2005-2006 Annual Report | Protecteur du Citoyen
June 4, 2006

2005-2006 Annual Report

Corps

Protector's comments on the 2005-2006 Annual Report

Raymonde Saint-Germain
Protectrice du citoyen

June 14, 2006

This report is the result of a team effort successively led by my predecessor Pauline Champoux-Lesage and by Deputy Protector Micheline McNicoll, who is here with me. I salute the importance and quality of their work.

Today, in addition to presenting highlights from 2005–2006, I wanted to put these annual results into perspective.

2005–2006 in figures

In 2005–2006, Le Protecteur du citoyen processed over 10,500 complaints in areas under its jurisdiction. Nearly 6,000 of these complaints led to investigations, and 1,679 of them—approximately 29%—were found to be substantiated.

Of the substantiated claims, 8 out of 10 were resolved in favor of the complainant, and the problems identified corrected. In light of these results, the conclusion is clear: the Public Protector’s voice carries weight.

The organizations that generated the most complaints were:

  • Directeur de l’État civil (75%)
  • Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport, primarily student assistance (44.6%)
  • Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec, mostly about compensation for road accident victims (36.4%)
  • Ministère de la Sécurité publique, more specifically correctional services (33.4%)
  • Régie du logement (28.6%)
  • Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (25.6%)

Let me stress, however, that a number of these organizations have improved their performance. Compared to last year, for example, complaints regarding Ministère de la Sécurité publique and Régie du logement were down slightly. Since 2001–2002, I have also noted a decrease in the number of substantiated complaints against Le Curateur public, Revenu Québec, CSST, and Régie de l’assurance-maladie.

This is undoubtedly good news. But as we shall see, much remains to be done. The number of substantiated complaints is still significant, which means a sustained effort is required within these organizations and throughout the government as a whole. Our analysis highlights certain situations that deserve special attention.

Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec: Unreasonable delays for road accident victims

This year, Le Protecteur du citoyen processed 383 complaints about compensation for road accident victims, a 16% increase over last year. 47% of these claims—almost one in two—proved to be founded. This rate is a cause for concern.

Long waits for SAAQ medical opinions and review decisions are one of the main reasons for these complaints. After analyzing the situation, I have concluded that this is a recurrent structural problem.

In 2005, for all claim types combined, it took an average of 100 days for SAAQ to issue a medical opinion. In 2001, the average wait was 66 days. Yet these opinions are essential to the subsequent processing of accident claims. In 2005, claimants waited an average of 155 days for SAAQ to finalize its evaluation of permanent aftereffects and determine the amount of compensation they would be awarded.

As for processing delays at the review office, in the second quarter of 2005, road accident victims waited an average of eight months for review decisions to be handed down, a two-month increase over the same period in 2004.

There is an urgent need for action. Current wait times are clearly unreasonable. Accident victims inevitably suffer from long waits, which generally mean delays in payment of compensation. The situation is all the more alarming considering that one of the reasons for creating the public auto insurance plan in 1978 was to reduce delays and ensure rapid compensation for accident victims. SAAQ needs to make a sustained effort to rectify this situation.

To this effect, SAAQ has just introduced a new action plan. Plan aims include enhancing the quality of client service to reduce response times for medical opinions and review decisions. The plan has a three-year timetable (2006–2008) and testifies to SAAQ’s commitment to making improvements in all aspects of its auto insurance operations.

Let me say that implementation of the plan has begun, and positive changes have already been noted at the review office. But efforts need to continue in order to achieve results that benefit all accident victims. And reducing wait times must be a key objective of the action plan so that people are a more central focus of SAAQ’s concerns and actions.

Over the past year, Le Protecteur du citoyen has also had to intervene on behalf of road accident victims who were denied their rights as a result of restrictive or unfounded interpretations. One example involved a woman whose homecare assistance payments were suspended after she applied to have them reviewed, a measure forbidden under the Act in such circumstances.

As you can see, these interpretations have a direct impact on citizens’ lives. I would like to stress the importance of carefully checking the reasons for a decision, and of being flexible when analyzing cases where special circumstances are involved. This should help better achieve the objectives of the Act, and better serve the public.

Crime victim compensation and Correctional Services: steps in the right direction

I would now like to draw your attention to crime victim compensation. The number of complaints in this area has risen steadily for the past five years, with a 63% increase over the last year alone. The number of substantiated complaints also rose slightly to 25.3%, a negligible increase over 2004–2005.

In May 2002, Le Protecteur du citoyen published a report recommending improvements to the crime victim compensation plan. The recent tabling of Bill 25 with a view to amending the Crime Victims Compensation Act marks a first step in this direction. In fact, the minister of justice announced that the proposed amendments were a prelude to an in-depth legislative overhaul. This reflection on the fate of crime victims and their families is essential. I hope it will lead to the adoption of measures adapted to their needs, and more accurately reflecting today’s realities. In the meantime, crime victims will benefit from new rights when the Act respecting the Québec correctional system comes into effect as announced, notably the right to be heard in the parole process.

The phasing-in of the Act, which will begin to take effect in 2007, has been long awaited by Le Protecteur du citoyen, among others. It represents a major step forward, not only with respect to our society’s approach to victims, but also with respect to sentence management and offender reintegration. In principle, these changes should lead to stricter controls over the correctional system and social reintegration for the benefit of society as a whole. Of course, I will be monitoring implementation of the act closely.

This being said, I would also like to say a few words on two other correctional services issues worthy of attention: detention center overcrowding and respect of inmates’ rights.

On the one hand, overcrowding has a direct impact on social reintegration. Frequent transfers make it difficult to maintain continuity in rehabilitation programs. These interruptions, coupled with separation from friends and family, can compromise release preparation through training and other programs. Transfers are the second most common complaint dealt with by Le Protecteur du citoyen. Yet the problem has been well known for a number of years.

Violations of rights and infringements on human dignity also remained an issue this year. Strip searches, for example, were not necessarily conducted according to the rules. Complaints include the presence of a male staff member during the search of a female inmate, and recourse to a complete search when only a visual search was required. It must be remembered that incarceration does not suspend or weaken fundamental rights. Moreover, respect for rights helps create a climate of trust conducive to social reintegration, a climate all correctional services personnel have a responsibility to maintain.

Directeur de l’état civil: more processing delays

This year, Le Protecteur du citoyen received 201 complaints regarding Le Directeur de l’état civil, 75% of which proved to be substantiated. This was a major increase over the past three years. Most of the problems reported had to do with application processing time, delays in notification about incomplete applications, and telephone access.

In following up on complaints about processing times, we discovered that the situation was the result of new security measures. Obviously, Le Directeur de l’état civil’s security responsibilities are paramount. That said, I believe that improvements are in order. Assuming one’s responsibilities is not incompatible with upholding quality service.

After we intervened with regard to incomplete applications, Le Directeur de l’état civil implemented new procedures to ensure rapid notification of applicants. And Le Protecteur du citoyen and Le Directeur de l’état civil also agreed to reexamine concerns about the vital statistics agency’s complaints office, including telephone access.

Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail: the right to a decision that is properly explained

Let us now turn our attention to Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail. Like SAAQ, CSST oversees programs that have a significant financial impact on numerous Quebecers. And like all government departments and agencies, CSST is obliged to justify its decisions. Not only is this a requirement under the Act respecting Administrative justice, it is explicitly spelled out in the Act respecting Industrial accidents and occupational diseases. It applies to both case reviews and decisions by front-line officers. Explanations are crucial to helping workers understand decisions, judge them on their merits, and make informed decisions as to whether they should exercise recourse or seek review.

Despite this, Le Protecteur du citoyen found that front-line decisions lacked a proper explanation. We identified one particular type of negative decision repeatedly issued without any reasonable explanation at all. In these cases, CSST simply informed workers that it could not determine whether they had been victims of an industrial accident or occupational disease within the meaning of the act. No other explanations or comments were provided. Decisions like this do not explain the facts and reasoning behind the outcome, and, in my view, are inconsistent with the law. Again, I stress that rejections must be explained. Declaring that the file has been analyzed is not enough; the nature and results of the analysis must also be explained.

Conclusion

From a broad perspective, I see that there has been some progress by government departments and agencies in recent years. In contrast, many problems still exist, including the ones I have mentioned today, as well as those described in our annual report.

Let me stress here that we do not wish to increase the number of complaints we handle or see a higher proportion of substantiated claims. On the contrary, our ultimate goal is “zero complaints.” To achieve this, we will obviously continue to handle individual complaints with a view to bringing about improvement, one file at a time. However, I also believe that we must make use of other tools.

I am convinced that continuous improvements to the public service in ways that serve the public interest are a goal that Le Protecteur du citoyen shares with the government. We already enjoy widespread cooperation on the part of government departments and agencies and their complaints offices. Our case file resolution rate is testimony to that. And the entire team at Le Protecteur du citoyen will continue its efforts with a view to resolving problems together.

In addition to processing individual complaints, Le Protecteur du citoyen also has a role to play in considering problems and issues from broader perspective. To this end, we will continue with our preventive initiatives and pay close attention to substantive issues affecting large numbers of citizens. Comments by Le Protecteur du citoyen on draft bills and regulations are a good example of such efforts. In my view, everyone benefits from this kind of approach—the public, elected officials, and government bodies alike.

Also worth noting is the fact that Le Protecteur du citoyen’s scope of action was broadened further as of April 1, 2006. We are now responsible for fielding and processing last-resort complaints from the public with regard to the health and social services network. We also have the authority to intervene on our own initiative or in cases where we receive reports of mistreatment within a network facility. The combination of our experience and that of the Health and Social Services Ombudsman should benefit the public.

Lastly, I intend to devote considerable energy to making citizens better informed about their rights and remedies and the services of Le Protecteur du citoyen. In doing so, I hope to reach those I call the “voiceless,” and promote more dialog and direct contact with the public.