Inspectors focus on XXX video stor

Ontario government investigators had a single-minded focus on inspecting adult video stores while ignoring thousands of consumer complaints about collection agencies and motor vehicle repairs, Ontario's provincial auditor said yesterday…carried out almost 1,600 inspections of video retail stores, about which it had received eight complaints. However, there were about 4,000 complaints and inquiries related to debt collectors last year, for which the ministry conducted 10 inspections. And almost 2,000 complaints about motor vehicle repairs brought about six inspections.

National Post
December 3, 2003

Inspectors focus on XXX video stores
April Lindren

TORONTO — Ontario government investigators had a single-minded focus on inspecting adult video stores while ignoring thousands of consumer complaints about collection agencies and motor vehicle repairs, Ontario's provincial auditor said yesterday.

The auditor found the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services carried out almost 1,600 inspections of video retail stores, about which it had received eight complaints.

However, there were about 4,000 complaints and inquiries related to debt collectors last year, for which the ministry conducted 10 inspections. And almost 2,000 complaints about motor vehicle repairs brought about six inspections.

The emphasis on adult-video inspection was one of the major irregularities highlighted in the auditor's annual report, which also decried a backlogged court system, a poor record in collecting child- and spousal-support payments and a $1-billion research and development fund with no accountability.

Jim McCarter, the assistant provincial auditor, noted the inspectors only have a mandate to check video-retailers' licences and ensure films carry the proper ratings stickers — not to screen pornography.

"My understanding is that is not a primary part of their job," Mr. McCarter said. "For theatres and video retailers … the ministry devoted over 95% of its inspection resources to inspecting this industry."

Despite the ministry's agreement in 2001 to devote at least half its efforts to responding to complaints, the 2003 audit found most inspection resources still devoted to video retailers.

Jim Watson, appointed Consumer Minister last month, said he could not account for the video fixation but said the Liberal government had different plans for the inspectors.

"I'm not sure why the previous government seemed so obsessed with X-rated films," he said.

"But certainly our priority is to go to those areas where there are legitimate consumer complaints and we don't have to be inspecting as many X-rated film shops as they have in the past."

Mr. McCarter said there were many areas previously identified by the auditor's office — "often going back four, five, six and even 10 years ago — that had not been satisfactorily addressed.

"There is no excuse for a lack of effective action for so many recommendations after several years have passed," said Mr. McCarter, who is acting for recently retired provincial auditor Erik Peters.

The 2003 annual report notes, for instance, that the number of criminal charges pending for more than eight months has increased by more than two-thirds, to 99,000 from 60,000, since the last audit in 1997. "There is a risk that a situation similar to 1992 may be developing when long delays resulted in more than 50,000 charges being withdrawn from prosecution," the auditor warned. He also noted that attempts to improve the situation with a new computer system collapsed after five years and $21-million in spending.

Things have also deteriorated at the family responsibility office that administers and enforces court-ordered child and spousal support in Ontario. As of March 31, support payments in arrears totaled about $1.3-billion, up 8% since the previous audit in 1999.

The auditor noted the number of case workers has declined as the number of cases has increased and that, on average, seven months elapsed between when an account fell into arrears and the start of enforcement actions such as garnisheeing wages or suspending drivers' licences. And 90% of callers from outside Toronto to the office's main call centre got a busy signal.

Some of the report's strongest criticism was for the Ontario Innovation Trust, which received $750-million from the Ministry of Enterprise, Opportunity and Innovation under former Tory minister Jim Flaherty.

Despite the large sums handed out by a seven-member board of directors, there was almost no documentation to track how the money was spent, and the ministry refused to co-operate on the auditor's requests for information.

"I don't think it was a bureaucratic mixup," Mr. McCarter said. "I couldn't be so kind."

Mr. Flaherty said he was "certainly satisfied" the money was spent appropriately on research in the province.

"But obviously the accountability mechanism is not working to the satisfaction of the auditor," Mr. Flaherty said.

Liberal Finance Minister Greg Sorbara said he was "saddened" and "angered" by the report, calling the findings "unconscionable."

"What we have here … is a level of mismanagement that is unprecedented in the history of the province," Mr. Sorbara said.

"It's this kind of indictment which satisfies the people. They made the right decision on Oct. 2 when they threw that [Tory] government out."

New Democrat Leader Howard Hampton said the report shows that the services people "desperately need" are being compromised by poor management.

It was the last report from Mr. Peters, who resigned as auditor in September after more than a decade on the job. The new Liberal government has yet to appoint a permanent replacement.

© Copyright 2003 National Post


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