The way the Office receives complaints, works to resolve issues, and makes objective and evidence-based recommendations to the Minister, the Department, and the Veterans community is guided by the standards of practice of the International Ombudsman Association, our commitment to the fair treatment of Veterans and serving members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP, and the Ombudsman’s One Veteran theme.
Standards of Practice
The standards of practice of the International Ombudsman Association, which are also endorsed by the Canadian Forum of Ombudsmen, are:
Impartiality and neutrality;
Confidentiality and informality.
All About Fairness
Fairness is Our Business
Veterans and their families reach out to our office for many reasons. Sometimes, they are looking for information about available programs and services. In these cases the OVO will provide the information we can, and will often also refer Veterans to other resources. Most of the time, Veterans call us because they feel they have been treated unfairly by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). It’s the Office of Veterans Ombudsman’s (OVO) role to investigate complaints against the department and advocate for fairness. The OVO also investigates VAC’s processes, rules and regulations to identify gaps and systemic issues of unfairness.
Advocates for Fairness, Not Individuals
It’s important to recognize that our fairness work is not about getting the decision an individual wants, but rather the OVO advocates for fair outcomes. All complaints are investigated and the evidence is assessed to determine whether the complaint is valid. If an investigation uncovers unfairness, our office intervenes with VAC to advocate for corrective action. We escalate cases up to the highest level necessary to effect change. However we cannot compel VAC to act or make changes. We identify fairness issues, present cases that are based on solid evidence, and make recommendations to VAC on how to correct them and how to improve the system so it is fair for all Canadian Veterans and their families.
Correcting unfairness does not always change a decision or outcome. Sometimes an apology is what a complainant seeks. And sometimes an issue can be corrected by revisiting a decision that is in progress or amending rules, regulations and policies. The OVO can make recommendations to address the unfairness, but ultimately VAC must decide to take corrective action.
Investigating Fairness for Veterans
The OVO believes that VAC’s decision-making processes should be consistently applied without bias, and that all VAC clients should be treated with compassion and respect. Sometimes our investigations find errors in a Veteran's file and we advocate for these errors to be fixed. But at the OVO, fairness goes beyond determining whether or not an error was made. We also investigate general maladministration that can lead to unfair treatment. Maladministration refers to instances of carelessness and lack of judgment or actions that are unreasonable, unjust or based on improper motives.
The OVO’s approach to assessing fairness is based on a model we called the Fairness Triangle. The assessment of fairness breaks down into three components: Fair Process, Fair Outcome and Fair Treatment.
Each side of the fairness triangle can overlap with another; sometimes an unfair process can lead to unfair treatment or an unfair outcome. Other times, each side is separated, and we may find an unfair procedure, but the Veteran was nevertheless treated fairly and the outcome was fair, for example.
This is the process we follow when investigating both individual complaints and larger systemic issues.
Fair Treatment refers to how the Veteran or family member was treated. Fair treatment includes VAC providing clear, easy-to-understand information, respecting privacy rights and treating Veterans with courtesy, dignity and respect.
Fair Process refers to how a decision was made. A fair process includes an unbiased decision maker, clear provision of the decision-making criteria and an opportunity for the client to provide evidence. It also includes timely decisions and the provision of meaningful reasons for the decision.
Fair Outcome refers to what was decided. In a fair outcome, decisions are based on relevant information and are made in accordance with applicable laws, regulations and rules that are fair. Decisions should result in equitable outcomes and not be unduly oppressive. Similarly situated individuals should expect similar outcomes.