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Complaints about transit services dominate calls to Ottawa's fraud and waste hotline in 2023

Ottawa City Hall
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The number of complaints to the City of Ottawa's fraud and waste hotline was up in 2023 compared to the year prior, with a bulk of complaints made against transit services.

In a report prepared for the March 8 Audit Committee meeting, Auditor General Natalie Gougeon says there were 282 complaints to the hotline in 2023, the second-highest number in five years after 301 complaints in 2021. The number of complaints in 2023 was up 34 per cent compared to 2022. Another 955 reports that were similar in nature were also reported to the hotline last year.

The majority of reports, 62 per cent, came from other city of Ottawa employees, while 38 per cent came from the public. The fraud and waste hotline is anonymous and operated independently by a third party. Policies are in place to protect employees who call in violations or who participate in investigations into reported incidents of fraud or waste.

New this year, Gougeon broke down the reports by the city department implicated, with transit services taking the top spot for complaints. There were 103 reports to the fraud and waste hotline related to the transit services department, accounting for 37 per cent of all reports. Emergency and protective services came in second place with 33 complaints. Sixteen of the complaints received were not related to city operations.

Last June, Gougeon said her office was receiving five to 10 reports a day about bus operators. There were so many, Gougeon decided to stop the intake of specific OC Transpo reports similar in nature "as they were repetitive, and no further value would be derived by the execution of additional investigative procedures," the report says.

According to the report, 51 complaints remained under investigation as of Dec. 31, 2023. Of the complaints that were investigated and closed, 54 were substantiated, 20 were accurate but didn't constitute fraud or waste, 38 were inaccurate, and six did not have enough information.

What rules were broken?

The most common substantiated complaints related to vehicle use, with 14 employee violations of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA) and the City's policies and procedures.

Complaints around bus operators leaving buses unattended during their shifts and blocking a lane of traffic or road visibility were also substantiated.

Among complaints about misue of city time were complaints about employees leaving work early or taking unauthorized breaks, complaints about employees misusing sick leave, and about the misuse of city vehicles, uniforms or equipment. In one case, an employee was found to have removed items from a city facility to sell. In another case, a City of Ottawa employee was found to have used their job title to promote their private business.

The 2023 report also includes the investigation into the Manotick BIA's expenses.

There were 10 substantiated complaints related to harm or potential harm to people that were largely related to an investigation into the staff culture at the Carleton Lodge long-term care home, which is run by the city.

Gougeon's report states that her office has received several complaints about the home since 2021, and an audit was initiated in March of 2023; however, due to an overlapping investigation by management, the audit was suspended to avoid duplication of efforts.

"Management’s investigation concluded that most of the specific allegations found in the reports could not be substantiated; however, management acknowledged that there were culture issues present at the Long-Term Care Home and has established a work-plan to address the issues identified from their investigation," the report states. "There have been management changes, organizational changes, additional education and training and staff engagement sessions to address employee survey results. This work-plan will take time and effort, but management is moving in the right direction and as a result, by December 2023, the OAG confirmed that the culture audit would be officially cancelled to allow management to focus on actioning their work-plan."

What were the consequences?

No one was fired and no one resigned as a result of complaints to the fraud and waste hotline in 2023. In 2022, two employees were fired following investigations into complaints received by the hotline and three employees resigned.

However, several "corrective actions" were taken last year, including 34 days of suspension to implicated employees, 13 verbal warnings, three written warnings, and 12 instances of progressive discipline measures based on collective agreements.

Two employees had to give back one day's pay for misused time.

Other discipline included mandatory reviews of policy, mandatory re-training through training modules, and increased performance management, such as increased monitoring or coaching. 

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