Fewer complaints to ombudsman blamed on COVID and staff vacancy

Laval’s new ombudsman says she will be catching up this year on a backlog

The Laval ombudsman’s office managed to process 467 complaint files in 2020, regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also in spite of the departure of former ombudsman Nadine Mailloux, the city’s new ombudsman says in the latest report.

Office was vacant

Ombudsman Nathalie Blais tabled the 2020 report in Laval city council on June 1. It was the eighth annual report to come from the city ombudsman since the office was first established in 2013. The new report documents case files up to last Dec. 31.

Following Mailloux’s departure to take on a similar position with the City of Montreal, there was no ombudsman in Laval beginning last August, says Blais. With the 467 dossiers opened in 2020, that raises the total number of complaints processed by the ombudsman over the past seven years to 3,361.

While 41 per cent of the files in 2020 concerned public works, engineering and urban planning issues, the figure last year was 57 per cent. Although Mailloux left in July 2020, a press release from the ombudsman’s office says that Blais didn’t fill the post until this past March.

2020 was a slow year

Blais says in her report that in 71 per cent of cases, the ombudsman’s office was able to resolve and close dossiers by providing residents with information on their options and rights, by putting them in touch with the city administration, or by intervening on their behalf and following up on their requests.

She said that since arriving in office after her predecessor had been gone for months, she saw that a significant number of dossiers hadn’t been dealt with in the intervening period, either because the office was understaffed at that point or certain city departments hadn’t replied.

According to the new ombudsman, the number of dossiers this year is significantly lower than in 2019, which she attributes to an impact from the pandemic and the possibility that many Laval residents had other things on their minds.

Catching up to do

But she also attributed the lower numbers to the fact there was no ombudsman for months, and an assistant in the office could only take up part of the slack. She said the ombudsman’s office will be spending valuable time this year catching up on the backlog.

In a seeming acknowledgment of the rising number of English-speaking people who now live in Laval, the ombudsman’s 2020 report includes some content written in English – although it consists entirely of comments submitted by anglophone Laval residents that are overwhelmingly flattering to the ombudsman’s department.

“I really appreciate that you actually listened to what I had to say and gave me time to explain the situation,” says one respondent. “I truly appreciate your commitment and your efforts to ensure that the issues raised in my complaint are being addressed by the respective departments,” says another.

Non receivable issues

Of the 467 complaints, 66 were dealt with quickly: they were simply directed to another level, because the ombudsman doesn’t deal with issues which should be addressed by other specific city departments, including the Laval Police, the Société de transport de Laval (STL), the city’s executive-committee and city council.

Laval’s last ombudsman left last summer, but no one replaced her until this past March

By district, the most complaints received were from Chomedey (54), followed by Laval-Les Îles (32), Souvenir-Labelle (31), Fabreville (23), Renaud (23), Saint-François (22) and Sainte-Rose (22). The ombudsman’s office received the least number of complaints from Saint-Martin (8).

Quick to respond

The ombudsman says that most dossiers (73 per cent) were dealt with in five days or less, 58 dossiers took from six to 15 days, 14 took from 31 to 60 days, and 10 dossiers (2 per cent) took up to three months.

The office said that 19 dossiers (4 per cent) remained unresolved at the end of the reporting period. Of all the complaints, the most common (12.2 per cent) concerned whether by-laws were being enforced, stated the report.

The next most common (40 complaints – 8.6 per cent) were about snow removal, a problem reported year over year by many Laval residents.

Many files were also opened and processed on issues that included damage claims, noise, property taxes and road repair work.