Statement by Canada's Taxpayers' Ombudsman, Reflections on her tenure: Disrupting the status quo – equality, equity and fairness

Ottawa, Ontario

June 17, 2020

Sherra Profit, today released the following statement reflecting on her tenure as Taxpayers’ Ombudsman:

As the end of my term as your Taxpayers’ Ombudsman nears, I would like to share some reflections from my five years in this role, some lessons learned, and my hope that fairness and equity for everyone who interacts with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), continue to be strongly upheld in the years to come.

I look back fondly on the relationships I built with individuals, community organizations, fellow ombuds, tax and legal professionals, and all the stakeholders with whom I had the privilege to meet, from coast to coast to coast. Each interaction deepened my understanding of the issues and challenges many face every day.

Your insights and experiences have led to some "light bulb" moments, which in turn informed research and findings by my Office that transformed the status quo and improved service for taxpayers and benefit recipients. Without your input, I would not have been able to positively effect change at the individual and systemic levels.

I dedicated my time as Taxpayers’ Ombudsman to ensuring everyone’s story is heard and the uniqueness of each experience is factored into the examination of issues presented to my Office and to the CRA. In doing so, I with my team, acknowledge the impacts of the CRA’s policies, processes and procedures on taxpayers and benefit recipients, and their varying levels of access and resources to comply with their obligations. Holding up a variety of perspectives allows for the principles of equity and fairness to take root.

The CRA’s reach is extensive, and for many involves far more than a yearly tax filing obligation. It has real impacts on many aspects of peoples’ lives. As a result, it is imperative that the CRA’s service be inclusive and considers the individual circumstances of those it serves. It must also work in a way that minimizes the significant burden it places on many. The CRA needs to be able to swiftly respond and resolve issues that arise. More importantly, the CRA needs to proactively break down the silos within it as an organization and break down the barriers to service.

The Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman, together with the CRA, must use, embrace, and work through disruption to bring about positive change. In this way, we can identify systemic issues, their root causes and the root causes of complaints, and address them for positive change.

I have observed when people bring issues or complaints to my Office, they often feel like they have been singled out. Often they say they want to be treated "just like everyone else." In taking the time to understand their issues, we discover that what they really seek is to be treated in a way that accounts for their unique circumstances to ensure that the process is fair.

Fairness is demonstrated by equitable access to service.

Although my Office and my team have taken strides in addressing gaps in service, there remains a great deal of work ahead. As a self-contained office that carries out individual and systemic examinations, corporate and communications functions, at arms length from the CRA, my Office’s budget has generally remained the same since its inception, over twelve years ago. Meanwhile, the volume of complaints received by my Office has significantly increased, as has the number of systemic issues we seek to address. Insufficient resources to keep pace with the volume of work has added an unnecessary strain to staff workloads and to the overall operation of the Office, making it increasingly more difficult to seek timely resolutions to issues for all of our complainants.

Not only do I believe that financial stability and independence is an essential aspect to the continued effectiveness of the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman, I challenge the Government of Canada to consider options for increasing the independence, and breadth of areas covered, by federal ombuds.

The work of ombuds is critically important to holding governments accountable for their treatment of their citizens. I believe there exists a vulnerability to the ombudsman institution, under the current structure generally used federally, where ombuds report to the same minister who oversees the portfolio they themselves are asked to oversee. This structure creates an inherent potential for a conflict of interest and calls for a thorough review.

In closing, I would like to thank those who have trusted my Office with resolving their issues and concerns with fairness, objectivity and confidentiality. I would also like to express my gratitude to the dedicated team at the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman who seeks to uphold these principles each and every day. I am confident you will continue to work diligently to ensure fair outcomes for all taxpayers and benefit recipients.

It has been a great honour to serve as your Taxpayers’ Ombudsman.

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