The Office of the Ombudsman for Alberta investigates complaints against departments, boards and agencies of the provincial government, doing so independently of the government. The Ombudsman assists citizens in directing complaints to the appropriate person when the complaint is outside their jurisdiction. The Ombudsman does not have any jurisdiction when it comes to the "actions and decisions of the courts, the Legislature and government lawyers acting as solicitors for the Crown in a proceeding" (Office of the Alberta Ombudsman, 1997, p. 7). Also, the Ombudsman's jurisdiction does not include federal or municipal governments and contract agencies, complaints against boards of hospitals, universities, schools and technical institutes.
A rapport has developed between government department staff and the Ombudsman's investigators because the investigators specialize in particular departments. Although this signals the potential for loss of impartiality, this has not yet occurred. Rather, this rapport has created an attitude of cooperation and ensures that the Ombudsmans investigators have proper access to information.
Information given to investigators is confidential and may not be disclosed to anyone outside the Ombudsman's office or the department from which it came. Even information sent to and from inmates in institutions cannot be seen by anyone but the inmate and the Ombudsman's office. The information is used as evidence to support a complaint or to disqualify it, and is used at the discretion of the Ombudsman. Because the complainant is not made aware of how the information is used, the situation may arouse suspicion and criticism. A complainant may feel that the Ombudsman has not fully responded to his grievance, especially if the person claiming to be aggrieved is not satisfied with the result.
The Ombudsman is used as a last resort for grievance for provincial inmates, after all other avenues have been exhausted. Official complaints to the Ombudsman must be made in writing. When a complaint comes in regarding a certain government department and a decision is made to investigate, the Ombudsman must notify the Deputy Minister, President or Chairman of the appropriate department. After acceptance, it is usually assigned to one of the Investigators. The Investigator will contact all parties involved in the complaint including the complainant, the Deputy Minister of Justice, the Department, the Assistant Deputy Minister for Corrections, the Regional Director and Director of the institution. After this initial contact, the Department has thirty days in which to respond. Almost all inmates are granted a personal interview with the Investigator responsible for their complaint. The investigation will normally take two months to complete, at which time the investigator will write a report on his or her findings to the Ombudsman. When changes are recommended, the Ombudsman must meet with the Deputy Minister of Justice to discuss any changes. From there he may appeal to the Minister of Justice and then, if necessary, to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council. An Ombudsman is able to make recommendations to governmental offices but can never order them to make changes. In most circumstances though, the departmental head heeds the recommendations of the Ombudsman.