The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic will discuss the role of the Ombudsman in Alberta. It will explain how the Ombudsman can help if you are dissatisfied with a decision or action from the Alberta government board of commission, a provincial health authority, organization, or professional body including some health and accounting professions, foresters and veterinarians.
Ombudsman in Alberta
The Ombudsman is an officer who investigates administrative decisions and actions of the government for free. Administrative decisions are decisions made by a government department that directly affect an individual – for example, granting a person their driver’s licence or passport.
The Ombudsman works independently from the Government of Alberta, which guarantees each complaint is looked at fairly.
If a person is unhappy with a government or professional organization decision or action, they can go through the following steps:
- Internal Appeal Process of the Government Department or Professional Organization
A person must first go through the internal appeal process of that particular department. Most government departments have an internal appeal process that deals with complaints about decisions or actions. If the internal appeal process of a certain department is unclear, contact the department, or visit their website for information.
- Official Complaints to the Ombudsman
If a person is still dissatisfied after going through the internal appeal process, they can contact the Ombudsman to request assistance. This option is only available after completing the internal appeal process. Official complaints to the Ombudsman must be made in writing and can be made online. An online complaint form is available on the Alberta Ombudsman website under the link entitled, “File an Online Complaint”.
In the application, a person must provide information about the complaint and include all steps they have taken to try to resolve the complaint themselves. This information could include contacting the department supervisor or participating in a formal appeal hearing.
If the Ombudsman approves a complaint for investigation, the office sends a letter to the appropriate government department. This letter notifies the department of the investigation and requests a detailed response from the department about the matter.
The Ombudsman can gather the necessary information and evidence for the investigation. Information is necessary if it speaks to the purpose of the complaint. After the information is gathered, the Ombudsman considers whether there were any errors in the government decision.
Outcome of the Ombudsman’s Investigation
The Ombudsman’s investigation will determine that either there was an error when making the decision, or there was no error and government’s actions were fair and proper.
If there is an error, the Ombudsman cannot change a government decision; it can only make recommendations to the appropriate department. The recommended action may include an apology or change in the organization’s operating procedures.
The Ombudsman investigator reviews the investigation findings with the individual lodging the complaint and advises them of the investigation outcome. Each individual has the guarantee that an independent and fair investigation has taken place.
Further Action by the Ombudsman
If a complaint cannot be resolved, the Ombudsman may report it to the Lieutenant Governor in Council or the Alberta Legislative Assembly. The Ombudsman may also make the matter public if it is in the public interest, which creates political pressure and influences public opinion.
The Ombudsman does not have the power to order government actions, but its powers of persuasion can be very effective. In most instances, government representatives are willing to resolve reasonable complaints. Formal reports to the Lieutenant Governor in Council, the Legislative Assembly or the public are rarely required.
Departments that the Alberta Ombudsman does not Investigate
The Ombudsman’s office will investigate administrative decisions and actions taken by an Alberta body only. The Ombudsman cannot investigate the actions and decisions of;
- the Alberta Legislature;
- Any MLA or elected official;
- Any Alberta Courts;
- Any police force;
- A Crown lawyer (Prosecutor);
- Federal or municipal governments;
- Boards of hospitals, universities, schools, and technical institutes.
The Ombudsman cannot investigate disputes between private individuals – for example, two neighbours or former coworkers. However, the Office of the Ombudsman suggest where to make this type of complaint. Assistance could involve directing individuals to the appropriate body or complaint mechanism to deal with their specific concerns.
Ombudsman’s Office Location
The Ombudsman has offices located in Edmonton and Calgary. The telephone number for the Edmonton Office is 780- 427-2756 (toll free in Alberta by first dialing 310-0000) and the Calgary Office is 403-297-6185.
Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.