Terms of Reference for the Office of the Ombudsperson

Mandate of the Office

  1. Students
    1. To advise students of their rights and responsibilities and of the proper procedures to follow in order to pursue their complaints or grievances about any aspect of University life;
    2. To help develop a range of responsible options to resolve complaints or grievances, and facilitate discussion to identify the best options;
    3. To intervene, guide and support in the resolution of conflicts, which may include mediation, if agreed upon by all parties and if appropriate given the facts of the case; and,
    4. To conduct detailed inquiries regarding student complaints or grievances about any aspect of University life or against anyone in the University exercising authority upon the request of any student or the Ombudsperson’s own initiative.
  2. University Community
    1. To advise members of the University community on interpretation or guidance on University policy or concerns specifically related to students.
  3. Trends
    1. To analyze complaints and grievances from students and the University community on an ongoing basis to determine trends and identify potential for systemic or system-wide improvements;
    2. To identify gaps and inadequacies in existing University policies and procedures that might jeopardize the principles of fairness and natural justice of students;
    3. To bring recommendations for systemic improvements, including suggested changes to policies or procedures, to the attention of those in authority, and to advocate for action on these recommendations; and,
    4. To participate in University reviews or the creation of policies and procedures affecting students and to advocate that the principles of fairness and natural justice be reflected in these policies and procedures.
  4. Preventative Activities
    1. To develop, facilitate and participate in outreach and other activities aimed at creating a University experience for students that promotes fairness and addresses complaints or grievances about any aspect of University life;
    2. Promotes the services of the Office and educates students, faculty and staff about the role of the Ombudsperson.


  1. Independent
    1. The Ombudsperson holds no other position within the university that might compromise independence such as membership on an academic appeal committee.
    2. The Ombudsperson exercises discretion over whether or how to act regarding an 
individual’s concern.
  2. Impartiality
    1. The Ombudsperson is impartial, and unaligned.
    2. The Ombudsperson has a responsibility to consider the legitimate concerns and interests of all individuals affected by the matter under consideration.
  3. Student-driven
    1. To direct or guide student enquirers to appropriate resources and emphasize their responsibility for initiating the appropriate actions and for returning to the Ombudsperson if not satisfied with the results.
    2. Meet with individuals or groups on a confidential basis and will not intervene without their express consent.
  4. To act in accordance with The Ethical Principles, as outlined by the Forum of Canadian Ombudsmen (FCO) and The Standards of Practice adopted by the Association of College and University Ombudspersons (ACCUO).
  5. To seek to resolve concerns at the lowest possible level.

Responsibilities of the Ombudsperson

  1. The Ombudsperson shall:
    1. Accept and act upon reasonable requests for information, advice, and counsel regarding matters falling within the mandate of the Office;
    2. With reasonable promptness, review all complaints directed to the Ombudsperson regarding matters falling within the mandate of the Office;
    3. Forward recommendations regarding policy and procedure to the appropriate officials within the University in an expeditious manner;
    4. Produce an annual report to the University community through the Ombudsperson Advisory Committee;
    5. Meet with the Advisory Committee at least twice annually.
    6. Hold membership in the Forum of Canadian Ombudsmen and The Association of College and University Ombudspersons.
  2. When considering complaints or grievances, the Ombudsperson shall consider whether:
    1. Decisions affecting students are made in a timely manner;
    2. Procedures and policies used to reach decisions affecting students are accessible, adequate and consistently applied; and
    3. Criteria and rules on which decisions are based are appropriate.


  1. The Ombudsperson may require information necessary to perform his/her duties from the University or from anyone in the University exercising authority; therefore, in order to fulfill the function of the Office, the Ombudsperson will be granted access to relevant students records and information or correspondence directly related to the complaint or case under review as required in accordance with the University’s policy on Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy.

Confidentiality/privacy protection

  1. The Ombudsperson will keep all information about students and their individual cases confidential at all times. All inquiries and discussions are private and confidential.
  2. The Ombudsperson may share and attempt to access personal information about students that is held by the University or other organizations only after obtaining informed consent from the student.
    1. Any information gathered will only be used for the intent in which it was collected.
    2. The student maintains the right to refuse to grant consent.
    3. The student maintains the right to withdraw this consent at any time by notifying the Ombudsperson in writing or by email.
  3. In some circumstance, the Ombudsperson is obligated by law to disclose confidential information regardless of whether consent is provided.
  4. The Ombudsperson may disclose non-distinguishing characteristics of student cases for the purpose of education, consultation, reporting, or job performance evaluation. In these circumstances, the Ombudsperson will only share the minimum information required.
  5. The responsibility to protect confidentiality extends indefinitely after contact between the Ombudsperson and student has ceased.
  6. The Office of the Ombudsperson is subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as well as SFU’s policies and procedures regarding access to information.
  7. The Ombudsperson may consult with the University Counsel regarding issues related to file disclosure.

Record keeping

  1. The Ombudsperson shall maintain suitable records of complaints, findings and recommendations.
  2. Each file and record will be maintained for a minimum period of two years and one day from the date on which the Ombudsperson deems the case to be completed. At the end of the period of two years and one day, the Ombudsperson will arrange for the confidential destruction of files or records.


  1. The Ombudsperson shall not act as the advocate of any party during an inquiry or review of a complaint.
  2. The Ombudsperson shall not initiate or recommend formal inquiry or investigation until all existing avenues for seeking redress have been exhausted.
  3. The Ombudsperson shall not circumvent formal, established University policies and procedures, nor legislative or judicial procedures.
  4. The Ombudsperson shall not intervene in matters that are covered by collective agreements or in matters that fall outside of the mandate of the Office.

Right to refuse

  1. The Ombudsperson maintains the right to refuse to take up any case and to fully or partially withdraw from a case if any of the following circumstances apply:
    1. The Ombudsperson’s intervention would be inappropriate;
    2. The complaint is frivolous, vexatious, or retaliatory; or,
    3. The function of the Office is being abused.
  2. The Ombudsperson shall attempt to avoid involvement in cases where there may be a conflict of interest.
  3. If the Ombudsperson refuses to take up any case or withdraws from a case, s/he shall, on request, provide the applicant with a written statement of the reasons.


  1. If a member of the SFU community believes that the Ombudsperson has committed a violation of these Terms of Reference with respect to any matter that the member has been a party, a written complaint detailing the alleged violation can be submitted to the Chair of the Ombudsperson Advisory Committee. The Chair will convene the Advisory Committee to review the concern. The Advisory committee is composed of representatives from the SFSS, GSS, the Registrar’s Office, Graduate Studies, Staff and Faculty. 


  1. Fairness: Administrative fairness consists of applying well-recognized principles of procedural fairness and effective public administration. These include:
    1. Appropriate authority
    2. Useful policies and procedures
    3. Clear public information
    4. Accessible programs
    5. Consistent standards of practice
    6. Adequate monitoring and enforcement
    7. Timely and responsive complaint resolutions
  2. Independence: The Ombudsperson holds no other position within the university that might compromise independence such as membership on an academic appeal committee. The Ombudsperson exercises discretion over whether or how to act regarding an
individual’s concern based on best practices and the principles of administrative fairness.
  3. Impartial: Impartiality means that, prior to formulating an opinion or a recommendation, the Ombudsperson will look at the facts of the case brought to his or her attention or discovered through inquiry or investigation, objectively, without any bias for or against the issue under review or toward any party to the conflict or dispute. As an advocate for fairness, the Ombudsperson must take whatever steps necessary to ensure that there is no appearance of positive or negative bias toward any party involved in the conflict or dispute.
  4. Natural Justice (Procedural Fairness): That the person affected by the decision will receive notice that his or her case is being considered. That the person affected will be provided with the specific aspects of the case that are under consideration so that an explanation or response can be prepared. Natural Justice seeks to ensure that the person affected will be provided with the opportunity to make submissions (written or oral) relating to the case. Finally, Natural Justice seeks to ensure that the decision-maker(s) will be unbiased.
  5. Member of the University Community: any student, employee, or volunteer studying or working for Simon Fraser University and includes any faculty member, temporary or sessional instructor, or volunteer member of a University body.
  6. Student: current SFU students, and former SFU students who have recently left the University and have an ongoing complaint with the University. At the discretion of the Office of the Ombudsperson, may also refer to student applicants to the University.