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Ombudsman's office clarifies investigation into CBRM council

Christine Brennan, executive director of the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman, says someone is taking a preliminary look into a complaint about Cape Breton Regional Municipality activities, but it's not an official investigation yet.
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A spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman says an email last week telling a citizen an 'investigator' has been assigned to look into CBRM council could have been worded better. (Facebook)

SYDNEY — The Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman hasn't necessarily launched an investigation into council activities in Cape Breton Regional Municipality, an official said Wednesday.

On Friday, the spokesman for a new citizen watchdog group in CBRM told Local Xpress he had complained to the ombudsman about allegations of bullying and intimidation of newly elected councillors.

Rod Gale, spokesman for the CBRM Council Club, received an email from the ombudsman's office late Friday morning that said an "investigator" had been "assigned to recent activities emanating from events within the CBRM council."

No one from the ombudsman's office was available for comment Friday afternoon, as all government offices closed at noon for the Christmas holiday.

Christine Brennan, executive director of the ombudsman's office, told Local Xpress on Wednesday an email from her office to a citizen last week could have been worded better.

Whenever the office receives a complaint, "all matters are screened for jurisdiction, to see whether it's something our office can look at, to see if there's any appeals or anything like that available to the folks, and if so then we refer them to the process," she said.

"If we're not quite sure and we need a little more time, what we do is we assign it to an ombudsman rep and then they look to see if there's anything of substance or merit going forward. And if we do believe that there's an issue, or it warrants an investigation, we provide notification to all the respondents.

"So they would receive notification that we've initiated an investigation and the issues we're looking at.

"In this instance ... we do that initial screening and assessment and we assign it to a rep for a review."

Brennan said the email from her office didn't make that distinction clear.

"Even though in this instance I thought I saw the term 'investigator' was used, ombudsman reps, while they do investigations, they are not sort of that pure investigator as one might expect them to be," she said.

"Unfortunately the language probably could have been a little better, and we'll deal with that internally, but certainly whenever we receive any type of complaint ... our normal process is we assign it to someone for review."

Even if there were to be an investigation, Brennan said the ombudsman's office normally wouldn't confirm or deny it.

"We typically don't speak to any types of complaints or issues or investigations that we have ongoing," she said. "Especially if there is an ongoing process, we wouldn't want to compromise that potentially.

"Not just ongoing investigations, but ongoing issues that have been brought to the attention of the office ... because a lot of the issues are matters that we address from the administrative or more or less formal process, so we're able to resolve or address things a little more informally, rather than a full-out investigation."


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