The Québec Ombudsman's 2022-2033 Annual Report - News release 3 - Departments, agencies and correctional facilities: disturbing flaws and failure to respect rights
QUÉBEC, Sept. 21, 2023 /CNW/ - In his 2022-2023 Annual Report, Québec Ombudsman Marc-André Dowd stresses the importance for public authorities to embrace technology in order to increase access to their services. However, he considers it essential to maintain traditional channels?phone, regular mail and in-person appointments. Public bodies must make it a priority not to leave anyone behind.
"In a perfect world, everyone would have easy access to online resources and information and would understand and use that information without fear. However, the required skills are more than some people can handle, while others simply have no internet access," Mr. Dowd explained.
GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES NEGLECT THEIR DUTIES
Once again, this year the Québec Ombudsman's Annual Report reveals failings and shortcomings by departments and agencies. Here are just a few examples:
In February 2023, the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) introduced a new Web platform to facilitate access to its services. Because the changes were poorly planned, the transition to SAAQclic caused a plethora of problems: paralyzed services and bottlenecks on the phone and at SAAQ service outlets.
The Tribunal administratif du logement (TAL) experienced major problems with phone access. One complaint concerned an elderly person who was unable to make the phone appointment that would have enabled her to bring documents to the Tribunal office. As a result, she was unable to get certain documents to TAL because she did not have Internet access.
There is a persistent shortage of tens of thousands of subsidized childcare spaces for meeting families' needs, so parents are forced to use unsubsidized childcare and pay much higher fees. Until the necessary spaces are created, the government must work to reduce this gap.
A few public service figures
In 2022-2023, the Québec Ombudsman handled 5,672 grounds concerning government departments and agencies. 27.3% of these grounds were substantiated.
Main grounds for substantiated complaints:
Deadlines exceeded or unreasonable wait times (51.9%);
Failure to respect citizens' rights (17.9%);
Failings with a financial impact (12.4%).
CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES: ACUTE STAFF SHORTAGES
Correctional facilities are experiencing major staff shortages. The Québec Ombudsman cites particularly disturbing figures in its Annual Report: of the 3,000 or so regular positions, one in five is vacant or is filled by a person on extended leave. This situation has direct, major and daily consequences for detainees and facility employees alike.
Inadequate staffing levels have led to serious rights violations. This was the case this year for several detainees who were confined to cells for prolonged periods simply because there was a shortage of correctional officers.
"Under international law, solitary confinement must be a last-resort measure. In light of the abuse we've noted, we're making specific recommendations to the Ministère de la Sécurité publique in our Annual Report so that corrective action occurs without delay," commented Mr. Dowd.
Among the major issues
The Ministère de la Sécurité publique is responsible for screening all detainees for suicidal risk. However, at times it takes several days before an officer is available to assess this risk. Meanwhile, the detainee may be kept in isolation, sometimes under unacceptable conditions.
The Québec Ombudsman has received complaints about the restraint devices put on hospitalized detainees, mainly handcuffs and chains. Their systematic use contravened a provincial instruction (use based on the risk that the detainee poses). After the Québec Ombudsman intervened, the Department published a guide to ensure standardized and safe practices... which are still contrary to this instruction.
A few correctional services figures
In 2022-2023, the Québec Ombudsman handled 4,749 grounds concerning correctional services. 40.3% of these grounds were substantiated.
Main grounds for substantiated complaints:
Delays exceeded or unreasonable wait times (42.9%);
Poor environment or living conditions (20.7%);
Failure to respect detainees' rights (15.1%).
The Québec Ombudsman acts impartially and independently in ensuring that people's rights are respected in their dealings with public services. Its services are free and user-friendly.
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