We are ombudspersons from: Université de Montréal- 60,000 students (Quebec); University of Alberta – 40,000 students (Alberta); and Camosun College – 20,000 students (British Columbia). We are members of ACCUO; fairness is integral to our Standards of Practice. As noted by colleague Martine Conway, University of Victoria, fairness at higher learning institutions in Canada is broader than the legal context, embodying the relational framework of the teaching and learning process. The fairness principle is influenced by our classical parliamentary ombudsmen in the provinces.Monique LaForest is a graduate of Université de Montréal (education, industrial relations, law). Pascale Descary is the Ombudsman and Laforest is her Advisor (Conseillère). The office was established in 1988 with a mandate “to ensure a fair balance between the rights of each and the other”.
In Quebec, postsecondary ombudspersons may conduct investigations after all other remedies are exhausted. “It is specified that our intervention, based both on law and equity, is intended to correct any injustice or discrimination. The ombudsman intervenes whenever there are grounds to believe [member/s of the community] have been adversely affected or victim/s of injustice or discrimination by the Act or omission of an employee or of an authorized official of the University or by the administrative mechanisms of the University, or likely to be.” (Laforest:2012) The ombudsperson may conduct an inquiry (with full access to records), assess the merits, and make recommendations to the appropriate authorities, to “work on the improvement of academic practices of justice and equity”. In reality, the majority of work involves informal and collaborative remedies. The office has a reputation for reliable advice and preventive problem-solving. For example, an administrator calls Laforest to question the fairness of a solution before it is applied. The office is not feared; it is contacted frequently to test out a fairness principle.
Following the first provincial ombudsman appointment in Canada (1967), the ombuds role was created at the University of Alberta (1971). It morphed from a stand-alone faculty member, to separate but parallel University and student services; by 1998 it merged into a hybrid University and Students’ Union operation. The office is designed for mentorship, teamwork, and creative problem-solving. Natalie Sharpe, a graduate with a background in Anthropology and aboriginal land claims, directs a team of five ombudspersons. Although the focus is student complaints, faculty also contacts the office for advice. Despite lacking investigatory powers, the ombudspersons serve on University committees, offering systemic recommendations. The office has a University Director, Graduate and Undergraduate ombudspersons, and quasi-internships for student ombudspersons. Diversity of staff presents strengths and challenges. Many cases are resolved informally through collaborative problem solving with a focus on fairness, compassion, equity and respect. Examples include working with student and faculty to reframe the dispute on institutional values of fairness; ensuring due process at hearings; expanding options that uphold the integrity of the degree; pro-active sessions such as how to dialogue with your professor/supervisor; promoting best practices in teaching and grading; advocating collaborative creation and modification of accommodation plans.
Carter MacDonald serves as the Ombuds for Camosun Colleges’ two campuses. His position is jointly funded by the University and Student Society. MacDonald, the former Director of Campus Safety, brings a world of experience in security and intelligence, after a long career in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service division. His background is ideal for an investigator of complaints but his primary role is an advocate for fairness and agent for change. He reports to a committee of stakeholders and uses a collaborative strategy because everyone knows each other on a first-name basis. MacDonald is an independent and impartial voice, recommending just and equitable settlements. Combining the role of advisor, counselor and educator, credibility is built through the Ombuds’ reputation as an advocate for fairness.
In summary, these ombudspersons apply the wisdom gained in their education and past work to uphold the fairness principle in their practice. Their office’s reputation is guaranteed by following the ACCUO standards of practice, advocating for fairness. Natalie Sharpe, Monique Laforest and Carter MacDonald: a summary of presentation at CCCUO Asilomar November 2012 Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons “With a focus on fairness, equity and respect, the ombudsperson builds capacity to help the institution be accountable to its own value and mission statements. In working with individuals, the ombudsperson facilitates fair resolutions that build trust and fortify the relationship between individual and institution.” (ACCUO preamble Standards of Practice).
 University of British Columbia’s fairness focuses on the institution’s mission and values of compassion, accountability, and; Ryerson uses a fairness checklist in its ombuds office
 Saskatchewan uses a fairness triangle focusing as much on relational as well as procedural and substantive fairness.