B.C. Ombudsperson Kim Carter speaks at the Rotary Club of Vernon’s weekly meeting Wednesday at the Best Western Vernon Lodge about the mandate of the Office of the B.C. Ombudsperson.

B.C. Ombudsperson Kim Carter speaks at the Rotary Club of Vernon’s weekly meeting Wednesday at the Best Western Vernon Lodge about the mandate of the Office of the B.C. Ombudsperson.

Office strives for fair government

British Columbians have a place to turn if they believe they have been wronged by government.

The B.C. Ombudsperson’s Office investigates complaints about all provincial ministries and Crown corporations, colleges and universities, school districts, health boards, municipalities and self-governing professions.

“Our goal in the office is that all British Columbians have access to fair government,” said Kim Carter, ombudsperson, during a presentation to the Vernon Rotary Club Wednesday.

“The Ombudsperson’s Office is independent and impartial. My office is not accountable to a particular party or administration but to the Legislature.”

The office responds to about 8,000 inquiries and complaints a year, and it opens about 2,300 files a year.

“Our focus is on the individual and how the individual is treated by government and authorities,” said Carter, who is a lawyer and was appointed ombudsperson in 2006.

In one case, a woman turned to the office after she sustained a workplace injury and surgery would impact the use of one hand. She needed both hands because of a digestive disorder and special hygiene concerns, but WorkSafe B.C. would not provide help.

“She was worried she couldn’t feed herself,” said Carter.

“We contacted WorkSafe and investigated. They took rapid steps to look into the situation.”

Ultimately, home care was provided.

In another case, a man had just moved into a new condominium when he received a substantial bill from B.C. Hydro.

“He contacted Hydro and asked them how this had happened. Hydro said, ‘We won’t show you any stuff and we can assure you this is a correct bill.’ He came to us,” said Carter.

It turned out that the utility had not closed a temporary account during the construction process, and had not only passed a bill on to the complainant, but also to 580 other units in the building.

“Hydro credited all of those people. A total of $114,000 had been overbilled,” said Carter.

The Ombudsperson’s Office has also done investigations on broad issues like victims of crime legislation, drinking water safety and the payout process for lottery prizes.

Presently, it is looking into seniors care facilities in B.C.

While the investigation continues, Carter has already seen some changes in the system, including the government creating a bill of rights for seniors.

“People were reluctant to complain (about conditions in residential care), partly because they didn’t know what their rights were,” she said.