On Wednesday, June 26th, Kim Carter, the B.C. Obudsperson serving her second six-year term, will be in Invermere along with office aids to field complaints in person.
“We’re an office that serves the whole province, and so we come to different communities and open the Ombudsperson office for the day in the community,” Carter told The Valley Echo. “While I’m speaking with groups and agencies, people who want to talk face-to-face with someone from our office can meet with our staff members.”
According to the government website, the B.C. Ombudsperson serves to “impartially investigate complaints to ensure that provincial and local public agencies treat the people they serve fairly and reasonably.”
The Ombudsperson regularly travels throughout the province two to three times each year, Carter said, as her team aims to provide the same quality of service online, over the phone or in person.
“It’s part of ensuring there’s some equality of treatment across the province,” she said. “It’s important that we go out and let people in communities know that we care about them, and they can walk in and see us as well.”
During its visit, the B.C. Ombudserperson team will discuss with clients whether they can take non-legal action themselves or, if the situation warrants, the team will open an investigation.
“Sometime we hear about a problem that isn’t administrative unfairness, but we can still offer help,” Carter said. “But when a complaint is substantiated, we will work with the individual and the agency to resolve the issue.”
If a policy or process problem is discovered, the B.C. Ombudsperson will look at getting it resolved for everybody.
“One gentleman came to us with his problem regarding B.C. Hydro, in which he thought he was overpaying in a new condo scenario,” she exemplified. “Upon investigation, it turned out he had paid $60 too much.”
While the flaw that caused one customer to lose $60 wasn’t overly significant, further investigation revealed that the problem was caused by a systematic error. As it turned out, over 500 people were reimbursed a total of $114,000.
“We focus on fair resolutions, and that helps everyone, including the agencies at risk of violating,” Carter said. “Presumably they don’t want to start out treating people unfairly, and they certainly don’t want to be identified as treating anybody unfairly, so if we can point out the problem, then they can fix it.”
To avoid lineups during her Wednesday, June 26th visit, the B.C. Ombudsperson asks complainants to call the office beforehand to set up an appointment at 1-800-567-3247.
“We don’t want to discourage anybody with complaints. If our office hours fill up, we’ll still take their complaint by phone,” she said. “It makes a lot of sense for us to use that phone appointment process; people have driven long distances in the hope that we’ll see them and had it go awry.”
She said the B.C. Ombudsperson office has real people who answer the phones. Phoning them will allow complainants a comprehensive discussion with people who take the time to listen to the problem, she said.
Public agencies that the B.C. Ombudsperson deals with include colleges, universities, schools and school boards, local governments, crown corporations such as ICBC and BC Hydro, as well as commissions and ministries.