Titled “Misfire,” the Ombudsperson’s report into the 2012 government firing of eight health researchers is finally out, finding a rush to judgement after the initial complaint snowballed and that the investigation process was unfair.
Jay Chalke says those who suffered personally and professionally because of the terminations did not deserve it, and that mentioning RCMP investigations when announcing the firing was misleading and ultimately untrue.
Chalke also says government controls were not observed during the internal investigation.
He adds that researchers weren’t the only people affected; senior officials halted contracts with research firms without cause leading to their collapse and the loss of ten jobs.
LISTEN: Ombusperson Jay Chalk breaks down the report with Simi Sara
His recommendations include:
- An overall apology, as well as apologies for specific individuals
- Goodwill payments of $15,000 to $125,000
- A reconciliation process with Ministry of Health and the BCGEU to repair mistrust created from the government’s actions in this botched investigation
- Creating a process for handling “whistle blower” complaints with public interest disclosure legislation
- Regular oversight of government dismissal practices
Chalke also suggested a $500,000 scholarship in honour of student researcher Roderick MacIssac, who took his own life months after his dismissal.
He says MacIssac’s story has haunted everyone, and government failed to act long after the errors were clear.
“It should not have been necessary for Mr MacIssac’s sister to hold a press conference in order for government to do the things that it subsequently did,” he says.
“We should have a system that adequately addresses and investigates properly and neutrally such investigations, or such allegations, to determine whether or not there is wrongdoing.”
Chalke began his investigation in September 2015, reviewing 4.7 million records and interviewing 130 people including the Premier.
“Where is the accountability?”
In the wake of the report, the fired researchers and MacIsaac’s sister are expressing vindication… and anger.
“Where is the accountability?” writes fired researcher Ramsay Hamdi in a statement, calling the government’s handling of the file “disgusting,” and questioning why no one involved has been identified or disciplined.
He adds the government has known for years the firings were wrong and vindictive, “so why has it taken almost five years and many millions of taxpayer dollars to publicly vindicate us, and why even now has no one faced any real consequences for what happened?”
Linda Kayfish, McIsaac’s sister writes the report comes too late for Roderick, calling his treatment “cruel and heartless.”
“Yet where are the investigators who cost Roderick his job and ultimately his life? Many of them have been promoted, been given raises. They have faced zero consequences,” she writes.
“I want the premier to look me in the eyes and take responsibility for the destruction and heartache her government has caused.”
Government response to the report and its findings:
Deputy Minister to Premier & Head of BC public service, Kim Henderson says government accepts all Chalke’s recommendations, but it’s unclear if anyone will lose their job over the botched investigation and firing.
“In the Ombudsperson’s report it suggests there be no further recriminations, that the time for that has passed. I need to consider that advice.”
Henderson says they’ve already started moving forward on recommendations for goodwill payments and a scholarship in MacIssac’s name.
Report provides vindication, recognizes damage done: BC NDP leader
NDP Leader John Horgan says the truth that comes out in Chalke’s report make this a good day for researchers and transparency.
“I am pleased that it vindicates the eight public servants that this government fired and smeared. I am pleased that it finally recognizes the damage this government did to the individuals and health research in B.C.”
Despite the report finding no senior officials, including the Premier, directed the firings Horgan says her hires *did* make the call so it falls at her feet.
“These were appointed by the Premier’s office. These were Christy Clark’s hand picked public servants and they blew this out of the stratosphere and I think she has to be responsible for that.”
The Premier did not make comment today.
Years leading up to the report
In 2012, eight workers who were part of a Health Ministry research program were suddenly fired after an alleged data breach.
Two years later, a government report found the investigation into that alleged privacy breach and the firing of staff had not been conducted properly.
Labour lawyer Marcia McNeil said at the time that employees weren’t given a proper chance to respond to claims, or even read any documents.
Not only that, but there was a distinct lack of any documentation leading up to the firings, making it nearly impossible to determine who was responsible for letting those eight researchers go.
In 2015, it came to light through documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun that there was no RCMP investigation into the firings, despite claims from the government that there was.
There was no criminal investigation, in part, because the ministry didn’t turn over records.
Former health minister Margaret MacDiarmid claimed the province had given the RCMP the interim results of an internal investigation, but Mounties only received high-level explanations that the province hadn’t found wrongdoing.
READ MORE: Health Ministry investigation flawed
And after five attempts to get more information over two years, the RCMP said it didn’t get any of the reports.
A lack of information is soon what led to an outcry from the BC NDP, sending letters to the Health Minister, Attorney General, and Privacy Commissioner accusing the government of hiding behind a non-existent RCMP investigation.
The fired workers joined together in June 2015, along with the sister of Roderick MacIsaac, to write an open letter to Terry Lake calling for an independent inquiry into the events leading up to the firings and to figure out how a program “designed to bring evidence to prescribing could be undone so quickly, and based on the government’s own public statements, mistakenly.”
Weeks later, Lake announced he would appoint an Omudsperson to review the firings.
Over the years, some of the employees have been re-hired as it became clear their dismissal was a mistake.
Others have taken the Ministry to court for wrongful dismissal and settled.
With files from Bailey Nicholson