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ombudsman (Linguistic recommendation from the Translation Bureau)

[The same content is available in French in the article OMBUDSMAN (RECOMMANDATION LINGUISTIQUE DU BUREAU DE LA TRADUCTION).]

The purpose of this recommendation is to standardize the use of the term ombudsman in the federal public service.

Background

The concept of the ombudsman originated in Sweden in 1809 when the parliament created the position of a neutral and independent “people’s agent” to represent citizens in conflict with the government. The word ombudsman comes from the Swedish words ombud, meaning “delegate,” and man, in the sense of “human being.”

Today, an ombudsman’s duties may include the following:

  • defending the rights of citizens by investigating complaints in the public and private sectors
  • listening to and supporting employees dealing with equity or mental health issues
  • assisting victims of crime
  • providing information, advice and mechanisms for resolving grievances and disputes fairly and effectively

Ombudsman in English

In the federal public service, the Translation Bureau recommends the use of the English term ombudsman, regardless of the gender of the person who holds the position. For example:

  • The role of ombudsman requires impartiality and fairness.
  • This province appointed its first woman ombudsman in the 1980s.
  • The number of complaints submitted to the Office of the Mental Health Ombudsman dropped this year.

English plural

The recommended plural form in English is ombudsmen. For example:

  • A group of consumer ombudsmen are gathered to discuss best practices.
  • The ombudsman association is seeking women ombudsmen to mentor other women interested in the role.

Other terms in use in English

While we recommend the use of the term ombudsman in the federal public service, other terms are also correct. For example, when the person in the position is female, ombudswoman is sometimes used. The word ombudsperson and the form ombud are also sometimes used as gender-neutral and inclusive terms.

Ombudsman in French

In the federal public service, the Translation Bureau recommends the use of the French term ombudsman, regardless of the gender of the person who holds the position. For example:

  • Je suis heureuse d’avoir été nommée ombudsman de la santé mentale de notre ministère.
  • Ce rapport fait état des recommandations formulées par l’ombudsman des contribuables.
  • Veuillez adresser vos commentaires au Bureau de l’ombudsman des vétérans.

French plural

The recommended plural form in French is ombudsmans. For example:

  • Ces ombudsmans sont appelées à résoudre des différends de nature commerciale.
  • Les ombudsmans examinent les plaintes du public.

Other terms in use in French

While we recommend the use of the term ombudsman in the federal public service, different terms may be used in other contexts. The term ombud is considered correct, although it is not the form recommended for use in the federal public service.

Other terms may be used to refer to an individual’s role in relation to a specific clientele. These terms often represent only one of the various duties that may be carried out by an ombudsman. They are usually compound terms formed from the following words:

  • protecteur (for example: protecteur du citoyen)
  • défenseur (for example: défenseur des droits de la personne)
  • médiateur (for example: médiateur de l’Université)

The word ombudspersonne, sometimes used by analogy to the English term ombudsperson, should be avoided in French. The ending -personne is not customarily used in French job titles.