Sunday, June 21, 2015

BC Health Ministry Researcher Firings Deserve a Public Inquiry

Dark clouds over the BC Legislature - Bill Tieleman photo
Far too many unanswered questions in 2012 dismissals and cover up.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 16, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties."

- Frank Underwood, U.S. President in House of Cards, Netflix

Powerful government forces suddenly fire eight health ministry researchers and contractors, alleging they breached the privacy of sensitive patient files regarding pharmaceuticals and that the police are investigating.

One researcher sadly commits suicide; the others are pariahs, unable to work while government suspends their $4-million research project.

The ruling party, one of those fired alleged in a lawsuit, accepted significant political donations from big pharmaceutical companies selling products to government health plans. The fired researcher continues with a defamation lawsuit against a former minister. 

Then -- shocker -- it's disclosed there was no police investigation, because the government never turned over information on the alleged offences.

Most of the researchers, who had filed wrongful dismissal and defamation lawsuits or grievances through their union, are reinstated or paid compensation.

No senior official is publicly disciplined for firings -- and government refuses to say who was responsible or why it happened.

A veteran lawyer hired to review the firings complains about the lack of government records, and says that -- and the unwillingness of officials to cooperate -- means questions about who ordered the dismissals and why "remain unanswered."

But it's not a deadly and manipulatively cynical segment from the hit Netflix show House of Cards -- it's reality under the BC Liberal government.

'Difficult' questions unanswered

Despite an uproar when it was disclosed the RCMP never received government information to launch an investigation into the firings, Premier Christy Clark rejects a public inquiry to find the truth.

Further, Clark declined offers from then-deputy minister of health Graham Whitmarsh to cooperate with an "independent and full review" of the firings or his suggestion that B.C.'s auditor general investigate the matter.

Clark's own deputy minister, John Dyble, and Lynda Tarras, deputy minister and head of the Public Service Agency, are alleged by Whitmarsh to have been involved in briefings regarding the original firings -- and were therefore, he claims, in a conflict of interest in the government review.

Deputy attorney general Richard Fyfe rejected that claim.

Whitmarsh declined to participate in the review, saying it was not sufficiently independent of government while noting that was not the fault of experienced labour lawyer Marcia McNeil, who conducted it.

McNeil, who did not interview the fired researchers for her review, nevertheless was damning in her conclusions.

"I have found that the investigation was flawed from the outset, as it was embarked upon with a pre-conceived theory of employee misconduct," McNeil wrote. "Two of the most difficult questions I considered during my review were who effectively made the dismissal decisions and what factors were considered. Those questions remain unanswered."

Nor has the government apologized to many of the researchers, only saying sorry to the family of Roderick MacIsaac, who took his own life after the firings.

Employees humiliated, angry

NDP critic Adrian Dix has doggedly pursued this case for three years, and said in an email interview Sunday: "This was an abuse of power by the powerful, all reporting to Premier Clark, that ruined lives and damaged health care. They can't be allowed to get away with it."

Leave the last words to Ron Mattson, one of the fired researchers who won a settlement for wrongful dismissal. Mattson is a respected project manager and also city councillor in View Royal near Victoria who was re-elected last fall to his seventh term.

Mattson said the B.C. government's repeated claims that the RCMP was investigating -- when the police never got any information -- were intentionally vengeful.

"Even though there was a settlement, telling the public there was a police investigation... you are still tainted. It was done to support the firings, and basically we all felt it was done to humiliate us and beat us down, otherwise why would you make up a story like that? We are angry," Mattson told CBC Radio last week.

And the only way to get to the truth?

"We want to find out who is responsible and we want those responsible to have to pay some sort of consequence, and probably the only way to do that is if there is a formal public inquiry," Mattson said.

Exactly. A public inquiry is needed.



DPL said...

Governments makes mistakes and the Government,instead to providing real information as to who screwed up,ruining ex employees lives, they try to hide the facts. Somebody blew it and they won't open the files to show who messed it up.They feel they are secure with their majority so it's deny, bury the facts. Since they won't even consider the careers they ruined, and the suicide of one, there needs to be an open inquiry to get the issues resolved.

An employer,or government that mismanages things must be held accountable. Stand up and admit responsible for errors made.

ron wilton said...

A mistake is 'oops, I didn't mean to do that, sorry'. This was a deliberate coordinated abuse of power, not a mistake but e real bonehead misstep.

Anonymous said...

Inquiry would cost a lot of money. The Left would never be satisfied with the outcome.

Brian Snelling said...

Please start a petition for a full independent public inquiry. We can not let this slide. A good man took his life because of this. We owe it to him to get to the bottom of this. I have heard it was done to keep champex the stop smoking drug going for a big pharma liberal donator.

Mike Lloyd said...

Thanks for this summary of this government debacle. The fault line currently being explored (that the research being done would somehow bring the drug companies into disrepute) seems, to me, to be a little thin. Big pharma donations to the BC Libs has been reported to be (only!)in the range of $500,000 over 10 years.
I suspect that something bigger is at play here. Here are the c
'crumbs' of the story. CC promises that the government will supply and fund the drugs to help citizens quit smoking. This was during her campaign to get elected (as leader of the Libs?). Government then approves the drugs because the new Premier had promised it - therefore it was done. This was reported last week. After the government supports the supply of these stop-smoking medications, it is reported elsewhere in news reports that the use of these drugs in other jurisdictions has contributed to health/mental health problems, including suicidal ideation, if not actual suicides from the drug-induced depression. (I don't remember if there were actual deaths).
So...IF the drugs were improperly approved, just because the Premier said they should be, and IF the drugs turn out to have significant problems attached to them, and if the researchers 'connected the dots' about medication use and negative effects (and perhaps were going to blow the whistle on this) - that might have put them in jeopardy. A big question that is tied to the specific medications is - if the drugs are approved because they are a pet-project by Christy Clark,(not through proper evaluation)and IF there are threats of government $$$ liability or the Premier could be seen to be vulnerable on this (politically and via law suits) - would it not be 'wise' for senior government officials to bury the information trail and engage in a persistent cover-up?
My hunch is that the core of the issue is connected to the dysfunction of the medication and the dysfunction of the 'approval' process. That is a bigger political and personal 'bomb' than donations to a political party.

scotty on denman said...

An inquiry would cost money, but "a lot"? or too much? Where's the cost/benefit analysis? Would preventing further suicides caused by a cavalier government---any cavalier government---not be worth it? And we shouldn't forget the pharmaceutical safety aspect: an inquiry into this particular case would indeed benefit society if pharmaceutical safety is enhanced as a result---and it appears that drug-safety is indeed relevant to this issue. Most citizens would approve of the deterrent value of an inquiry: we don't want this to ever happen again. Finally, justice needs to be seen to be done---if there is justice to be achieved here, it cannot be private, as in paying hush-money to these particular victims. Citizens want to know that they won't become victims too.

The cost aspect is a red-herring, and those who insist an inquiry would be too expensive are widely regarded as biased for some reason or other. It would be just as sensible to insist that it would be unfair not to favour this or any other bias.

There's no such thing as "The Left"; the counter to the neo-right BC Liberals is ethical, not ideological government. That being said, it is suspiciously and speciously partisan to suggest the findings would not be accepted by any group in particular. The objective of an inquiry would be to find out if laws were broken---the same laws that govern "left" or "right" or anybody else---who broke the laws i--- whoever they are, and however they characterize themselves politically--- and to find out how such tragic events can be avoided in the future---everyone's future, not "The Left", not "The Right", but everybody's.

Prob'ly the understatement of the month, but Anon's suggestion that an inquiry would be a waste of money sounds like it comes from a BC Liberal shill. I will agree that BC Liberals have lots to worry about this issue. It doesn't look like it will go away on its own, and only gets hotter the more they stonewall. Yeah, I can see why BC Liberals would take that position.

Anonymous said...