City of Ottawa fraud line complaints have doubled calls in 2021

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Complaints to the City of Ottawa’s fraud and waste hotline have already more than doubled the total in 2020. The auditor general, who deal with complaints and complex audits, wonders if it is due to more tipsters being at home during the pandemic.

In April 2022, Nathalie Gougeon will present her annual report and release what questionable activity is being reported anonymously to the fraud line.

Past complaints have led to investigations where employees have been disciplined or fired. They’ve been found to have stolen patient medication, worked for other organizations while on sick leave, or leaked confidential information to friends and colleagues to help them pass provincial tests.

The number of complaints received by Gougeon’s office recently surpassed 500 for 2021, and the year’s not over. In 2020, a more typical 204 complaints came in and the auditor had topped 300 only once in the past decade.

The tips cover a variety of concerns, Gougeon said, when councillors asked her to explain the increase.

“It’s also my understanding this is consistent with the trends members of council are experiencing with their own offices and receiving complaints,” she said. “People might have more time on their hands during the pandemic, but that would be pure speculation.”

It takes a considerable amount of time to review the reports, triage them, and determine what to investigate, Gougeon noted.

To help with the workload and process these requests, the auditor’s office will add two full-time positions next year for a total of 11 and a budget of $2.9 million. Gougeon notes she has a smaller proportion of a municipal operating budget than her counterparts in other Canadian cities.

Complicated audits ahead

CBC reported that “the costs of an upcoming high-profile audit of Stage 1 of light rail don’t figure into the auditor’s 2022 budget. Council had agreed the light rail audit would be covered by using transit operating reserves — an unusual, but necessary arrangement, the city treasurer explained, because Gougeon’s budget couldn’t absorb it.”

Gougeon noted that she has not yet received details from the Ontario government about what it intends to cover with its public inquiry. She is waiting to know its scope so her office’s audit will not duplicate work.

Auditors are already working on investigations into Ottawa Community Housing, the city’s pandemic response, and the electric bus technology chosen by the city.

Gougeon released the audit into electric buses once the city announced plans for a big purchase of a 450-vehicle fleet. In her first year working in this position, the auditor has made it clear she will select audits based on the risk posed to the city, and will try to be nimble to deal with emerging concerns. 

Her team said Friday it might also readjust its plans if it becomes clear OC Transpo route planning or the Stage 2 light rail project require extra scrutiny.

As it stands, the auditor’s office has formally identified a list of areas to review in 2022 and in 2023: 

  • Cybersecurity
  • Affordable housing
  • Controls and safeguards in the revenue branch
  • Procedures and processes for preventing workplace violence and harassment.
  • Achieving the goals of the corporate diversity and inclusion plan.
  • Managing risks when making decisions.
  • Achieving the goals of the climate change master plan.
  • Managing roadways.

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