Bill of Rights (the EBR).” An absolute lie by DiDomizio, either that or she has a serious problem in comprehending the English language. In my original letter to the Ombudsman it was made clear that the MOE had allowed a business owner to ignore its instructions potentially putting a neighbourhood at risk. At no point was it claimed “that the MOE had intentionally falsified its February 16 2011 report.”

Clear evidence had been provided that MOE had attempted to alter details of reports that they had filed officially on record. What was the reason for DiDomizio to lie? She continued to prove her incompetence with this statement: “The Ombudsman does not oversee the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, or any other officers of the legislature.” First of all the Environmental Commissioner is an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and he presents his final annual report to the Legislative Assembly. According to Wikipedia, “Ontario's Ombudsman oversees and investigates public complaints about the government of Ontario, including more than 500 provincial government ministries, agencies, corporations, tribunals, boards and commissions.”

That aside, at no point in the original letter had any request been made for an investigation nor any form of oversight of the Environmental Commissioner. The letter did state to the Ombudsman on July 15th 2012, “As your procedure is to speak to representatives of the ministry in question it is of utmost importance that you also speak to Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. Mr. Miller has been made aware of all details of the ministry attempts to alter details of reports filed under the Environmental Bill of Rights.” How was it possible in any way to misunderstand this?

Mr. Peter Lapp, Director of Operations at the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario states in a letter dated August 28th 2012, “In your letters you state that you have forwarded your concerns to the Ombudsman. The ECO will cooperate in every way with any request from the Ombudsman.” The ECO has no powers to commence “own-motion” investigations and this would of been the only opportunity to provide serious information relevant to the 'investigation' at hand.

Did DiDomizio intentionally pretend not to understand what was set out before her in English? If her role was to review the details, then how was it possible to ignore the ECO on the grounds she quoted? It was the ECO who received the original reports and had presented them to the Legislative Assembly. It was the ECO who could provide all the details as to the severity and implications of any attempt to alter reports placed on record. All of this seemed to escape the purview of DiDomizio's investigative abilities. Yet there was more to come.

DiDomizio states “we have previously reviewed concerns that you have raised in connection with the subject property and the MOE.” A statement that is now on official record and one that intentionally presents an image of the complainant as vexatious. All the evidence and material provided was ignored and the Office of the Ombudsman had become a parrot presenting a new lie by MOE.

We in Ontario have no protection in reality against those elected. Andre Marin (appointed Ombudsman 2005 – present) may brag about his awards such as the one from the Ontario's Bar Association, he may brag about the special investigative powers such as SORT and OMLET, but he has no real authority. In his 2009 annual report, Marin emphasized the importance of oversight and accountability, yet he has no power to ensure that where it really matters. The elected representatives of our government still do as they please with complete impunity of the law.

Ontario Ombudsman file number #187333 proves that even with an annual budget of 10.75 million dollars, a staff of 80 plus, the Ombudsman Act in hand and special teams of investigators such as SORT and OMLET, Ontario's Watchdog is simply a toothless hound.

On Friday the 14th of September 2012 a second letter was received from Mr. Peter Lapp, Director of Operations Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. For the second time Mr. Lapp states “ have also forwarded your concerns to the Ombudsman. The ECO will cooperate in every way with any request from the Ombudsman.” Once again the ECO makes it clear that they were expecting to provide information in this extremely serious breach of legislation by the Ministry of Environment.

DiDomizio must be investigated as to her handling of this investigation. She lied in her report not only in relation to the original complaint presented to the Office of the Ombudsman but she also repeated a new lie by Director Lisa Feldman of the MOE and therefore Minister Jim Bradley. DiDomizio intentionally ignored the details requesting that she contact the ECO and covered that up with a lie. Testimony by the ECO would prove the breach of legislation against Lisa Feldman, the Ministry of the Environment and Minister Jim Bradley. DiDomizio intentionally avoided this potentially damaging testimony and the question lingers as to why.

Has Minister Jim Bradley used a representative of the Office of the Ombudsman to further cover up his breach of legislation? Has Minister Jim Bradley used Maggie DiDomizio, Early Resolution Officer at the Office of the Ombudsman to place on record aspersions upon the credibility of the complainant labelling the complainant as vexatious? DiDomizio with her report on Ombudsman file #187333 dated August 27th 2012 has slandered the complainant, she has perpetuated the lie by Director Lisa Feldman of the MOE made at the request of Minister Jim Bradley and intentionally avoided crucial testimony that would of been provided by the ECO.

Andre Marin is responsible for the actions of all his staff. This investigation must be reopened and conducted by an impartial experienced investigator. Maggie DiDomizio has to face a full internal investigation and her report struck from record. A full public apology is required to be provided to the original complainant. The Ombudsman may not have any authority to investigate corruption within our government or its ministers but he can take action against Director's Feldman and Bardswick and the ministry. Clear evidence has been provided of lies and breach of legislation, additional evidence is willingly awaiting. It is time for Andre Marin to yank the chain on Ontario's Watchdog, put its dentures in and take a bite.

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