BC Liberals Forced to Reinstate Wrongly Fired Therapeutics Initiative Employees

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Sister of fired B.C. Health Ministry worker says coroner deleted suicide note.



The sister of one of eight workers fired by the provincial health ministry is accusing the B.C. Coroners Service of deleting her brother’s suicide note from his computer and refusing to provide the family with a copy.

In a letter to Premier Christy Clark released Tuesday, Linda Kayfish alleged the service erased Roderick MacIsaac’s suicide note before returning the laptop to his family after its investigation. Mr. MacIsaac wrote the suicide note and took his own life in his Saanich apartment in December of 2012, three months after the PhD student was publicly dismissed in relation to an alleged privacy breach.





The story of the firing of the Therapeutics Initiative employees keeps getting stranger and stranger: the person, Alana James, who initiated the complaint that starting the firing process now claims she was physically attacked outside of work after the firings happened and had her dog poisoned although she is not sure if this has anything to do with the firings. Initially, her claims were ignored, until the Auditor General got involved. The Auditor General moved backed to Australia and James followed him there and then married him.



Among all the intrigues to emerge after those botched firings in the Health Ministry, none is more likely to raise an eyebrow among the uninitiated than the saga of the whistleblower and the auditor general.

The whistleblower was Alana James, a Health Ministry employee, who earlier trained as a nurse and a lawyer. In 2012 she challenged what she saw as conflicts of interest and other questionable arrangements in the awarding of contracts for pharmaceutical research. Getting nowhere in the ministry, she took her concerns, first anonymously and later in person, to then auditor general John Doyle.

He did take her seriously, pressuring the Ministry of Health to launch the internal probe that led to the firings and the decision to refer some of the allegations (sans evidence) to the RCMP. Doyle also offered James legal protection as a whistleblower and secondment to his office to placate her fears about remaining on staff within the ministry. ...

Doyle left B.C. in the spring of 2013, returning to his native Australia to take office as auditor general in the state of Victoria.

Alana James left as well, serving as a caregiver to Gillian, Doyle’s wife of more than 30 years, who was chronically ill and unable to travel by herself. Sadly, Mrs. Doyle died last year.

“It was a great marriage,” said Doyle, “but in the last five years or so, she was quite unwell and slowly slipped to the point where I couldn’t cope looking after her.” He and James have since got married. 






Clark's proposed solution to the growing Health Ministry firings scandal - using the ombudsman to investigate what exactly happened and issue a report - has run into a major roadblock - the ombudsman, Jay Chalke. He has ponted out all the weaknesses that others have identified and are mentioned in earleir posts in this thread and requested that he not investigate this scandal unless all of those problems are solved, because under current conditions this would simply fail to answer the questions raised in the firing of the eight employees from Therapeutics Initiative.



 B.C. ombudsperson Jay Chalke says he must have additional powers before he can get to the borrom of the scanal over the botched firing at the Health Ministry. 

B.C. ombudsperson Jay Chalke 

B.C.’s ombuds­person says he doesn’t want to investigate the botched firings of eight government health researchers unless the government changes the law to give him more power. Jay Chalke pushed back Wednesday against a government request that he look into the 2012 firings. He gave politicians a 10-page list of obstacles that could prevent him from getting to the bottom of the long-running scandal.

Chalke’s list of concerns included a limited budget, restrictions on his access to cabinet documents, and a possible lack of support from politicians and the fired researchers. But he focused most heavily on legal limits to his powers that are a “serious impediment to any referred investigation” because they don’t allow him to get testimony or evidence from people who have signed confidentiality agreements. “My concern about this issue is so significant that I would formally ask that the committee not refer this matter to my office unless it is accompanied by a recommendation to government for an urgent legislative amendment,” Chalke wrote. “Without such an amendment, I predict that the result will, at best, be litigation, cost and delay commenced by one or more persons concerning the ombudsperson’s right to information, and, at worst, the inability of this office to obtain key information.” ...

Attorney General Suzanne Anton sought to ease some of Chalke’s concerns in a letter Wednesday, by agreeing to waive confidentiality deals that were signed as part of out-of-court settlements with some of the researchers. She also said she’d release cabinet documents to Chalke as necessary. Yet Anton admitted there may be some circumstances in which Chalke only gets redacted documents, which could be missing names or other information.

An all-party committee of MLAs met at the legislature Wednesday to discuss the issue. Technically, it must vote to refer the case to Chalke, who would then be forced to investigate despite his concerns. “What’s the point of referring something to the ombudsperson for an inquiry when he himself says ‘I can’t do the job unless that confidentiality clause is changed, unless I have access to public documents, unless there’s a unanimous recommendation of the committee and unless the fired employees themselves have some trust in the process,’” said NDP committee member George Heyman. “Those are all, in my view, very important considerations of the committee and I can’t see how we would support a referral unless they were answered substantially.” ...

Chalke pointed out that unlike a public inquiry, where interviews are done in an open hearing room, the ombudsperson’s work would be private. The public would only see a final report. Chalke also raised concerns about limited access to investigate government lawyers and the two ongoing court cases by researchers. ...




Why is the ombudsman so interested in having the power and the flexibility to fully address the issues associated with the Therapeutics Initiative firings in the BC Health Ministry. Because the December 2014 review ended up being called " 'Accountability Gong Show' ".


NDP Opposition leader John Horgan said the review failed to answer key questions, including who decided to fire the employees and why. The task handed to McNeil by the Public Service Agency was designed to be a "whitewash" of the government's wrongdoings, he said.

"It is a gong show in terms of accountability," Horgan said.

McNeil was upfront about the report's limits. "This report is not intended to, and does not, answer questions regarding the specific allegations against the employees," she wrote. "Nor does it answer any lingering questions regarding whether any decision made about the employees was legally or factually sound. This report focuses exclusively on the process leading to the decision making." ...

The terms of reference for the review, written by the outgoing head of the Public Service Agency, Lynda Tarras, were narrow. The Tyee has reported that the agency was heavily involved in the firings and that its new head, Elaine McKnight, was an associate deputy minister in health who in 2012 supervised the people who conducted the early stages of the investigation that led to the firings.

The Public Service Agency hired McNeil to look at what happened from when the ministry received a complaint in May 2012 up until when the termination decisions were made and executed. She was to look at the human resources processes and the steps taken to investigate the allegations.

But McNeil was explicitly told not to examine "Ministry of Health policies and practices related to research, contracting and data-management at the time of the allegations were made and any changes that have been made to those policies and practices in response to the allegations."

Nor was she tasked to look at the decisions that settled the lawsuits or grievances. And she was not given the power to compel people to give interviews or evidence.



Since the reviewer had no subpoena power, many people involved simply refused to testify. The terms of reference were so narrow no shadow of blame could possibly fall on anyone or the government. The question of whether the research into the efficacy and safety of drugs done by Therapeutics initiative was halted and the the firings set in motion to prevent pharmaceutical sales loss for an industry that had contributed $600,000 to the BC Liberals and that was losing $140 million dollars a year because Therapeutics Initiative was identifying cheaper, equally safe drugs for the BC Pharmacare program was prevented from being examined. The questions about the side effects of Champix, in particular, which has resulted in hundreds of millions in lawsuit settlements in other jurisdictions and which was being examined by two of the fired employees, including the one who committed suicide, were never included in the review. The smoking cessation program involving Champix was also promoted by Christy Clark herself. 


Questions are being raised about the research two of the fired B.C. health workers were involved in, including Christy Clark's highly-touted smoking cessation program and a controversial drug named Champix.

Roderick MacIsaac, the co-op student who took his own life, and Rebecca Warburton were researching the government program that prescribes drugs to help British Columbians stop smoking when they were fired in 2012. ...

Pfizer's Champix, one of the drugs that the ministry was reviewing, has been linked to 44 deaths in Canada with side effects including psychosis and depression. According to the Ministry of Health, 68,000 British Columbians have been prescribed the provincially-covered Champix through the smoking cessation program since 2011 and the sales have generated approximately $20 million for Pfizer. The B.C. Liberal Party has received more than $40,000 in donations from Pfizer over the past ten years. Pfizer Canada says it "aims to have good working relationships with all levels of government in Canada."

Alan Cassels, a pharmaceutical policy researcher at the University of Victoria, says there has been some speculation about the relationship between the pharma giant and the B.C. Liberals. "A lot of people think there's another agenda than just providing the drug," he says. "You're providing a market for a major manufacturer that has — some have claimed — close ties to the ruling government."



The url below gives the timeline of the scandal:






On his blog, Bill Tieleman analyzes the question: Were BC Liberals protecting Big Pharma with Health Researcher Firings?



The most damaging allegation -- contained in a defamation lawsuit claim by fired contractor William Warburton -- is explosive.
  Warburton charged in 2013 that the firings were motivated by the government's need to protect the interest of big pharmaceutical companies who were also major donors to the BC Liberal Party.
"The province's acts against Dr. Warburton are part of a bad-faith program by the defendants to end the investigation of harmful effects of drugs which risk leading to diminishing payments to their political contributors, and constitute misfeasance in public office as the defendants were aware that their deliberate acts against Dr. Warburton were illegal and would likely harm him," court documents say.
The government hotly denied those allegations in response to Warburton's statement of claim -- and nothing has been examined or proven in court to date. Warburton's defamation case continues.  But the lack of a public inquiry means theories like Warburton's can make as much as sense as any -- until testimony under oath is heard.
Warburton's court filing lists several major pharmaceutical companies as making "very profitable drugs" that he was investigating as to their effectiveness, including possible side effects.
His studies, Warburton claimed, "had the potential of disrupting financially significant payments to large pharmaceutical companies, many of who were major contributors to the Liberal Party..."                                                                                                                         Warburton's court document then lists several firms, including: Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada; Pfizer; Janssen Inc.; AstraZeneca Canada Inc.; and Eli Lilly Canada Inc. ...
And the BC NDP -- which is calling for a public inquiry -- has previously hammered the BC Liberal government for attempting to eliminate the independent research Therapeutics Initiative program, which evaluates the effectiveness of pharmaceuticals and has saved the province millions of taxpayer dollars and hundreds of lives.  In 2008 a task force the government created -- with at least five of its nine members having close pharmaceutical industry connections -- recommended the Therapeutics Initiative be shut down. ...
BCers want the truth ...
That's why calls for a public inquiry will only grow louder.




ETA: Even though Jay Chalke, the BC Ombudsman, has major concerns about the BC Liberals sending the Therapeutics Initiative firings to him for review, which he has now expressed at the legislature's finance committee, the Liberals on the committee will almost certainly order him to do the review over both his and the NDP's objections. This will allow the BC Liberals to avoid having a public inquiry investigate the firings, including any connection to $600,000 in donations that the Liberals have received from the pharmaceutical industry. A public inquiry could examine whether the pharmaceutical companies influenced the government's reducing funding of Therapeutics Initiative and the firing of its workers, whose findings had saved taxpayers (and cost the drug industry) $500 million. Two of those fired were also examining the safety of Champix, a smoking cessation drug endorsed by Christy Clark herself, that evidence has associated with increased risk of depression and suicide.



The government’s top lawyer has dismissed concerns that the B.C. ombudsman lacks the power to investigate the botched firings of health researchers. Deputy attorney general Richard Fyfe told MLAs at the legislature Wednesday he doesn’t agree that Jay Chalke would have problems interviewing witnesses who are covered by confidentiality requirements as part of their work. ...

“What we are saying is we don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” he said. The government has already agreed to waive separate confidentiality deals with the researchers, which were signed as part of out-of-court settlements after the firings, he said. ...

MLAs on the legislature’s all-party finance committee heard Fyfe’s testimony Wednesday as part of their deliberations on whether to refer the health firings case to the ombudsman for investigation. ...

Critics have called for a public inquiry, but Health Minister Terry Lake has said an ombudsman’s probe would be cheaper and faster. MLAs on the committee also heard from Chalke, who said he’s so worried about the confidentiality problems that he would prefer MLAs not send him the case until government boosts his powers.

“It’s simply unwise and unworkable to proceed with a review of this magnitude and significance with one’s fingers crossed in the hope that this issue will never come up or will work itself out somehow through the expensive, time-consuming and uncertain litigation process,” said Chalke, who started his term as ombudsman earlier this month. Attorney General Suzanne Anton refused to promise legal change. ...

The Opposition NDP said it would support a change to the law, which means the legislature could introduce and pass such a bill within one day. “We believe that has to occur,” said NDP MLA Carole James, committee vice-chair. Without it, the NDP won’t support sending the case to the ombudsman, she said. ...

Chalke, a lawyer and former assistant deputy minister in Anton’s ministry, suggested a legal change could be small and narrow, perhaps only applying in the rare cases where the legislature forwards investigations to the ombudsman. MLAs said they’d meet again later this month to continue debating the issue. If they vote to send the case to Chalke, he will be obliged under law to conduct the investigation despite of his concerns.





The following article, "Liberal Strategy Emerges to Contain Health Scandal", discusses how the BC Liberals may be able to stickhandle their way through this scandal.


Rob Shaw's article in the Liberal Party's urban newspaper of record (the Vancouver Sun) indicates a search for new scapegoats in the Health Research Scandal is underway. It is reported that departed ministry advisor Alana James (who triggered the initial investigation leading to the firings) is still worried about "conflicts of interest, contracting, privacy breaches, data handling and financial matters involving ministry health research and contracting."

This is more spin from friends of BC Liberals. James admits that MacIsaac (who committed suicide) — the person most deserving of sympathy — was a scapegoated victim but only refers to the other fired individuals as low hanging fruit. She reiterates accusations about "conflicts of interest, contracting, privacy breaches, data handling and financial matters involving ministry health research and contracting." ...
Here is the real crux of the message in the Vancouver Sun:

James also rejected speculation that the firings were related to research about specific drugs, funding for the Therapeutics Initiatives drug evaluation group or the influence of big pharmaceutical companies on the B.C. Liberal party, calling those discussions “a red herring.”

This article may indicate the exit strategy Liberals hope to use.

They need to protect the Premier, the party managers and the business of their corporate sponsors. They can't admit this heartless effort to end independent drug research was designed by people who sit closely to the Premier. Instead, they'll leak information that, indeed, serious offences had occurred but crimes by researchers could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, "It's not that they were innocent, just that they couldn't be proven guilty." ...

However, the need to contain political damage and assign some degree of managerial blame still exists.  John Dyble and Christy Clark need a mid-level functionary to resign while admitting he or she could have done more to ensure a successful investigation. ...

The search is for someone who will exchange a little discomfort for a half-million severance and a friendly recommendation or early pension. It's been done before.




ETA: The seven living fired Therapeutics Initiative researchers and the sister of the eighth, Rob MacIsaac who committed suicide because his career and PhD program were wiped out and he was treated as a criminal like the others, have rejected the BC Liberals proposal for the Ombudsman to investigate the firings because the Ombudsman is required by law to carry out his inquiries outside the public domain. They also rejected the Ombudsman investigation because such an inquiry would not examine "what motivated the dramatic interference with research and programs which were improving the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs for British Columbians".



Eight people affected by the botched firings from the British Columbia health ministry in 2012 say a proposed review by the Ombudsperson will fail to provide the answers and accountability that they and the public need. The B.C. legislature's select standing committee on finance and government services is considering a request from Health Minister Terry Lake to ask recently appointed Ombudsperson Jay Chalke to review what went wrong with the firings.

"After consultation with our legal counsel and despite our genuine efforts to find a way to make this option work, it is clear that our needs and those of the public cannot be met through an Ombudsperson's investigation," said the letter dated July 27. "Indeed, it is a legal impossibility." Signing the letter were Ramsay Hamdi, Robert Hart, Malcolm Maclure, Ron Mattson, David Scott and Rebecca Warburton, all of whom were fired from the ministry in 2012, as well as former ministry contractor William Warburton and Linda Kayfish, whose brother Roderick MacIsaac killed himself a few months after being fired from a co-op position with the health ministry. ...

While they are glad Minister Lake sees the need for an independent review, the Ombudsperson lacks the jurisdiction to get to the heart of the matter, the eight said.

"There is no escaping that confidentiality is a core tenet of his process or that his interviews are conducted outside the public eye," they wrote. "No amount of tinkering with his statutory process can change the fundamental mandate of the Ombudsperson." ...

The letter writers also say the Ombudsperson's role is not well suited to investigating the kinds of broad concerns they have. "The central matter requiring investigation is what motivated the dramatic interference with research and programs which were improving the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs for British Columbians," they wrote. "This was the direct result of our unexplained terminations."





Christy Clark's Liberals used their majority on the finance and government services committee to push through a relatively narrow mandate for the Ombudsman review of the Health Ministry firings, despite the calls of the fired researchers for a public inquiry and the attempts of former NDP leader Carole James and her colleagues to create a broad mandate for the Ombudsman. Surprise! Surprise!



Though the New Democrats have repeatedly sought a full-blown public inquiry into the affair, [Carole] James wasn’t shy about stating their preferences for a fallback investigation by the independent watchdog on administrative fairness.

One: “To provide the health researchers and other health workers who were fired and the general public with a complete record of the circumstances related to the firings and the resulting consequences.”

Two: “To report to the legislature and the public on any other matters uncovered during this investigation which, in the opinion of the ombudsperson, are matters of significant public interest.”

Acknowledging that the foregoing may not address all concerns of those who were fired, James urged the detailed terms of reference be “as broad as possible.” ...

Nevertheless the Liberals, disregarding Chalke’s stated preference for a unanimous verdict from the committee, pressed ahead with the [conveniently much narrower] referral motion from MLA Dan Ashton. ...

After the Liberals mustered their majority to pass the motion by a vote of 5-4.



Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director of the  BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association is also demanding transparency with regard to what happened during the Therapeutics Iniitiative firings.


"We were actually given information that there was something going on at the ministry, probably at the same time the Auditor General got it," said Vincent Gogolek. ...

"We were just trying to track down more information because the person tipping us off made some allegations, named some names. We put in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to get copies of contracts and communications around the contracts, just to get some idea of what was going on."

However, Gogolek's FOI request was refused, in part because of the RCMP investigation 

"[The government] said 'Releasing these records to you would harm the investigations; we're not giving them to you.'"

There are still many unanswered questions about what exactly happened, according to Gogolek.

"Just from what we saw with our FOI request — claims being made, taken back — there's just been a lot of confusion about what's going on. That may be confusion inside government, or maybe it's the fact that information is coming out that contradicts the previous public position."

Gogolek said it's important the public knows that proper procedures are being followed and has asked Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham to investigate the government's claims.

"What we have is a bunch of finger pointing. Everybody's apologizing, nobody's taking responsibility."




By using their majority on the Finance and Government Services Committee, the BC Liberals pushed through a relatively narrow mandate for the Ombudsman review of the Health Ministry firings, by a 5-4 vote along party lines this week. This was in spite of the fact that the seven living fired Therapeutics Initiative researchers and the sister of the eighth, Rob MacIsaac who committed suicide because his career and PhD program were destroyed and he was treated as a criminal (as were the others), have rejected the BC Liberals proposal for the Ombudsman to investigate the firings. The fired employees fear that because the Ombudsman is required to carry out the entire process outside the public eye, with the exception of his written report, there would be no public accountability for those civil servants and politicians involved in the firings.

In a letter to the government, the fired employees wrote that they feared that the Ombudsman's inquiry will not examine "what motivated the dramatic interference with research and programs which were improving the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs for British Columbians"; that is, whether the pharmaceutical industry, which has donated $600,000 to the BC Liberals, were influential in the firing decisions because Therapeutics Initiative had saved $500 million for BC taxpayers (and therefore cost the drug industry $500 million), resulting in BC having many of the lowest cost drugs in North America. Such research into drug safety and effectiveness could also lead to other jurisdictions both saving money on pharmaceutical costs and increasing the safety of drugs. Therapeutics Initiative research also raised questions about the safety of Champix, a smoking cessation drug that evidence suggests increase the risk of depression and suicide. Furthermore, this drug was endorsed by Christy Clark as a way of reducing smoking rates. 

The credibility of the Ombudsman, as well as the government's, is on the line in this investigation. 


The employees, all of them involved in independent vetting of drugs, have questioned whether they and their publicly funded research programs were targeted by the private pharmaceutical companies.

Would the Ombudsperson be able to investigate that possibility? [CNKW radio interviewer] McComb asked. Chalke replied that as a lawyer, his approach will be to “let the facts take you where the facts take you.” If there’s any evidence on that score (as opposed to idle speculation), his office would follow it up, he vowed.

The fired employees preferred a public inquiry as a way of forcing accountability on the government and politicians.  ...

Having taken on the assignment from the government, he has the leverage to get what he needs in the way of access and resources. But it also means that he is assuming front-line responsibility for an exercise that meets the test of public confidence. “People will have to assess that question when they see our final report,” he told The Vancouver Sun, confirming that however reluctant he was to take on this assignment, his credibility and that of his office are now very much on the line.




When I summarized the Health Ministry firings in the previous post, I said at the end that the credibility of both the Liberals and the Ombudsman was on the line. When it comes to the Liberals, I was being extremely generous.

For many BCers, the Liberals have already lost all credibility on this issue when it was discovered in June that their claims for two years that they could say nothing about the issue because the RCMP were investigating the situation, turned out to be false. Despite the RCMP asking the government five times during this period for the information to start an investigation, the Liberals never provided any.

In other words, the Liberals were repeating their BC Rail scandal strategy, where they refused for six years to respond to any questions about corruption being involved in the sale of BC Rail to CN because it was being investigated by the RCMP. 


The researchers fired from Therapeutics Initiative, as well as the sister of the researcher who committed suicide because of his ruined career and reputation are still demanding a pulic inquiry instead of an Ombudmans's report. 


One day after getting the assignment, Ombudsperson Jay Chalke is warning that his probe into the 2012 Health Ministry firings of eight people — one of whom committed suicide — won’t be a quick process. “I understand the desire for answers and the wish that all this be completed in a timely way, so we’re going to get to work,” Chalke said. “However, speed is not our first goal — a thorough, high-quality investigation is really what our primary objective is.” ...

Critics have suggested that Chalke, who assumed office July 1, tried to pass the political hot potato by pointing out the legal hurdles that stand in his way. His concerns — to do with non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality — were addressed by the committee and the government, which amended the Ombudsperson’s Act to give his office greater power and remove potential roadblocks. The ombudsperson had asked that the probe not be referred to him unless he had the unanimous support of the committee and those who publicly bore the weight of the flawed investigation — seven fired Health Ministry workers and the sister of an eighth who killed himself in the aftermath of the dismissals.

But on Monday, the fired researchers rejected a probe by his office and called for a public inquiry. The ombudsperson’s final report will be made public, but the interviews will be confidential. “It is clear that our needs and those of the public cannot be met through an ombudsperson’s investigation … it is a legal impossibility,” the researchers said. “Our careful deliberations only clarified the need for a full public inquiry.”

They noted that Chalke’s office has limited scope and powers and could be restricted by litigation, solicitor-client privilege and issues of jurisdiction to investigate matters already considered by the court and B.C.’s privacy commissioner. Two lawsuits related to the firings remain before the courts. One is scheduled to go to court in March 2016. The other does not have a court date.




This article is by a family physician, Warren Bell, who uses his intimate knowlegde of the medical sector to outline the pernicious relationship between big pharma and the Liberals that underlies the firing of the 8 researchers at Therapeutics Initivative. 



B.C. Premier Christy Clark and her senior ministers are using every tactic in the book to avoid any sort of public disclosure of what happened behind the scenes when eight health researchers were illegitimately fired, one after the other, in the fall of 2012.

As a family physician for nearly 40 years, I have watched the pharmaceutical industry infiltrate into political and regulatory structures, as part of the general corporatization of society. What the Liberal government is now doing is simply one more example of how bought-and-sold officials sustain this pernicious process.

The voices resisting exposure include three ministers of health — Mike de Jong, Margaret MacDiarmid and the current minister, Terry Lake — all of whom claim, in chorus, and for various patently irrelevant reasons, that the matter is settled and no further investigation is needed.

When one of the slandered researchers, University of Victoria PhD student Roderick MacIsaac, sadly committed suicide shortly after his firing, pressure on the government began to build. Not only was his death an unmitigated tragedy, but the subject of his thesis — Premier Clark’s publicly touted smoking cessation program, which included the drug varenicline (brand name Champix®), a product increasingly associated with severe adverse effects — threatened to challenge the intimate relationship between the BC Liberal government and the pharmaceutical industry.  ...

The relationship between the BC Liberals and Big Pharma had already been clearly mapped out years ago, with the formation of the Pharmaceutical Task Force, whose nine members were dominated by drug industry representatives, including — astonishingly — Russell Williams, “president of Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (Rx&D), a national lobby group with members from some 50 drug companies and whose directors include the presidents, CEOs and other top officials from 14 of the country’s biggest drug manufacturers," The Tyee reported in 2007. 

When the report of this body was finally released, it became clear that its primary purpose was to either destroy or severely limit an organization that had become a thorn in Big Pharma’s side. This was the UBC-based Therapeutics Initiative, a research body with a stellar international reputation for cutting through drug industry hype and delivering accurate information about drug effectiveness and hazards. It was, for example, the first group to question the safety of Vioxx, which was eventually taken off the market in 2004 because of severe harm to the heart. ...

ts withdrawal also caused $28 billion damage to the bottom line of its manufacturer Merck. 

Christy Clark is using every political and legal tool at her disposal to cover up what really happened since the fall of 2012. The public needs to know if the premier's longstanding support for the bottom line of the drug industry and resulting hostility toward industry critics influenced these firings. ...

The only suitable outcome in this matter is for an outraged citizenry to exert relentless pressure on the provincial government, compelling it to come clean and allow the real story to be told. Anything less will be a perversion of natural justice, and a continuation of business — big business — as usual.





More evidence (if any is needed, considering what has happened so far) that the Liberals' series of investigations into the Health Ministry firings is a whitewash with the deck stacked against the fired employees. 


Three people harmed by the 2012 health ministry firings say they will resist participating in the Ombudsperson's review of what happened unless they receive better access to documents and more funding for legal fees. 

Lawyers Gary Caroline and Joanna Gislason represent former health ministry employees Ramsay Hamdi and David Scott, as well as Linda Kayfish, the sister of fired co-op student Roderick MacIsaac who later committed suicide.

"Our clients have been very clear with your office that they are not willing to be re-victimized by another unfair or inadequate investigation process," the lawyers wrote in a Feb. 22 letter to Ombudsperson Jay Chalke. "They have also been very clear about what, at a minimum, they would need in order to be able to participate meaningfully and effectively."

The lack of an opportunity to review key documents, including their own email from when they worked for the ministry, is a problem, the lawyers wrote. Nor is $1,000 enough to begin to cover the legal fees for the three, especially when compared to the $25,000 that could be available to government officials suspected of wrongdoing, they said.

In the letter the lawyers, who have been working on the file since at least last summer, say "the legal work that has already gone into pursuing our clients' right to a fair, inclusive and meaningful procedure has far surpassed this amount."

Nor are they hopeful the outcome will help their clients. "Unfortunately, it is now apparent that your process will be of no benefit to them and is in fact likely to cause them further harm," Gislason and Caroline's letter said.  ...

The committee that referred the issue to the Ombudsperson's office was split in a 5-4 vote along party lines. Carole James, the NDP MLA who co-chairs the committee, said she expects the Ombudsperson to appear before it soon to answer questions. 

"We'll certainly raise our questions and the questions that have come up," she said, adding that the request for documents and legal fee coverage are reasonable. "I think there'll be lots of questions, just as there were through the beginning of the process."

The NDP supported a public inquiry into the firings instead of referring it to the Ombudsperson. James said of Chalke's review, "As we said at the start, this is not an ideal process."

An earlier investigation report by employment lawyer Marcia McNeil said some key senior officials declined to participate in her review and that she could not answer questions about who made the decision to fire the employees or why. 






Since no one has updated what has happened to the lawsuits against the BC Liberal government over the Ministry of Health firings, I have posted part of an article concerning the last settlement in December by the government with the fired employees, which happened over the Christmas holidays when few are paying attention to the news. This means the government has now settled with all fired employees (or in the case of the PhD student who committed suicide, his family) and issued apologies in order to avoid having evidence of what happened in court and the close connections between the pharmaceutical industry donations and the BC Liberals that drove this witch hunt. 



The B.C. government has settled out of court with two doctors fired in 2012 as part of a scandal that involved whistle-blowing, multiple lawsuits, apologies, a call for a public inquiry and a suicide.

Rebecca and William Warburton were part of a group of eight health ministry workers fired by the province, which had claimed the employees inappropriately accessed sensitive medical records. 

It was later revealed RCMP officers were never given evidence by the government to investigate the wrongdoing which was used to justify the firings, despite the government telling the public an investigation was ongoing.

One of the researchers, University of Victoria co-op student Roderick MacIsaac, took his own life three months after he was fired.


  • TIMELINE | B.C. health researcher firing scandal timeline
  • Health researcher firings: FOI requests find nothing, says NDP
  • B.C. health firings: Ombudsman promises thorough investigation
  • ...

    B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan said the settlement clearly indicates the province's mistakes. 

    "We now finally know that eight individuals were smeared inappropriately by their own government," said Horgan. "The Christy Clark Liberals took eight individual lives and turned them upside down." 






    Another one of the fired Health Ministry researchers, David Scott, has been rehired this week. 

    However, the difference in treatment of union and non-union employees shows how biased the BC Liberals are against unions. While non-union employees were rehired much earlier without having to go through a competition and were issued apologies, union employee Scott had to wait four years, go through a competition that he won for his job and got no apology. 

    One of the union employees, Roderick MacIssac, feeling depressed over the loss of his job, the public shaming and the loss of the chance to finish his almost completed PhD, committed suicide. Only then did the BC Liberal government apologize to his family and admit he had done nothing wrong.

    The third union employee, Ramsay Hamdi received a settlement, but no public acknowledgment of either their service or that their cases had been settled, no apology, no job offer, and no severance pay. 


    B.C.’s health ministry has rehired another of the researchers it fired as part of a botched 2012 investigation.

    David Scott, who the government forced out of the Ministry of Health more than three years ago, was rehired this week as a health economist in the ministry’s business analytics, strategies and operations unit. He started work on Friday.

    “Mr. Scott applied for a position and was hired through an objective competitive process,” ministry spokeswoman Sarah Plank said in a statement. “Regular appointments to the B.C. public service are based on the principle of merit and a process that appraises the knowledge, skills and abilities of eligible applicants.”

    Scott was one of eight employees and contractors who lost their jobs in the 2012 firings. The government has since admitted it overreacted, based partly on a flawed and unfair internal investigation into allegations of drug research contracting irregularities and data security issues.

    “The fact the ministry of health has rehired him is an indication the government knows it did something wrong, even if it hasn’t admitted it formally,” said NDP critic Adrian Dix. “(Scott) did internationally recognized work, is a remarkable guy, and a really fine man. He was caught up in this incompetent investigation.”

    The province has apologized to some of those fired, rehired others, and settled several wrongful-dismissal lawsuits. Premier Christy Clark has also publicly apologized to the family of co-op student Roderick MacIsaac, who committed suicide three months after being fired.

    But the government has largely ignored the two fired unionized researchers, Scott and economist Ramsay Hamdi. Both had their cases settled by the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (their firings were converted to technical resignations), but neither received severance, an apology or their jobs back.

    Scott had to apply and compete for this new job as an external candidate, said his lawyer, Gary Caroline. “The position pays less than what he was earning when he was fired,” said Caroline. “He is treated as a new employee.” ...

    B.C.’s Ombudsperson is investigating the firings.




    The government has admitted the investigation was unfair and heavy-handed and has settled wrongful-dismissal claims with six of the eight public-service employees. Two remain before the courts.

    But the settlement outcomes were dramatically different for the three non-union staff, represented by private lawyers, and the three union staff, who were represented by their union.

    In 2014, drug researcher Malcolm Maclure was exonerated, praised by the government for his work in health-data privacy protection, and asked to advise on drug policy on contract. Robert Neil Hart was rehired “as a demonstration of the government’s continuing confidence in him.” Ron Mattson, a View Royal councillor, retired, but the government said it had made a “regrettable mistake” in firing him. All were non-union staff.

    The year before, Hamdi, David Scott, 52, and Roderick MacIsaac, 46, a University of Victoria co-op student who killed himself three months after being fired, had their cases settled by their union. They left without jobs or public acknowledgment of either their service or that their cases had been settled. Hamdi has never received severance pay.



    In the video accompanying the article below, two BC journalists, Vaughn Palmer and Rob Shaw, discuss how the Therapeutic Initiative program set up by the 1990s NDP government has helped keep the drug costs in BC low to such an extent that it has been a major contributor in the containing the cost of Pharmacare. Palmer and Shaw note that this has led to major questions about why the researchers associated with this program were fired and strong suggestions that it was due to pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, which did not like the lower drug costs that Therapeutic Initative was creating. 


    The shutting down of the Therapeutics Initiative program on drug effectiveness and research in 2012 by the BC Liberal government has now been shown to have cost lives because it delayed the study of the acne drug Accutane for more than a year, causing hundreds of women to have miscarriages or abort their fetuses and others to have babies with extreme birth defects.

    This shows the dangers of relying soley on pharmaceutical companies, which are in an inherent conflict of interest between drug safety and maximizing profit, to do drug research. How many more similar situations might there be? How many will we ever find out about?



    A safety study of a powerful acne drug, which has caused hundreds of fetuses to be aborted in Canada and other babies to be born with devastating birth defects, was delayed by more than a year because the B.C. government refused to provide key data. Despite grave risks, many Canadian women are still becoming pregnant while taking the acne medication. 

    The research, released Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, outlined the serious health effects for women who get pregnant while taking the acne drug Accutane. But the authors had to put their work on hold for more than a year as they tried to convince the B.C. government to give them access to public health data that the province had locked down after its botched 2012 firing of eight ministry health researchers. 

    “It probably delayed the study by about a year,” said lead author Dr. David Henry, a senior scientist with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto. “We put the study on hold. We obviously wanted to complete the study because we thought there was a safety issue. We suspected from the results from the other provinces that the pregnancy prevention program wasn’t really being adhered to the way it should be.”

    The government has admitted it overreacted in firing the eight health researchers in 2012, based on a flawed internal review into allegations of contract mismanagement and data handling. But the province also froze, suspended or otherwise interrupted access to data for other provincial and national health researchers as it grappled with its internal mistakes.

    Isotretinoin, the active ingredient in Accutane and its generic cousins, is one of the most toxic drugs to a developing embryo known to medicine. Fetuses exposed to isotretinoin in the first weeks of pregnancy can be born with elongated or conical skulls, wide-set eyes, low-set ears, disfiguring cleft palates or life-threatening heart problems.

    But the new study involving nearly 60,000 women prescribed the drug in four provinces — British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario — showed a pregnancy-avoidance program is having only a modest effect in reducing fetal exposure to Accutane.

    Over the 15-year study period, 1,473 pregnancies were recorded. Of these, 1,041 ended in medically induced abortions and 290 “spontaneous losses,” or miscarriages. Of the 118 live births, there were 11 cases (9.3 per cent) of congenital malformations, the team reports in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

    “Poor adherence with the Canadian pregnancy prevention guidelines means that Canada, inadvertently, is using pregnancy termination rather than pregnancy prevention to manage fetal risk from isotretinoin,” said Henry. Overall, the researchers estimate for every 1,000 women in Canada prescribed isotretinoin, between four and six will conceive while taking a three-month course of the drug. (In Europe, the pregnancy rates are as low as 0.2 per 1,000 female isotretinoin users.) Women are supposed to have two negative pregnancy tests before starting isotretinoin, sign a consent form acknowledging they have been warned of the risk of birth defects and use two forms of birth control one month before, during and one month after treatment. However, less than a third of all female users received a prescription for a birth control pill while taking the drug, the study found.

    Accutane was approved in 1983 as a last-resort drug for scarring, cystic acne that does not respond to less-potent treatments. But its use has increased rapidly with the marketing of generic versions and more doctors are prescribing it for milder cases.

    It was unacceptable for the B.C. government to hold up an important national study because of its own internal failings, said NDP critic Adrian Dix. “The Ministry of Health knew what the study was about, they knew the significance of it, especially for young women in British Columbia,” said Dix. “It’s a serious mistake and it’s one of the consequences of government’s incompetence on the health firings issue.” ...

    The average age of isotretinoin users in Canada is 24; half of all prescriptions are written for female patients. According to market research company IMS Brogan, more than 266,000 prescriptions for isotretinoin worth were handed out last year, up from just over 209,000 in 2011. The new study, funded by Health Canada, looked at all girls and women aged 12 to 48 in the four provinces for whom one or more prescriptions for isotretinoin were filled in 1996-2011.








    The Christy Clark BC Liberal gang are once again proving to be masters of delay and coverup, as they continue to not investigating what happened during the Health Ministry firings while smearing the victims at the same time. 


    Opposition MLA Adrian Dix had another go at challenging the botched handling of those firings in the B.C. Health Ministry. His particular target was the review of the affair by the office of the comptroller general, launched shortly after the September 2012 firing of eight drug researchers and not concluded until after a number of them had been reinstated and/or exonerated in June of last year.

    “It seems to me that that was a long time for the report,”  Dix observed during debate on the budget for the Ministry of Finance, which includes the office of the comptroller general.

    “Two years and nine months is a long period of time — period,” conceded Finance Minister Mike de Jong, providing a rare moment of agreement in an otherwise contentious debate.

    Why had it taken so long?  De Jong cited “the extent, the complexity of the work.” 

    But Dix quoted passage after passage from the resulting report which blamed short-staffing and a lack of resources. Quote: “All the individuals originally assigned to the engagement, with the exemption of project lead, either retired or left the ministry. The investigative unit team frequently encountered other challenges, which stressed the team’s already limited resources.”

    For a moment Dix seemed to be getting somewhere when he asked who had been interviewed in the course of the investigation. “I don’t want to speculate,” replied de Jong. “I’ll have to get the information.” But after consulting his staff, he came back with a partial rebuff: “I am only able to do that with consent of the people whose names appear on that list. I can undertake to do that but, obviously, won’t be in position to do so this afternoon.”

    Dix is nothing if not persistent. He can wait. But by that point in the proceedings, he and the minister were bogged down in an over who did NOT get interviewed by the office of the comptroller general, namely the fired health workers.

    De Jong, relying on advice from comptroller general Stuart Newton (who sat beside him in the house during the debate), said the employees were never the target of the investigation. “The focus was an examination of contracting practices as opposed to a review or an investigation of individuals and individual conduct.” ...

    But …. but …. but, Dix protested. Those individuals were under a cloud while the comptroller general was conducting his review. They remained there even after the government began reversing course on the firings via a series of apologies, reinstatements and out of court settlements. Indeed, the government repeatedly cited the continuing work by the comptroller as one reason for not answering questions about how it handled the firings and not calling off the RCMP, to which it had referred the case in a well-publicized press release at the outset.

    “I’m not in a position to really stray from the answer that I provided earlier, that the view of the comptroller general and his staff was that this was not an investigation relating to individualized conduct for which there would be findings against individuals.”

    In an effort to minimize fallout for the individuals, the ministry did extensively edit the report before releasing it last year. But earlier this year, an uncensored copy was leaked to Rob Shaw of The Vancouver Sun.

    The contents mainly served to provide further evidence of the Liberals’ botched handling of the affair. First firing the health workers, then launching an investigation by the comptroller general, then reinstating them, then producing a report that insinuated there might have been something to the allegations against them after all.

    Dix suggested Wednesday that the source of the leak was someone in “the senior ranks of government.”  But de Jong denied that the leak “was the product of a government action or a deliberate step by a representative of the government.”

    Far from having ordered the leak, the Liberals were trying to find out how it happened. “There is an investigation underway,” said de Jong, “I feel obliged to put that on the record.”

    A witch hunt in other words. The Liberals maintain they have to try to chase down the source of the leak, because the unredacted version of the report constituted a serious breach of privacy of those named within it, including the fired health care workers. Never mind that the main author of the damage to all those reputations was the government itself, not whomever saw fit to leak the report to the paper.





    Below is an article entitled "The biggest B.C. scandal you’ve never heard of" that gives a good summary of this complicated BC Liberal scandal for those who don't want to read through all the previous posts. 







    The BC Liberals originally chose the Ombudsman to investigate the Therapeutics Initiative Firings, arguing that it would be faster than a public inquiry. Of course, that's not the way its working out thanks to their 4 million documents into Ombudsman Jay Chalke's inbox to examine instead of the orignal 200,000 they said were relevant.

    Surprise! Surprise! Chalke needs much more time to examine them, and similar to the BC Rail scandal, things drag on into the indefinite future and past the next election for a four-year old scandal. Furthermore Chalke, because his name has come up in documents, has had to adknowledge that he had some involvement in this issue while previously working in the Attorney General's office at the time of the firings, even though he denied having any involvement when he was chosen to review the firings. His excuse: he has no recollection of his involvement. 


    As progress reports go, the one Ombudsperson Jay Chalke provided this week on the investigation into those botched firings in the health ministry left a lot to be desired. Granted, Chalke didn’t want the assignment in the first place. But the best argument for preferring the Ombudsperson over a full-blown public inquiry was the prospect of getting answers before the next election. Now that hope is somewhat in doubt

    Based on what Chalke told the legislature finance committee when he took on the assignment more than a year ago, he should have wrapped up the work and released his findings last month. Instead, as he conceded in a disconcerting briefing to the same committee Tuesday, the investigation is months behind schedule with multiple obstacles still to be cleared. The Ombudsperson says the main reason for the holdup was a 20-fold increase in the documentary record associated with the firings, four years ago, of eight health ministry employees and contractors, one of who subsequently killed himself.

    Initially, the government advised Chalke to prepare for the handover of some 200,000 documents associated with the case and subsequent fallout. Lately that trove has grown to four million documents — and this from a government that provided no documentation whatsoever to a previous examination of the firings by Victoria lawyer Marcia McNeil. ...

    Still, Chalke assured the committee that “we have no reason to believe that the large volume of records provided to us reflects an intention to give us a huge haystack in order to make it harder to find the needles.” Rather he insisted that the flood of material was mainly a function of the committee’s broad brush direction to “leave no stone unturned” coupled with “how records were collected and created over the years by the many government officials responsible for the matters that you have asked us to investigate. ...

    During his initial briefing to the committee in the summer of 2015, he assured MLAs that his previous posting in the ministry of the Attorney-General presented no obstacles to him taking on the investigation. “I was not involved in the health firings matter as my branch, the justice services branch, did not provide legal advice to line ministries on such matters,” the then-newly appointed Ombudsperson testified. Alas, in the course of sorting through those four million documents, his staff turned up evidence that a few months after the firings, the matter had briefly crossed his desk while he was filling for the vacationing deputy-attorney general. I received an inquiry from a senior deputy minister about the matter,” explained Chalke. “I made a preliminary inquiry of one or two senior officials, and then left the question for the deputy attorney-general to address when he returned from holiday … I made no decisions. I set no direction in any way, shape or form.

    “Given how limited this involvement was, I simply had no recollection of it, he continued. “In fact, I still do not recall it.”

    Hence his insistence that “this does not in any way affect my ability to complete this investigation.” He further advised that former Ombudsperson Stephen Owen had reached a similar conclusion after reviewing the circumstances.

    That left the concern, well framed by New Democratic Party MLA George Heyman, as to why Chalke relied on a faulty memory in the first place.

    “Did you consider that it was an issue of due diligence to make a request (of your former ministry) to be able to assure us and everyone else that you had been completely free and clear of any contact with this issue? Or was that simply an oversight?”

    “I wouldn’t describe it as an oversight,” replied Chalke. “I simply had no recollection and so thought I had no reason to carry out the kind of request that you’re suggesting. Obviously, from my perspective, it would have been better had I done so.” Obviously — especially given the lack of trust associated with a case that was mishandled by the government every step of the way. Still, the only practical option is to let the Ombudsperson and his team proceed with the investigation and hope for the best, because time is running out.

    Those firings happened before the last election. Any further delay diminishes the chance that British Columbians will have a proper explanation before the next one.




    The BC Liberals have set up a Health Firing Inquiry that is 'Adversarial and Intimidating'. They have also refused to fund the legal costs in ombudsperson's probe


    Two people fired from British Columbia's health ministry in 2012 say they can't afford to participate in the ombudsperson's investigation into what happened to them and other workers. ...

    "We have been severely traumatized, and I feel re-victimized by the way the ombudsman inquiry is proceeding," Rebecca Warburton said in an email. "The whole sad saga continues to be incredibly stressful and disruptive."

    Despite receiving a $260,000 settlement, a large part of which went to lawyers, Warburton said she and her husband Bill are in a deep financial hole after losing their work and taking the government to court.

    The couple and at least six others lost contracts or jobs over what then health minister Margaret MacDiarmid called concerns about privacy, data management, contracting procedures and conflicts of interest. ...

    The government has since apologized for some of the firings, rehired some workers and settled five lawsuits, including that with the Warburtons.

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    Premier Christy Clark has apologized to the family of Roderick MacIsaac, a co-op student who killed himself a few months after being fired from the health ministry. Clark also apologized for misleading the public by claiming the RCMP was investigating the allegations. That was not true.

    An initial investigation of the firings by employment lawyer Marcia McNeil failed to answer questions about who fired the employees, and why. Key senior officials refused to participate in her review. 

    Liberals shunned calls for full inquiry

    Despite calls for a full public inquiry, Health Minister Terry Lake asked the legislative finance and government services committee to refer the matter to ombudsperson Jay Chalke for investigation last year. 

    Chalke expressed detailed concerns about taking on the file. To ensure public confidence in the process, he said, the committee should consider the views of the fired people before making the referral. 

    Representatives for several of the employees argued a public inquiry would be a better forum, but the committee's Liberal majority voted to refer the matter to Chalke.