Mystery surrounds B.C. health ministry scandal that stopped pharmaceutical research and saw seven employees fired
The public might soon learn a little bit more about one of the biggest scandals and most secretive investigations to hit the B.C. Ministry of Health in recent memory.
On September 6, 2012, the province issued a news release stating that the Health Ministry had asked the RCMP to “investigate allegations of inappropriate conduct, contracting and data management practices involving ministry employees and drug researchers”.
At that time, four ministry employees were fired and another three were suspended without pay. In the weeks and months that followed, the number of ministry employees who lost their jobs grew to seven, and other contracts were suspended or terminated.
All seven fired employees subsequently filed lawsuits against the B.C. Health Ministry, claiming wrongful dismissal. (When contacted by the Straight, several lawyers involved with those cases declined to comment while legal proceedings remain underway.)
In addition, the ministry also launched an internal investigation, which remains ongoing and is reportedly headed by Wendy Taylor, executive director of information management and knowledge services. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia also made a formal examination of alleged misconduct.
A fourth investigation has also taken place. Though officially not directly related to alleged misconduct at the ministry, the British Columbia Coroners Service has examined the death of Roderick MacIsaac, one of the researchers whose contract was terminated in the ministry’s research shutdown. MacIsaac’s family has told media that they have no doubt the 46-year-old academic committed suicide on January 8, 2013.
The only investigation of the four that has reached a conclusion and had its findings published is that of the privacy commissioner.
On June 29, 2013, the Straight reported that this investigation, which focused on government data breaches, only added to confusion concerning a clampdown on pharmaceutical research in B.C.
That story noted how data breaches like those that were alleged to have occurred within the ministry were not uncommon and seldom prompted disciplinary action as severe as contract terminations.
Since late August 2013, the Ministry of Health has refused seven requests for an interview on the topic of the researchers’ alleged misconduct. The coroners service has refused to provide a single detail about its investigation into MacIsaac’s death. And the Straight has been unable to get a representative with the RCMP to even confirm or deny that they are conducting the investigation that the Health Ministry announced it had requested of them.
But on September 30, 2013, Matt Brown, regional coroner for Vancouver Island, told the Straight that after nine months, his office’s investigation regarding MacIsaac is complete and that a report will be made available to the public “within the next two weeks”.
The same day, Ryan Jabs, a spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Health, wrote in an email to the Straight that although he still couldn’t say when the ministry would publish the findings of its internal investigation, that it was “winding down”, and that more information would become available “in the coming weeks”.
The B.C. RCMP did not return the Straight’s request for information by deadline.